Addiction affects loved ones differently, but it’s always a struggle to navigate any relationship with an alcoholic or addict. While teens struggling with alcoholism and drug abuse can be extremely difficult for parents, the situation becomes even trickier when the parents are the ones addicted to controlled substances. In these situations, children often take on adult responsibilities as they try to navigate helping their parents.
How Does Alcoholism or Drug Abuse Affect Children of Addicts?
Ultimately, the goal is to get the addicted parent on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, until they are ready to seek help, the parent-child relationship often goes through an extreme role reversal. When this occurs, the child is forced to begin caring for the adult. Children of alcoholics can be placed in the unfair position of having to provide emotional support and physical care, for the adult as well as themselves.
In many cases, the child takes on these added burdens without realizing this isn’t the normal way most families interact. The child may clean up after the addict and perform other functions that allow the addict to continue the substance abuse cycle. Children of addicts eventually develop protective feelings for the parent. They may stay at home to look after the parent, forsaking their own social lives in the process. Often, parents will speak to the child about mature and inappropriate topics, such as recounting sexual encounters or past incidences of substance abuse. Children in these situations may defend their parents, making excuses for the need to use drugs and alcohol even as their parents’ behavior derails the emotional health of their own life.
When Children are Ready to Confront Their Addicted Parents
For children, getting their parents into a recovery program is a frightening but necessary concept. It often can feel to the child like they’re betraying a trust when they seek outside help. The problem is compounded if the addicted parent reacts negatively and lashes out at the minor child. For that reason, a child’s protection should be the number one priority. Supportive family friends or family members should be the ones to begin the conversation of recovery with the parent. Unless they are older, children should not be involved in confronting a family member about his or her addiction.
The Intervention Stage
Conversations about addiction are usually intense and addicts and alcoholics may react strongly and unpredictably. It is important that children avoid confronting their parent alone. Someone experienced with interventions, such as a school counselor, spiritual leader, a therapist, or professional interventionist should be enlisted to help stage the intervention with the time is right.
When ready to conduct an intervention, other friends and family members should be invited to participate. It’s especially important to arrange the intervention for a time at which the parent will be sober and clear-headed. This increases the likelihood that he or she will be more open to the concern being expressed.
Even if the parent does promise to get treatment, they may not follow through. Realistic expectations should be made clear to any and all children, as well as consistent emotional support. Children need support before, during, and after the intervention and rehabilitation process. Once the parent is clean, and learning how to cope with addiction, the healing for both parent and child can begin.