A Guide For Children of Addicts: How to Help Your Loved One

Addiction doesn’t just affect the person who is suffering from the addiction, it also affects those closest to the addict. The ones that are the most adversely affected are the family members of the person suffering, specifically the ones living in the same house such as the spouse and children. 

For the children of addicts, watching a parent suffer from addiction can be a confusing and downright scary thing. Suddenly, the person who is supposedly supposed to take care of them not only can’t do that, but they can’t even take care of themselves.

Children might experience feelings of confusion, anger, and betrayal. Depending on the age of the child or children, they might not even be able to fully comprehend or understand what is even going on. 

If you are the child of an addict, this page is a resource for you to not only learn more about what is going on but also to learn how you can help your parent as well as yourself. 

Addiction Is A Disease

Not just for children, but for everyone in society, it’s important to remember that addiction is not a choice, it is a disease. For some people, what might start as one drink or taking one pill might spiral into full-blown addiction and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. 

Over time, these substances can slowly rewire the brain and make the brain believe that it needs these substances to function properly. When that happens, there is nothing someone can do until they get the help they need at a treatment center where the brain can essentially be reprogrammed so it no longer thinks that it needs those substances anymore. 

The reason why someone might find themselves turning to drugs or alcohol over and over again can be different for every person. Some might suffer from a mental health condition and they turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate instead of seeking professional help. Others might be dealing with traumatic or painful experiences in their lives such as divorce or death and also choose to turn to drugs and alcohol instead of seeking out professional help. Some people suffer from addiction as a result of being prescribed a medication by their doctor that might have led to them developing an addiction to said prescription. No matter the reason, it’s important to remember that it’s a disease.

Addiction Effects All Family Members Differently

As the child of an addict, you might look around and notice that you are reacting differently than your siblings or even your other parent. That’s because everyone reacts to situations in life differently. It’s also important to remember that just because someone is acting one way on the surface, doesn’t mean they aren’t acting differently internally. 

It’s also possible that, though you are the child, you are asked or expected to take on more adult-like roles in the home to help since your one parent is spending more of their time taking care of your addicted parent. These tasks could be as simple as helping clean up around the house or helping with the laundry, to more difficult things like helping to pay the bills or even driving your parent around, depending on your age. 

Forcing a child to have to grow up faster than they want to or faster than they should have severe lasting impacts on the said child, especially mentally and psychologically. It can lead to physical problems as well. Some of the challenges that children of addicts might face include:

  • Higher risk of abuse (sexual, physical, verbal, etc)
  • Behavioral and emotional issues
  • Anger
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Poor social skills
  • Poor performance at school
  • Higher potential for engagement in illegal activity due to not being held accountable by a parent
  • Higher risk of developing an addiction of their own

Addressing The Elephant in the Room

For the most part, addicts don’t truly understand how their actions and behaviors affect those around them. That’s because they have one goal which is to get their next fix. The only way they are going to know how their actions are affecting others is for it to be brought to their attention. If you are a child of an addict, having this conversation with your parent can be quite difficult. If you feel comfortable having this talk with your parent, it is important to go into the conversation with a clear mind and a plan in place.

The best way to go about doing this is to write down your thoughts as well as make notes of any specific talking points that you might want to address. Chances are this is going to be an uncomfortable conversation, so not only will this ensure that you don’t forget any of your talking points but also allows you to have a plan in place. If you feel that you can’t handle discussing your own, you can always reach out to other family members as well for assistance. 

Setting Up An Intervention

If you don’t feel comfortable having that conversation one-on-one and are considering enlisting the help of others then the best course of action might be to set up an intervention for your parent. An intervention is an event where family members and even close friends can gather to speak with a person about their addiction. 

During the intervention, each person will take turns speaking about how the addict’s actions and behaviors have negatively affected them. Typically an intervention is led by a professional interventionist, a counselor, or a therapist who serves as kind of an MC and keeps the intervention on track. 

When setting up an intervention you will want to make sure you do it at a time that is convenient for everyone involved, that includes the person suffering from addiction. You will also want to encourage those who are attending to write down their thoughts so that the intervention can stay on track and run as smoothly as possible. Additionally, you, or someone else attending the intervention, might want to bring up possible courses of action for how the person suffering from addiction can get help including treatment, meetings such as AA, and support groups.

Don’t Forget About Yourself

Children of addicts tend to be put in a position where they have to stop worrying about themselves and start focusing on everyone else around them and their needs. While in the short term this might seem like the best course of action for helping the situation, in the long run doing that can ultimately be damaging to the child. While it might seem selfish, it is important that you also take the time to focus on yourself and your well-being. 

If you are struggling with your parent suffering from addiction, it’s ok to go and talk to someone. There are therapists and treatment professionals that specialize in helping the children of addicts who understand what you are going through and can help you process it all. It’s also important to make your mental health a priority. Make sure to take time out of the day to do something that you like to do, even if it’s only for a few minutes. This could include things like:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Drawing
  • Playing or listening to music
  • Reading

After Treatment

Once your parent has completed treatment and returned home, likely, they aren’t going to be the same person. That’s ok. While they were in treatment there’s a good chance that they learned things about themselves that they didn’t like and will now want to change. They are also learning how to re-enter society as a newly sober person. 

While this transition is going on it is important to be patient with them and know that if they are acting out, it is not your fault. Additionally, sometimes after treatment, a person will suffer from a relapse. While it might be frustrating or even disheartening it’s important to remember that the relapse isn’t your fault either. After all, the only person that can make your parent drink or do drugs is themselves.

Want More Information As It Pertains To Children of Addicts?

At Harmony Ridge, our goal isn’t to just help those who are suffering from addiction but to help the family members of those suffering as well, including children. That’s why we provide help and resources for both the addict and the family members of the addict as well. 

We offer family therapy both in an individual and group setting. If you are a child of an addict and are looking for help in any way, contact us today. We want to help you better process what is going on and help you live a happy and healthy life.