According to a report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 12 percent of children in the United States have at least one parent who has struggled with addiction and dependency in the last year.
Growing up in a household with an adult who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can potentially influence the behaviors of children. While growing up in a household with an addict does not necessarily mean a child will follow in those footsteps, research does show that children of addicts are twice as likely to become addicts and/or develop behavioral problems.
There are a number of circumstances that can influence the development of addiction in an individual, including biological and environmental factors. Although everyone has the potential to develop an addiction, genetic predisposition does exist in some people and family history can reveal a lot about an individual’s predisposition to addiction. Genetic predisposition can make an individual more likely to become dependent on any substance, not just the substance a family member struggles with. This coupled with poor coping skills puts the children of addicts at risk of becoming addicts themselves.
Although many parents who struggle with addiction strive to be good parents, their addiction will inevitably impact the lives of their children. Unfortunately, environmental factors play a major role in the development of addiction. Addicts are driven to continue using substances, even if it means sacrificing things to feed their cravings. This may include harming their children, intentionally or not. Depending on the nature of addiction, children may be subjected to violence or neglect. They may also be impacted by financial struggles. In addition, some children are exposed to substances in utero or in the home. The chronic stress related to addiction in the home can also impede healthy development, leading to mental and physical health problems later in life. Being exposed to addiction in the home can also damage social and emotional development causing unhealthy relationships in the future.
On the positive side, having regular access to sober, stable adults can help children better cope with any trauma associated with a parent’s substance abuse. Often, the presence of a reliable, sober adult can help children learn to become independent and able to cope with stressful situations in a healthy way. Children also greatly benefit from the support of others who can relate to their experiences. Group therapy is an effective way to intervene, helping children cope with stressors while also reducing their risk of following in their parent’s footsteps. Support groups with peers also encourage shared experiences and opportunities to work together to overcome challenges and struggles. Groups remove the sense of isolation.
With the right level of care and engagement, children can break the cycle of addiction. Support networks allow children to develop healthy relationships with others, express themselves in an appropriate way and develop coping mechanisms that support a sober lifestyle. Many issues that occur during childhood can carry over into adulthood. Early intervention provides children with the best chance of living sober, healthy lives.