Children of substance abusers typically find themselves in an abnormal role in the family. Many times older children sacrifice a normal childhood to take care of younger siblings. Shy, quieter children retreat into themselves to avoid negative attention and often younger siblings are protected by the older ones the best they can, but these siblings sense that things aren’t right and live in perpetual state of confusion about their family unit. All the while, children are watching their parents and learning.

This is usually not the family life we envision when we first learn that a child will be born. What we may not realize in the moment is that we’re teaching our children destructive coping mechanisms.

Children and Substance Abuse: Addiction Affects Each Family Member Differently

It is common for the spouse of an addict to become the enabler in the family. They pick up the slack and try to maintain a healthy household the best they can while making efforts to avoid “setting off” the addict. This leaves the children to generally fend for themselves.

It’s easy for parents to miss that their children may feel blame, anger, stress, or even shame for the actions of the addicted person or denial. Being immersed in these unhealthy patterns for a long period of time will take its toll on the psyche of everyone involved differently. Growing and learning in this environment often creates an adult that struggles with normal adult functioning.

These struggles may keep them from opportunities they have to improve and enjoy normal moments in adulthood that many of us treasure. Fear of failure or rejection is a common theme along with a plethora of other challenges that create broad adversity in adulthood.

How Drugs and Alcohol are a Coping Mechanism for Stress & Conflict

Stress is uncomfortable; it hurts and is exhausting, and it is our nature to want to relieve these feelings. If we don’t have the life skills that are necessary to work through these feelings in a healthy way, we may find it easy to resort to unhealthy methods of relief. These unhealthy methods very often involve the use of drugs and/or alcohol, which can begin a vicious cycle.

Drugs and alcohol create a stressor in one’s life because of the change in behavior they cause. The strains with daily relationships become stressful which adds to the stress that was present in the first place. We may turn to unhealthy methods of dealing with stress again. Thus, it continues until it becomes a hamster wheel that we can’t control and we can’t get off of. Sadly, our children are our silent watchers during these times.

Violence, Children and Substance Abuse: Teach Domestic Abuse When Under the Influence

We are far from our best selves when we are in the throes of substance abuse. Our priorities change. Our standards change. Our dreams change. Our goals dissipate. We do things that we are ashamed of and many times, we just don’t care. But our children, the little sponges they are, soak it all in. Violent rages are not only scary to children, but a loud lesson: this is how we handle ourselves when we’re under the influence. We handle life’s stresses by using or drinking.

As adults, these children are four times more likely to become a part of an abusive relationship, as either the abuser or the one who will be abused. Hitting, yelling, mental and emotional abuse, in the absence of healthy life skills, is all they know. Without intervening of this cycle, they are more likely to repeat the life they lived as the child of an addict.

Seeking Treatment Could Save Your Family

If you or your loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol, seeking treatment could save your family. Recovery can teach you and your family how to stop this harmful cycle and instead, use healthy outlets to deal with the stress and disappointment that life will sometimes deal us. It could teach your children about how to regain their appropriate roles in the family and have the confidence they need to be successful as happy and healthy adults. We all want that for our families.

Every day that you wait to start your journey of healing, your children wait as well. Begin to be their example today and give them the gift of healing. You’re not alone. Contact us today. A Better Today is prepared to connect you with a treatment center that will give you the tools you need to begin to change your family dynamic today.