Addiction Treatment & Addiction Therapy Options

How to Shield My Child from Addicted Family Members

How to Shield My Child from Addicted Family Members

All parents wants to shield their children from harm. Unfortunately, parents who are addicted are often more controlled by their addiction and lose sight of their responsibilities to their children. Therefore, it becomes necessary for the non-addicted parent or caregiver to educate their children about addiction. The non-addicted parent or caregiver needs to help the children understand about addiction, the dynamics that addiction is causing in their home, and provide strategies for children to guard themselves against emotional issues and the development of unhealthy coping strategies.

Children Are at Risk from Addicted Family Members

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA) publication, Children Of Addicted Parents: Important Facts identifies several risk factors for children who are exposed to addicted family members, including the following:

  • Children of addicted parents are the highest risk group of children to become substance abusers due to both genetic and family environment factors.
  • Problems frequently associated with families affected by alcoholism include increased conflict, emotional or physical violence, decreased cohesion, increased isolation, increased stress including work problems, illness, marital strain and financial problems, and frequent family moves.
  • Three of four (71.6 percent) child welfare professionals cite substance abuse as the top cause for the dramatic rise in child maltreatment since 1986.
  • Children of addicted parents exhibit depression and anxiety disorders more frequently than do children from non-addicted families.
  • Behavioral problems demonstrated by children of alcoholics include lack of empathy for other persons, decreased social adequacy and interpersonal adaptability, low self-esteem, and lack of control.

One of the more alarming facts that NACOA identified is that the influence of parental attitudes on a child’s drug taking behaviors may be as important as actual drug abuse by the parents. Therefore, it is critical that a non-addicted parent or caregiver help the children understand addiction. Your attitude has a great deal of power in helping children deal with addicted family members.

Children Struggle to Survive

Children, especially very young children, are very egocentric. Unfortunately, , many children living in an addicted family environment naturally assume that they are the cause of the addiction. If this assumption does not get corrected, the children take on a sense of responsibility for the addiction and the associated dysfunction in the household. Therefore, it is critical that children are provided consistent and clear information about the fact that they are not to blame and are not the cause of the addicted family member’s addiction.

Even when they understand that they did not cause their family member’s addiction, many children have a false assumption that they can fix things or control their parent’s addiction. Children may then take on a role within a family that is beyond their maturity or skill level in an effort to control the family dynamics.

The University of Illinois in Chicago offers a curriculum in the Kinship Care Practice. In one of the modules, the curriculum identifies several roles that a child might assume to alter the impact of an addicted parent within the household including the following:

  • Rescuer/Enabler – The child attempts to shield the addict from any consequences.
  • Caretaker – The child tries to divert attention away from the problem.
  • Adjuster – The child withdraws from the family.
  • Scapegoat – The child acts out.
  • Pleaser – The child tries to make everyone happy.

These children will attempt a variety of behaviors in an effort to control their parent’s addiction. Unfortunately, all attempts will fail because the addicted family member is the only person who can seek the necessary treatment. These failed attempts by children often cause them to have lower self-esteem and greater insecurity, both of which can have long-term negative effects on the children’s emotional wellbeing.

Giving Children Tools

As a caregiver, it is important for you to give children tools to cope with and survive their interactions with addicted family members. The Center on Addiction and the Family publication, Children Of Addicts: Information For Caregivers, provides several useful tips including the following:

  • Give children an environment in which they can talk about their feelings instead of holding them in our acting out. It is important that children can express their feelings and learn ways to cope with them.
  • Identify clear parameters for acceptable behavior so the children have a sense of stability in some aspect of their lives. Consistency may be rare for a child living with an addicted family member; however, consistency can make children feel safer.
  • Give children many opportunities to engage in “normal” social experiences. These experiences give the children the chance to witness healthy interactions.
  • Encourage children to acknowledge the good things about themselves. Help children learn to seek positive feedback from themselves as well as from others.
  • Consistently provide reassurance to the children that you are doing everything you can to protect them. Children need to know that they are lovable, are loved, and are worthy of your help.

According to NACOA, children who coped effectively with the trauma of growing up in families affected by alcoholism often relied on the support of a non-alcoholic parent, stepparent, grandparent, teachers and others. These children also have increased autonomy and independence, stronger social skills, better ability to cope with difficult emotional experiences, and better day-to-day coping strategies.

Get Help Shielding Children from Addicted Family Members

Shielding a child from addicted family members is a challenging task, especially if the addict resides within the child’s home. You need to find ways to give your children the tools they need to survive and thrive. We can help you do this, so please call our toll-free helpline today. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you might have about family addiction and treatment resources.