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Parents wield significant power over their children, and this influence extends beyond the genes that have been biologically passed down. Children, with their impressionable minds, are like sponges – they pick up on the behaviors, habits, values, and communication styles exhibited by their primary caregivers. Specifically, children can begin to model everything a parent does and assimilate what they observe into their own lives.
And unfortunately, negative examples – such as substance abuse – can be modeled as well. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it is estimated that 25% of American children grow up in households where drug abuse is present.
How children are affected by drug-addicted parents
So how are one-quarter of American children – and not to mention many others, globally –adversely impacted by a drug-filled environment? Let’s take a look at 3 of the most common ways:
What is child abuse? Well, at the broadest of terms, it’s defined as an act (by a caregiver) of commission or omission which would endanger or impair the child’s physical or emotional well-being. While the act of even exposing children to illicit and dangerous drugs could easily be argued as child abuse, additional maltreatment can manifest in numerous ways – physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse.
Worryingly, statistics from CASAColumbia show that children who grew up with drug-addicted parents are 4 times more likely to be the victims of neglect (when the needs of the child are not met), and 3 times more likely to experience physical or sexual abuse.
Entering abuse paths of their own
As previously mentioned, children are prone to picking up on their parents’ behaviors. And this shows when it comes to children of substance-abusing parents. It is, sadly, wholly observable that children who grow up amongst drug abuse and alcoholism tend to join in these activities later on in life.
In fact, in studies of community samples, they are more than twice as likely to have an alcohol and/or drug use disorder themselves by young adulthood as compared to their peers.
Unhealthy relationship boundaries
In regular, healthy parent-child relationships, the parent – as a fully functioning adult – takes on the role of a caregiver, providing necessary shelter, emotional support, and financial security for the still-developing child. In parent-child relationships where substance-abuse is present, however, these roles are often reversed: the child usually (unknowingly) assumes the part of the caregiver.
The parent-child relationship can begin to incorporate excessive emotional engagement from the child – mainly, involving a level of emotional intimacy that far exceeds the boundaries of a healthy parent-child relationship. Imagine a child who eventually feels the need to rescue a parent from his or her severe depression or suicidal thoughts; the child is now assuming a level of maturity that he or she is simply not ready for.
The emotional and mental stress of having to now care for themselves and for intoxicated parents – according to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids – can harm a child’s brain development and lead to long-term mental health problems. Children who’ve lived with an addicted parent may suffer from psychological effects such as anxiety disorder, panic attacks, social dysfunction, and agoraphobia (fear of places or situations).
Help is available in many forms
Are you a parent who’s currently struggling with substance abuse issues and have recently realized the detrimental impacts you’re causing your child? Thankfully, a range of recovery services are available to you – from intensive detox programs to outpatient drug rehab(see it here) facilities, you can be sure recovery is just right around the corner for you.
- Inpatient treatment
Inpatient detox programs are generally intensive in nature – usually lasting a minimum of 28 days – and take place in a medically monitored clinical setting, such as a hospital or dedicated detox center. If you check yourself into an inpatient treatment program, you will need to stay fulltime at the facility while undergoing detoxification and the initial stages of rehab.
- Residential rehabilitation
Many people confuse inpatient treatment programs for residential rehabilitation options – after all, they both provide 24-hour monitoring and program structure. But there’s actually a critical point that distinguishes the two: residential programs usually take place in more casual, comfortable accommodations; unlike the clinical and hospital-like environment offered by inpatient treatment centers.
Also, residential rehabilitation tends to run longer than inpatient treatment – a patient can expect up to six months or more of recovery.
- Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs)
PHPs represent a middle ground between inpatient treatment programs and outpatient addiction treatment. Should you choose to heal through a PHP, you’ll attend recovery activities, such as counseling and support groups, at the treatment center in the day-time. Once you’re done with the events as mentioned earlier, you’ll typically return to a transitional facility that’s included in your PHP.
- Outpatient drug programs
Outpatient rehab for substance abuse offers much more treatment flexibility in comparison to the other options listed above. Should you opt for an outpatient program to support your recovery, you’ll be allowed to maintain a regular commitment to your work and family – this is because you’ll take part in necessary recovery activities (meeting with therapists, attending classes, and joining in group meetings) whenever it suits your schedule.
Once you’re done with the therapies for the day, you’ll be able to return to your own home overnight. Ultimately, outpatient treatment is seen to be most suitable for drug-addicted parents – you’ll be able to seek help for your substance abuse issues without needing to be absent from your child’s life.
The Bottom Line
As we’ve explored in this article, drug-addicted parents affect children in devastating ways. If you’re a parent, who is currently struggling with substance abuse issues yourself, checking yourself into an appropriate outpatient drug rehab center that meets your needs can be the crucial, first step you take in a lifelong journey of recovery. How your children fare later on in life depends on the actions you take today – make sure you do the right thing. If not for yourself, do it for your precious children.
About the Author
John Adkins is a professional writer and volunteer who deals with issues of mental health, addiction, and life in recovery. Also, he works with a foundation that helps drug addicts, so he has a clear insight into their problems. John is currently a writer for Addiction Resource.