According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, around 30 million of Americans are the children of substance abusive parents. In the case of parental drug abuse the atmosphere in the family enormously endangers psychological and physical well-being of children. As they have no choice but to be growing up watching their parents’ behavior and relationship, they become highly vulnerable to unwillingly follow their example in the future.
Children of drug abusers have to deal with intense non-stop anxiety caused by constant feeling of danger such parents create.
As there is normally lacking or unclear communication and unpredictable behavior that ranges from loving and caring to rage and punishments in families of this kind, children have to be super cautious to ensure their minimal safety. Quite often they feel responsible for their parent’s destructive habit and try to adjust to gain illusion that they can control their behavior. As these attempts fail, they experience extreme devastation and blame themselves for what’s happening. Lack of information, shame, guilt, stigma, social isolation (often voluntary, as a child is afraid of bringing people to their home) and emotional exhaustion make it impossible for children to realize they can neither be responsible for their parent’s addiction, nor able to stop them from drug abuse.
At the same time, these children are likely to follow the same footsteps one day, though they know perfectly that substance abuse does no good to people. The reason here is that they simply do not have positive example of family relations they could follow and are unable to work one out on their own. Also, children of drug abusers are highly likely to experience psychological, physical or sexual abuse in their families. This results into an extremely high number of various mental disorders among such children. The statistics says that more than 50% of children hospitalized with mental issues were the children of addicted parents.
In other words, parental substance abuse creates a dysfunctional family where members are unable to develop strong bonds and create stable positive atmosphere children could grow up in. On the contrary, these children learn from the very young age that they are the only ones able to maintain the illusion of a good family and try keeping a parent from drug abuse.
Among other consequences that drug abusive parents create for their children are:
- Higher risk to develop substance addiction due to genetic factors (particularly from fathers to sons);
- Negative influence on children’s academic performance because of their inability to concentrate and memorize caused by intensely depressive atmosphere at home and necessity to keep a parent’s addiction in secret from everyone else, depriving the children from any support they could ask for in other case;
- Higher risk of being placed at foster care;
- General issues regarding mental health and behavior problems;
- Significant social stigma, as children of abusive parents are very much likely to be ranked at the bottom of existing social hierarchies by their peers;
- Trust issues and lack of knowledge about themselves because of the range of negative feelings and emotions they usually experience and inability to establish a dialogue with themselves;
- Birth defects among children of mothers abusing during pregnancy;
- Disruption of sexual development etc.,
However, it is important to remember that such children can still find a good role model and supporter among other adults to fix their lives. Statistics say that 3 out of 4 children of alcohol abusers manage to gain back control over their lives and move on from this stressful and traumatic childhood experience. Therefore, such situations are not hopeless, children simply need a strong personality and they could rely on and learn from.