Addiction affects more than just the individual with the problem. It is said that for every one person affected by addiction, another five are directly or indirectly affected as well. In most instances, it is the family members and friends who feel the full force of the addiction, but it can also affect the wider community.
Addiction is known as a family illness because the close family members and friends of an addicted individual usually suffer too. One group of people who are severely affected by addiction are children; sadly, children are often referred to as ‘forgotten victims’.
How Substance Abuse Affects Children
Children are often deemed too young to be made aware that a parent is struggling with addiction. However, they will be aware that something is not right. If an addicted parent is acting in an unpredictable manner and is unable to provide appropriate care, the child will suffer. Children of addicted parents often feel confused, angry, ashamed, guilty anxious, neglected, frightened, and helpless.
The degree to which a child is affected by parental addiction will depend on a number of factors. For example, children living in a home where addiction affects both parents will suffer more emotional damage than children in a home with just one addicted parent.
If there is a strong caregiver other than the addicted parent – such as a non-addicted parent or a grandparent – the child may be less severely impacted. Nevertheless, the severity of the addiction the parent is suffering with will also determine how severely affected the child is.
Understanding Parental Addiction
Young children who are told nothing about their parent’s illness may be left feeling terrified by the behaviour of the person they rely on most in the world. The older the child is, the more he or she will understand. Nonetheless, it is essential that children are made aware of what is happening to some degree, no matter how old they are.
Children of addicted parents need emotional support to help them deal with the situation effectively. Unfortunately, it is often not just emotional problems that affect the kids of addicted parents. In some cases, children are neglected and suffer physical abuse at the hands of their addicted parent. Others are affected by financial hardship and, in extreme cases, malnourishment. When addiction becomes a serious problem within a home, it is not uncommon for children to be faced with separation from their parents and siblings.
If they are unaware of why this is happening, it can be extremely frightening, and the effects can be long-lasting. Some children will face emotional problems that last into adulthood, and others will end up suffering from addictions of their own in later life.
Consequences for the Child
Kids who do not understand that their parent is ill may blame themselves for the unpredictable behaviour. It’s hard for a child to cope with the extreme mood swings of a parent, and they may become frightened and upset. Children often believe they have done something wrong to cause their parent to become angry or violent.
Children of addicts often feel ashamed or embarrassed about their addicted parent and then they will experience feelings of guilt because of it. This can affect their mental well-being and can lead to problems in school. Schoolwork often suffers when a child is dealing with a chaotic lifestyle at home.
They may also become isolated and withdrawn, and if they are not appropriately cared for, they may become the target for bullies because of their appearance. This will all cause psychological damage to the child. Children of addicts are at risk of mental health problems, sickness, infection, and may develop issues such as eating disorders or substance addictions when they are older.