Facing addiction while responsible for a child is a combination no parent would want. Both have their own stresses already, and the thought of having to encounter both simultaneously seems nightmarish. The harsh reality is that substance addiction and abuse is more prevalent among American parents than we might think. This specifically concerns parents of young children. Not only will this affect a parent’s teachings and responsibilities of their child, but the child can likely pick up the same habits as their parents.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
● Over 10% of American children live with a parent facing alcohol problems
● 23% of teenagers say their parents do not care all if they are caught using prescription drugs recreationally
● 27% of teenagers believe that abusing prescription drugs is better than street drugs, with this mistaken belief and habit likely stemming from parental influence. A sad consequence of this is that now more teens die from misusing prescription drugs than teens who die from street drugs.
For those struggling with addiction as a parent, there is a wide variety of substances to choose from and the effects of said substance vary as well.
Alcohol: the parent may neglect or forget their responsibilities or stay out all night and leave children alone because of intoxication. Additionally, parents may have rage or depressive episodes, thus creating an unstable home.
Marijuana: this substance also leads to parental neglect and forgetting of responsibilities. Parents may also leave their children alone while trying to find marijuana dealers or while using marijuana. Lastly, parents may fall asleep under the influence of this drug and would be unable to monitor and ensure their children’s safety.
Hallucinogens: this array of drugs includes ecstasy, LSD, PCP, Peyote, and a few others. Hallucinogens also lead to neglect of childcare responsibilities and temporary absence while seeking and using these drugs. Additionally, a parent on any of these drugs may be prone to quick anger or impatience with their child, due to thought distortion or misunderstanding of their child’s behavior.
Cocaine: a child’s crying for a parent on cocaine would be magnified in its intensity, whereas such an action may just be a mild disruption for one who’s sober. Similar to hallucinogens, a parent on this substance would be quicker to have negative emotions.
Methamphetamine: Parents on meth are more likely not to supervise their children nor attend to their basic needs of hygiene, nutrition, or medicine. Additionally, a parent is more likely to experience aggressive behavior, paranoia, and violence, which could lead to dire consequences if around their children. Furthermore, if a parent is cooking their own meth, there are dangerous risks associated with that (which extend to children), such as home fires and explosions, as well as accidental absorption of the drug to the children.
Opioids: “opioids” in this sense refers to prescription pain medication, a commonly abused drug type. Neglect and absence of supervision are also common consequences of opioid use. Additionally, parents may bring about dangerous situations to the home by bringing back dealers and other opioid abusers.
What’s important to note is that, oftentimes, a person isn’t addicted to substances solely by their own volition. Addiction, be it any of the substances previously mentioned, can span familial generations. What your grandparents and beyond experimented with likely has left your parents, and thus you, more predisposed to addictive behaviors. All is not lost, though, and there are plenty of steps you can take to prevent or break intergenerational addiction.
The first step would be to evaluate and control your emotions. This isn’t to say to bottle up your emotions or fake your feelings, but rather to remind yourself to be courageous and resilient. When those who are predisposed to addiction have negative thoughts, their first instinct is likely to numb the pain with substances. Supplementing this urge with positive thoughts and experiences will work wonders.
The next step is to understand that you needn’t face and mitigate these addictive urges alone - seek help from outside sources and find a support group to share your thoughts. Therapy and addiction counseling will fortify your sobriety and help with any other underlying issues that need to be addressed.
Another step is to make time for activities revolving around relaxation. Meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises are useful for eliminating built up stresses and anxieties, cravings, and other urges that would compromise your sobriety.
When specifically talking about ending existing addictions while being a parent, there are, as it unfortunately turns out, harsher means for success. Parents will need to understand that, in order to improve themselves for their children, conditions will have to drastically change.
These changes will involve temporary separation of children from addicted parents and checking into rehabilitation programs/clinics. If a parent fights these parameters, it is important to remind them that the temporary separation is for the greater good of them and their children. Further, if they can’t be apart from their kids for a short time, they may lose their children permanently to Child Protective Services and be put in foster care.
Ultimately, if you are or know a parent who is struggling with addiction, please seek help for yourself or them. A temporary absence from your children in order to take a positive hold on life and improve for them will be understood. The alternative is, not to be too hyperbolic, a lifetime of resentment for the parent(s) that was never there and that passed on destructive behaviors surrounding leisure and coping. You don’t have to go through parenthood and addiction alone; there are several resources to help you overcome this difficult time.