When you have finally made the decision to get help for your alcohol and/or drug problem, there is serenity and joy to be found through the process of working your recovery program. Every day, you can feel yourself growing healthier and stronger as you learn how to live with your disease of addiction.
However, that happiness and peace of mind is often tempered by the realization that when you were actively addicted, you left a path of pain and destruction in your wake.
Typically, the hardest-hit collateral victims of addiction are those people who are closest to you – your spouse, your coworkers, your parents, and your children.
The Effect of Exposure to Substance Abuse on Children
Numerous studies have shown that the children of addicts and alcoholics are themselves at greater risk for substance abuse disorders and emotional problems. The statistics are – no pun intended – sobering.
- In the United States right now, there are approximately 28 million children who have at least one alcoholic parent.
- 11 million of those children are under the age of 18.
- 43% of American adults – 76 million people – have had a parent, a sibling, a child, or a spouse that suffered from alcoholism.
- 53% of Americans say that they have a close relative who is an alcoholic.
- It is been determined that addiction is 50% due to an individual’s genetics.
- The other 50% is due to lessons learned from the environment – addictive behaviors, poor coping skills, anger issues, etc.
- Obviously, children of substance abusers carry the “addictive gene”, and households where one or more parent are addicted to drugs or alcohol are often extremely chaotic, and not at all conducive to the child’s learning good interpersonal skills.
- Children with addicted parents are eight times as likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.
The Cycle of Generational Addiction
If you are currently in recovery for your own alcoholism or drug addiction, you may be feeling that, through a combination of genetics and your past behavior, you may have passed your disease on to your children.
There is no way to sugarcoat this – that is a justifiable fear.
But there are two facts that may encourage you –
- Genetics Do Not Dictate Destiny – Many people have come from addicted families and gone on to defy their family history by living happy, healthy, non-addicted lives.
- It Is Never Too Late to Change Behaviors – As you continue your journey of recovery, you are doing more than simply abstaining from drugs and alcohol. The professional addiction specialists who you work with in your rehab program will teach you how to attain emotional sobriety – how to cope healthily and productively with life.
Practical Tips for How to Break the Destructive Cycle of Addiction
Luckily, there are many time-honored techniques that a recovering addict/alcoholic can use to give their children the best chance of escaping unscathed –
- Always work your recovery program. This has to be the #1 priority.
- Do not neglect your parenting duties for your recovery activities, and vice versa.
- Join support groups for other parents in recovery. Share your experiences and draw strength from each other.
- Work on developing your own coping skills.
- Resolve difficulties by problem solving, rather than conflict.
- Communicate with your child clearly.
- Recognize that they are at elevated risk for drug addiction and/or alcohol.
- Understand that there will be societal exposure. Deal with that exposure positively and proactively. Talk to them about peer pressure.
- Make sure that your children understand that you regret any harm you did to them – physically, emotionally, psychologically – while you were actively addicted.
- Thank them for the resilience they have shown in the face of your disease.
- Do not be afraid to ask for their forgiveness.
- As you learned in 12-Step fellowship meetings, try to make direct amends.
- Let your children see you expressing gratitude to anyone who helped you with your parenting duties while you were actively addicted.
- Staying age-appropriate, honestly let your children know your history with substance abuse and how it can connect to them.
- Do not sermonize – simply tell the truth.
- Help them understand how substance abuse has both directly and indirectly impacted their lives.
- Do not let your children be “curious” about drugs or alcohol. Talk to them plainly, to remove any mysterious allure.
- Express confidence in your children that they do not have to be defined by their family history or your disease.
- Diligently work to repair any damage within the family that your active addiction may have caused.
- Establish “family rituals” to give your children a strong sense of normalcy and tradition.
- Teach your children to establish relationships with their peers that aren’t based upon substance abuse. Set the example with your own friends.
- Engage in healthy family activities that have nothing to do with intoxication.
- You may feel some guilt. Do not try to assuage the guilt by being over-permissive or over-indulgent with your children. Remember to set boundaries.
- Foster an atmosphere of consistency, security, safety, and unconditional affection with your children.
- Show an interest in your child’s interests.
- When you have an opportunity to observe alcohol or drug use in others, use that as a practical example of how that behavior clashes with your family’s values.
- As a child gets older, set down clear expectations and consequences about alcohol and drug use.
- Diligently work to prevent early experimentation with drugs or alcohol. The later the onset of the first use, the lesser the chance of them developing an addiction.
- Be prepared to seek professional help if your child shows and need, or if an issue arises.
Once you have an established period of sobriety, you may feel strong and confident in your progress. All of your positive feelings can go away when you begin to worry about your child. All parents share the same trepidation that their child will abuse drugs or alcohol. In your particular case, however, heredity and test environments may necessitate extra vigilance and positive interaction on your part.
One of the best things you can do to help your child avoid the same mistakes you made is to proactively seek the services of trained addiction rehabilitation specialists. They can work with you and your child to impart real wisdom and practical steps you can take.