Most parents understand how important it is to provide an environment in which their children can flourish. While the specific definition of that environment might vary by situation – blended families, single parenting and socioeconomic factors – the fact remains that the environment needs to be as safe and nurturing as possible. When one or both parents are addicts, the family environment is threatened and the parent(s) need to seek addiction treatment services to get healthy and return home in a state that allows them to provide the appropriate home environment for their children.
A Parent’s Addiction on Children
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) co-sponsored a book entitled, Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy that explains that as varied as family units are today; children’s reactions to parental addiction also vary and may manifest in behaviors including the following:
- The sober parent may overcompensate for the deficiencies of their substance-abusing spouse
- Children may feel required to act as surrogate spouses or caregivers
- Children often act in a manner that is not age-appropriate to compensate for the parental deficiency
Resolving these behaviors is not simple to achieve while the abusing parent resides within the household. Therefore, while it may be difficult to make the decision to leave young children to enter treatment, it is the first step in breaking the addiction patterns that may include the following:
- Negativism – A home environment with an abusing adult often is filled with negativism ranging from complaints and criticism to an environment where there is little positive interaction.
- Parental inconsistency – When living with an abusing adult, children often live in confusion and fear because the behaviors in the household are erratic and inconsistent.
- Emotional mismanagement – Children who resent their emotionally-deprived home often keep their anger and resentment bottled up. These children may act out, experience lower self-esteem and live with constant uncertainty.
- Behavioral extremes – Children in a household with a substance abusing parent may withdraw into themselves and become isolated or they may attempt the other extreme of setting unrealistic and high expectations for themselves.
It is no wonder that children who grow up in an environment with mental health issues or substance abuse are at greater risk. Therefore, getting addiction treatment is the right thing to do for the parent and for the family. In addition, it shows the children that the parent is committed to doing what is best even when it is a difficult choice.
How To Tell Your Child about Leaving for Treatment
The Huffington Post is an American online news aggregator and blog that covers a wide variety of topics including lifestyle, culture, healthy living and women’s interests. Their blog, How to Talk to a Child About a Parent’s Addiction, provides valuable information about how to talk to children about a parent’s addiction.
Before you talk with the children, make sure that you are educated enough about addiction so that you can answer any questions they might have. In addition, it is helpful to finalized treatment plans in advance so that there are defined next steps for the children. The other suggestions for talking with children include the following:
- Plan the conversation – You want to make sure that you have sufficient time and a location that is free from distraction when you are talking to a child about a parent’s addiction. You want to provide the child with enough information to allay their questions and concerns. Assure the children that they may have varying thoughts and feelings over the next several days and weeks and they can come to you to discuss them.
- Age-appropriate – You want to speak at a level and provide the amount of details that is appropriate for each child’s age.
- Be honest – Even though you are going to ensure that the conversation is age-appropriate, it needs to be honest. Children may not like what you are saying, they may cry, scream or both; but knowing that you have been honest with them gives them a sense of trust and security.
- Acknowledge the child’s reaction – Be empathetic to the child’s thoughts and feelings. Be hopeful about the outcome of the treatment.
- Identify accountability – Children need to understand that they are not responsible for their parent’s addiction and that they play no role in that parent getting sober. The parent is accountable and is taking the necessary actions to get healthy.
- Find additional support – Reach out to friends, family, spiritual advisers or support groups to provide a pool of resources from which your child can receive support.
Do all of your homework about addiction, treatment plans and additional support resources before you have the first conversation. Take the time you need to plan the conversation to ensure that it is most responsive to your child’s needs.
Components for Effective Addiction Treatment
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has defined a comprehensive list of principles of effective treatment that should be considered when seeking the best drug addiction treatment program for an addicted parent. Some of these principles are that treatment needs to attend to multiple needs of the individual, not just the drug abuse, that remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical and that family counseling in this case will be very useful.
Get Help for Addiction
We know that you may have several questions about treatment and your options. We can help, so please call our toll-free helpline today. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you might have about your treatment options.