A family is the first place that a person learns about life. Ideally, a family teaches a person that they are safe, loved and valuable. Sometimes, however, when a child is born into a family where addiction is present, this simply does not happen. 

A child who is raised by addicted parents can struggle with forming healthy attachments, getting their basic needs met, dealing with on-going emotional distress, and even witnessing or experiencing violence. Parental pressure to keep substance abuse a secret can also lead to isolation from peers and supportive adults outside the home. This can have a long-lasting impact on the people they will one day become and the relationships they will build in their adult lives.

Impacts on Self-Worth

Because parental addiction can leave a child with unmet emotional needs, it is not surprising that people raised by addicted parents are more likely to struggle with:

  • Judging themselves harshly for even the smallest mistakes
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Fear that they will be inadequate parents themselves 
  • Guilt over setting boundaries and or doing anything take care of themselves
  • People-pleasing and perfectionism to gain approval and love from the people around them
  • Feeling that they do not deserve to have their needs met, leading them to not speak up when they have a need

Impacts on Behavior

The uncertainty and fear a child from an addictive home feels can lead to some maladaptive behaviors in both childhood and later life:

  • Impulsivity
  • Attempting to exert control over other people and the world around them
  • Overreacting when a change occurs that is outside of their control
  • An inability to feel safe in a calm or “normal” environment
  • Learned helplessness
  • Substance abuse

While the trauma of being raised in a home where substance abuse is occurring can create many of these issues, there is also a genetic component to addiction. Therefore, it is important that people who were born to a biological parent who struggled with addiction be aware that they are at increased risk for addiction. 

Impacts on Future Relationships

Adult children of addicted parents might also have difficulties in their adult relationships, including:

  • Trust issues
  • Seeing themselves as a victim
  • Difficulty interacting with their partner if they perceive their partner to be upset with them
  • Struggling to stand up for themselves and voice their own needs
  • Creating chaos when it seems like things are going too smoothly
  • Engaging in relationships with people who share the traits above
  • Higher likelihood to enter relationships with people who have substance abuse issues

Ways to Help Children in Addictive Homes

There are several ways to help children who have lived with addicted parents. These include:

  • Being caring and consistent
  • Being willing to listen, but not demanding that they share information
  • Reminding them that the issues at home are not their fault
  • Teaching them healthy ways to express difficult feelings
  • Allowing them the opportunity to just be kids and not have adult responsibilities 
  • Recognizing that maladaptive behavior the child displays may be the result of their unstable home life and being willing to work through those behaviors with them

Support for Children of Addicted Parents

Children and adults who have lived with addiction in their family may find it helpful to:

  • Meet other survivors of parental addiction at 12-step meetings like Al-Anon or Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families. People raised in a family with an addicted parent are not alone. It is estimated that one in eight children under the age of 17 lives with an addicted parent currently. Knowing there are others who face this struggle can be comforting.
  • Attend individual therapy to work on their self-perception, difficult feelings about the trauma they experienced in childhood, and resulting maladaptive behaviors
  • Participate in family therapy to repair relationships damaged by parental addiction and learn better ways to interact with their siblings, parents, and future loved ones

If you are struggling with substance use and came from a family where addiction was present, the caring team at Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, understands. We can provide the support and encouragement you need to help break the cycle.