The Impact On Children Whose Parents Are Alcoholics Or Drug Addicts

Children in families experiencing alcohol or drug abuse need attention, guidance and support. They may be growing up in homes in which the problems are either denied or covered up. These children need to have their experiences validated. They also need safe, reliable adults in whom to confide and who will support them, reassure them, and provide them with appropriate help for their age. They need to have fun and just be kids.
Families with alcohol and drug problems usually have high levels of stress and confusion. High stress family environments are a risk factor for early and dangerous substance use, as well as mental and physical health problems. It is important to talk honestly with children about what is happening in the family and to help them express their concerns and feelings. Children need to trust the adults in their lives and to believe that they will support them. Children living with alcohol or drug abuse in the family can benefit from participating in educational support groups in their school student assistance programs.
Those age 11 and older can join Alateen groups, which meet in community settings and provide healthy connections with others coping with similar issues. Being associated with the activities of a faith community can also help. Dependence on alcohol and drugs is our most serious national public health problem. It is prevalent among rich and poor, in all regions of the country, and all ethnic and social groups. Millions of Americans misuse or are dependent on alcohol or drugs. Most of them have families who suffer the consequences, often serious, of living with this illness. If there is alcohol or drug dependence in your family, remember you are not alone. Most individuals who abuse alcohol or drugs have jobs and are productive members of society creating a false hope in the family that “it’s not that bad.”
The problem is that addiction tends to worsen over time, hurting both the addicted person and all the family members. It is especially damaging to young children and adolescents. People with this illness really may believe that they drink normally or that “everyone” takes drugs. These false beliefs are called denial; this denial is a part of the illness. Alcoholism and other drug addiction have genetic and environmental causes. Both have serious consequences for children who live in homes where parents are involved. More than 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics; nearly 11 million are under the age of 18. This figure is magnified by the countless number of others who are affected by parents who are impaired by other psychoactive drugs.
Alcoholism and other drug addiction tend to run in families. Children of addicted parents are more at risk for alcoholism and other drug abuse than are other children. Children of addicted parents are the highest risk group of children to become alcohol and drug abusers due to both genetic and family environment factors. Biological children of alcohol dependent parents who have been adopted continue to have an increased risk (2-9 fold) of developing alcoholism. Recent studies suggest a strong genetic component, particularly for early onset of alcoholism in males. Sons of alcoholic fathers are at fourfold risk compared with the male offspring of non-alcoholic fathers. Use of substances by parents and their adolescent children is strongly correlated; generally, if parents take drugs, sooner or later their children will also. Adolescents who use drugs are more likely to have one or more parents who also use drugs. The influence of parental attitudes on a child’s drug taking behaviors may be as important as actual drug abuse by the parents. An adolescent who perceives that a parent is permissive about the use of drugs is more likely to use drugs.

Source: Public Service Announcement from SAMHSA in the public domain 27th Jan 2010

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