Children of addicts are never sure what to expect from day to day. Often their home life is unstable, unsafe, or both. Being the child of someone with an active substance use disorder (SUD) leaves emotional scars and often results in lifelong behavioral and/or emotional problems.
The Childhood Years
Addiction affects everyone in the family. Many times the unstable environment causes a child to have to act as the adult or caretaker of the addicted parent. Children of parents suffering from SUD are not only robbed of their childhood, but they also become withdrawn and learn to hide their feelings. Since they never formed a loving bond at home, it is hard for them to form loving bonds with others. Generally, these children have low self-esteem and suffer from trust issues. They may act out in school or other places and find it difficult to be in social situations.
An article by Dr. Kenneth J. Sher summarizes how the children of addicts are affected, and he separates these effects into two categories:
- Externalizing Symptoms: aggression, rule-breaking, impulsivity, inattention, and defiance
- Internalizing Symptoms: high levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses
Growing up with parents addicted to drugs or alcohol places the child into a life of uncertainty, chaos, and inconsistency. Family roles are unclear, and illogical thinking is the norm. Arguments, yelling, and violence are common. These children suffer from trauma that they carry with them throughout their lives.
Lasting Effects That Influence Adult Behavior
The problems caused by parental addiction follow through into adulthood, often resurfacing when family relationships and dynamics come into play. The following is an overview of eight of the most common personality traits of adult children of drug- or alcohol-addicted parents:
- Isolation: Since the adult children of addicts do not know what normal behavior or a balanced response is, they often guess at the right way to act and respond. Oftentimes they feel like they are different from the people around them. Sometimes they believe they should receive special treatment or be given allowances for their dysfunctional behavior. It is hard for them to keep positive relationships on all levels, including romantically; as a result, they often choose to isolate themselves.
- Impulsive behavior: The person acts without thinking through the situation or makes a choice without considering the options. Therefore, they spend much of their energy trying to cover up or fix the consequences of their behavior. This can lead to self-loathing, confusion, and a feeling that they have lost control of their environment.
- Overreaction: When a change occurs that is out of the person’s control, they often overreact in an extremely negative and emotional way. They are unable to take the time to think about the possible positive results of the change or how to adjust and move forward in the new situation.
- Inconsistency: Following through on a project from beginning to end is often difficult for adult children of addicts. They feel the need to take care of everything and everyone at home and at work and tend to overcommit. They often find it difficult, if not impossible, to follow through and fulfill their commitments.
- Lying: Being socially unfamiliar with what would be considered an acceptable response in any specific situation, many people will lie, omit, or exaggerate even when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
- Seeking approval: As adults, children of addicted parents are constantly seeking the approval of others and have difficulty with any type of criticism. When criticized, even if it is constructive or meant well, they often respond with anger or emotional manipulation, such as crying, blaming or giving the silent treatment.
- Seeing themselves as a victim: These adults have a difficult time seeing how their choices play a role in their relationships and lives. They blame those around them for their reactions and behavior. It is hard for them to acknowledge their mistakes, making it impossible for them to learn from them.
- Being judgmental: Adult children of addicts are judgmental of everyone, even themselves. They are never really content with themselves, others, or their situations.
Unfortunately, even though they have experienced the devastating effects of drug or alcohol addiction first hand, many of these adult children still develop substance addictions.
Help is Available
Addiction is a disease that affects the whole family. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call and speak to a trained professional at Canyon Vista Recovery Center in Mesa, Arizona. Canyon Vista provides the comprehensive treatment you need to lead a clean and sober life.