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The Challenges of Living with a Parent with a Substance Use Disorder

How it Affects Children and What Can Be Done to Help.

Anyone who has a family member suffering from addiction knows how painful it is to watch someone you love struggle with an all-consuming life-threatening disease. Challenges that come with living with someone that has a drug or alcohol addiction include mood swings and unreliability. For children whose parents suffer from addiction, these are more than just challenges. Often times, it comes down to a child being able to stay in their home or needing to live elsewhere.

Children need stability. In order to grow up happy and healthy, they need to eat at regular times, get a full night’s sleep, have transportation to school, etc. – in essence, they need a basic daily routine. They need to be able to rely on their parent to provide these essential things, but if their parent(s) have an addiction, sticking to a routine can be extremely difficult. They might not be in any condition to drive their child around every day, or they might forget to go grocery shopping. This can result in their kids missing a day of school, or a meal; and if these days add up, there can be serious consequences to the child’s physical health and mental well-being.

Alcoholism and drug addiction can cause extreme and sudden mood swings and sudden fits of anger or elation that change the atmosphere of the whole house. You can’t plan for these mood swings, because you can’t always tell what will trigger them. The parent might even lash out at their child. As a result, the child will always be anxious, wondering if something they do or say will spark a reaction from their parent.

Parent-Child Role Reversal.

There is a kind of role reversal that takes place for children in these situations. They become the person who keeps track of the schedule and takes care of their parent. Or, sometimes, with no one to enforce rules, or to really take care of them, children will start acting out. They are significantly more at risk of dropping out of school, and of getting into drugs and alcohol at a young age themselves. Children are very impressionable, especially between the ages of 13 to 17 which is the age when many of their peers may start experimenting with substances. Children of parents struggling with addiction are both genetically and environmentally more likely to battle substance use disorders.

What to Do.

In some instances, it may make sense to remove a child from their parents’ house and into the home of a close relative or friend, at least temporarily. Living with addiction presents a whole host of challenges to raising a child, and the same can be said for raising a child while newly sober or trying to enter recovery. If children have another relative who can take them in temporarily, that might be the best scenario for all involved – they will still be with someone they know and love, while still feeling connected to their parent.

The Stigma of Addiction.

Parents struggling with addiction must seek help. Oftentimes, parents avoid this because they are afraid of being judged or having their kids taken away from them. These are perfectly understandable fears, but unfortunately avoiding the problem will only make the situation worse.

Dealing with a substance use disorder does not mean you are less of a parent than anyone else. It doesn’t mean you love your children any less than other parents. What it means is that your family unit has a unique set of problems to overcome, but with the right resources to turn to, you can overcome those obstacles and the family unit will be stronger as a result.

For more information on Spectrum Health Systems, visit www.SpectrumHealthSystems.org or call 1-877-MyRehab.

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