Do you dread the holidays because you know at some point one of your parents will cause a scene because they are drunk or high? Do you often feel embarrassed by their behavior, scared for their safety or anxious because they are unpredictable when they drink or use drugs? Are you frustrated or depressed that your parent won’t stop using for the sake of their family, even when they cause so much damage?

If your home life is negatively affected by addiction, you are not alone. Based on data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, about 1 in 8 children aged 17 or younger live in households with at least one parent with a substance use disorder.

When a parent drinks or uses drugs, it can cause children to experience violence, abuse, neglect, lack of resources or parental incarceration. But even when it doesn’t lead to severe harm or trauma, a parent’s substance use issues often leave children feeling unloved, uncared for and alone. Adolescents and teens in a home with addiction, tend to take on the role of the adult in the family, shouldering the burden of taking care of themselves, their parents and their siblings. This can lead to feelings of intense stress and resentment.  

Over time, research shows that children of parents with substance use issues are at greater risk for depression, anxiety disorders, behavior and academic problems. They are also four times more likely than their peers to develop substance use issues later in life.

So, as a child of a parent with a substance use issue, how can you cope in a healthy way?

For your well-being, it’s critical to understand that no one is responsible for someone else’s alcohol or drug problem. It is not your fault and you, by yourself, can’t change your parent. If you are going through this, the best thing you can do is to tell someone about what you are experiencing and get the support you need and deserve.

Here are some steps to consider:

  • Open up to someone. Although it may be hard to talk about, your parent’s substance use, it shouldn’t be a family secret for you to protect. Nor should it be something you feel embarrassed about. Talk to a good friend or an adult you trust. Let them know what you’re going through. Sharing your experience will be a relief, and the person you are talking to may be able to able to assist you in getting support.

  • Stay in touch with your emotions. Don’t bury your feelings or pretend that everything’s OK. Notice how your parent’s substance problem makes you feel. It’s important to understand why you feel the way you do and express it. Bottling up your anxiety, sadness or frustration is not healthy.

  • Find support. There are many resources for adolescents and teens of alcoholics or addicts. Talking with others who are going through the same thing, can be extremely helpful. But even if you aren’t ready to join a support group, look online for resources that might work for you. Some options include:
    • Alateen – A support group for “teens affected by someone else’s addiction.” They have a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-344-2666 or an app.  
    • The National Association for Children of Addiction – Offers support and resources for children and teens coping with a parent’s addiction.
    • Your Life Your Voice from Boys Town (for girls, too) – Provides support and resources for most issues adolescents and teens struggle with. Call:1-800-448-3000, Text VOICE to 20121, mobile app
    • Childhelp National Hotline – Offers resources for dealing with emotional or physical abuse. to help with any type of abuse): 1-800-422-4453, Text: 1-800-422-4453
    • School – Most schools have resources available for students living in homes affected by addiction through the school counselor or nurse.
  • Consider reaching out to a mental health professional. Having a parent with a substance use issue is a lot to deal with. A mental health clinician can help you understand your feelings and offer coping strategies. They can also provide guidance about talking to your parent and supporting them when they get help.
  • Make sure you’re safe. If you don’t feel safe at home, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE. If you think you or another family member could be in danger, call 911. If there is no immediate threat, but your home environment feels toxic at times, consider reaching out to trusted friends or relatives to ask them if you can stay at their house for a few hours or days when the situation at home becomes difficult.
  • Practice self-care. When you live with a parent who is an addict, your home life can be chaotic and unpredictable. Mindfulness practices, exercise, time spent outdoors, participating in activities you enjoy and other strategies, will help you cope with your stress and build your resilience.
  • Stop the cycle. Be aware that you are at higher risk for developing a substance use problem. A support group or therapy will help you learn how to avoid this risk.

The National Association of Children of Addiction offers a helpful mantra to children of alcoholics and addicts, called the “7Cs”:

“I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it. But I can take care of myself, communicate my feelings, make healthy choices and celebrate myself.”  

Living with an addict is hard. But you are not alone and there is support for you. Remember the “7Cs” and If you need to talk to someone, I am here to help. Contact me at (303) 542-0180.

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