By Terra Clark, MSW, Courier & Press, November 29, 2016 – As a staggering number of people continue to fall victim to heroin and other opioid addictions, their lives begin to crumble around them.
Opioids are prescription drugs usually prescribed to treat pain, such as hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin), oxycodone (e.g. OxyContin, Percocet), and morphine (e.g. Kadian, Avinza). Heroin is also an opioid but is cheaper, and in some cases, easier to obtain than prescription opioids.
The downward spiral of addiction takes others in its wake. Families often suffer physically, financially, and emotionally – and children are particularly vulnerable to the impact of a parent’s drug abuse and addiction.
Moreover, substance abuse can affect parenting skills, since using substances changes the way a person thinks, looks, feels and behaves. These changes are unpredictable, making the home feel even more unstable.
Under the influence, a parent will often neglect their child’s needs. The child may be confused or scared by the changes in the parent. A parent who is drugged cannot respond effectively, if at all, to a child’s needs.
When using, parents have poor impulse control and say and do things they wouldn’t normally do or react to their child in ways that are inappropriate or harmful. It is normal for a parent to feel frustrated at times; after all, parenting is challenging. The use of substances makes it more likely that the parent will respond to frustration inappropriately, directing it at the child. Children may see these behaviors or reactions as “normal” and repeat the same behaviors/actions they see from their parents.
Often, the maltreatment is a matter of what the parent fails to do. A substance-abusing parent may consistently overlook meals and other necessities such as proper hygiene and supervision.
Then there is emotional neglect; the unpredictability of a substance-abusing parent scares a child. The parent may be loving one minute and enraged the next. Children need consistent affection and attention, and addicted parents typically cannot provide such an environment.
A substance-abusing parent may leave the child alone for long periods of time or expose the child to violence by allowing drug trafficking in the home or other drug-abusing adults that are a direct threat to the child.
In many ways, children of drug addicted parents are robbed of their childhoods. These children often take over household responsibilities, care for siblings and sometimes even parents who cannot care for themselves. This can affect learning, friendships, mental health, and every aspect of their lives. Children often feel it is their fault because they cannot understand their parent’s substance abuse problem, especially if the parent criticizes or yells often.
Surrounded by the lifestyle of substance abuse, a child is under constant stress. Children are always wondering, “How will my parent react?” “What will happen next?” “Who will be here today?” Children in this situation are unlikely to develop at the same rate intellectually, socially or emotionally as children whose lives are less burdened by stress.
Children who grow up in a home with substance abuse often find that it follows them into adulthood. They have difficulty in relationships due to mistrust and the lack of exposure to healthy adult relationships. Children of substance abusers are more likely to abuse drugs and start at an earlier age.
There is hope and help if you want to make things better for yourself or your family. You can talk to your primary care physician or call a trained therapist.
It is never too late to be a sober parent and a positive role model offering consistency, structure, attention, communication, praise and patience. Your children deserve for you to be at your best!