An Addicted Parent and Childhood Trauma

An addicted parent is a source of pain for everyone in a family. However, a child who grows up with parental addiction has a particularly Surving Addicted Parentsunique form of pain that is both immediately difficult, but that also can last a lifetime. Even as adults, such children can still suffer from the trauma of childhood. And, a traumatized child does not have to have lived with an addicted parent to be deeply wounded by parental addiction. The children left behind in the chaos of a parent’s addiction are horribly affected as well. Childhood trauma from having an addicted parent manifests in various ways. Reactions may include: anxiety, depression, anger, withdrawal, aggression, and perfectionism.

Home Life for Children of Addicted Parents

Children with addicted parents face difficulties on every front. Home life is not predictable and you cannot rely on the addicted adults to establish healthy structure and routine. You also cannot rely upon them to provide the type of support you need that is age and developmentally appropriate. Therefore, life from the ‘ground up’ is challenging at best, but often more accurately is chronically stressful and overwhelming. Children react and internalize the home’s chaos according to their own abilities to understand and cope at different ages. Overall, children of all ages in such situations feel insecure without healthy and consistent parental support. If there are siblings in the home, children often help care for one another by default.

Shouldering the Blame and Other Responsibility

Children exposed to parental addiction tend to take on responsibilities that are by no means healthy or age appropriate. For example, they may believe themselves responsible for a parent’s substance use. Young children view the world through egocentric eyes and can, for instance, believe If I were a good boy (or girl) Daddy wouldn’t drink. Or, If Mommy loved me she wouldn’t take pills. 

Children also try to help the situation by trying to control things like cleaning the house, grocery shopping, cooking, making good grades, not upsetting parents or keeping siblings in line. Some children also hide alcohol or drugs to prevent parents from using them. Sadly, these are all loving and desperate attempts to make home life better, but they hinge upon a child’s belief that somehow he or she is responsible for the substance use or the solution to substance use. Of course, neither of those things is true.