The Ignored Ones: Children of Addicts

In the United States, about 8.7 million kids under the age of 17 live in a household with at least one parent battling with addiction. This data was combined was from 2009 to 2014. This doesn’t even include the recent rise in opiate users.

It’s time to give these children a voice. It’s time we stopped letting kids hold family secrets that kill them slowly, letting children become the caretaker before their time, and letting these kids be ignored by society.

My Story

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Growing up, I watched my parents abuse and battle methamphetamines, an addiction that I followed suite with in most of my 20s.

The continuous fights about who was hiding the drugs, who was doing drugs without the other would leak into my brain. The screaming, the threats of leaving, the almost-violent-but-no-hands-were-thrown fights, would radiate through my radio, into my bones and into my heart.

Family friends I was forced to call “aunt” and “uncle” were like a cycle of disappointment. They’d be in and out of our home for weeks at a time then they’d disappear because of an unknown feud with my parents.

But my parents protected me from the actual drug use, never shooting up in front of me, and they never left their drugs around for me to find. They’d send me to my room, my solace, so they could use behind closed doors.

My room was 2 rooms, the entire top level of our “shack” in a town with the population of less than 300, a small town surrounded by corn fields and forests.

That bedroom was my solace, that bedroom was where I hid from the world. With the music cranked up, I could hid from the tension below. The music let me let go of my emotions, the books took me to another world, and the writing let me express myself.

At 12, I pretended to not know what was happening around me. The screams of “dope whore” made it evidence of the verbal cruelty. I was a smart kid, I knew about drugs, I knew about the meth epidemic in small town Iowa. I knew the familiar smell of weed. I had friends who drank, smoked cigarettes, and tampered with marijuana.

I was lonely, I was desolate, I was self-harming, I was screaming for attention. My bipolar disorder had kicked into full drive with nights of sobbing into my pillow until I drifted off to sleep, then there would be nights I’d be up all night long because the string of thoughts wouldn’t shut up.

All this hurt while attending school, getting good grades without trying, and managing a middle school social life that was shrouded with bullying because I was fat, my clothes were from Wal-Mart, and I was poor.

My dad was in and out of prison for meth charges. My mom would break down each time and I would pick her off the ground. At 16, I moved in with my grandparents but by then, it was mentally too late. I was bruised and broken, fighting bipolar disorder and low self esteem.

This story isn’t just about me. It’s about every child who had to take care of their parents, emotionally or physically. It’s about all the children who have suffered (and are still suffering) in silence. It’s about the children who are often ignored, left to wade in misery, addiction, and mental illness without their consent.

The Consequences of Parental Drug Abuse on Children

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 There’s this idea that trauma comes from only war, physical abuse, and sexual abuse but that can’t be further from the truth. Trauma includes neglect, emotional abuse, and emotional neglect.

Trauma can be from constant fighting in the home, living an unstable lifestyle, being talked down to, and witnessing others being berated. Trauma can be from being forced to be the adult before the child is fully developed, from doing all the household work in the home because his or her parents are too inebriated or from being the emotional support of the parents.

In my case, I wasn’t physically abused or sexually abused but I was the emotional support. I was the medium between the never ending fights between my parents.

I was the shoulder my mother cried on while being suicidal. I would pick her off the floor, take the knife from her hand, and take her to bed since she hadn’t slept in weeks. My dad was emotionally absent from me. He was there physically but evert mentally.

The Psychosocial Outline of Mental Development

Erik Erikson was a German-American development psychologist who outlined the psychosocial development of a person.

  • Stage 1 is infancy. During infancy a baby learns trust and mistrust. Babies require love, attention, and stability from their parents.
  • Stage 2 is childhood. This is when we learn autonomy (the ability to make decisions based on our desires), shame, and doubt. In early childhood, we are learning to be more independent, how to make our own decisions on our specific interests. This is also the time where we may show stubborn behavior, including temper tantrums.
  • Stage 3 is our preschool years. We began to learn initiative and guilt. We start to develop more emotions and we start to learn social behaviors. A parent’s reactions to a child’s behavior is important in their development, whether the child is doing well or misbehaving. Imaginary play is crucial at this stage.
  • Stage 4 is our early school years. This is when we begin to learn competence (in school and at home) and inferiority. Relationships and bonds begin to develop and become more important in our lives, including our family and friends. We also are dealing with the demanding work of school.
  • Stage 5 is our adolescence/teen years. We learn identity. We develop more independence from our family as we are going through the physical and emotional changes from puberty. We learn to find our boundaries which can result in rebellious teens.
  • Stage 6 is early adulthood. We learn intimacy and isolation. We are developing stronger and more intimate relationships with others. We either become social-able or we isolate ourselves from the outside world.
  • Stage 7 is when we hit middle age. We show either generativity or stagnation in life. We are internally developing our purpose. We can either excel or stagnate in life.
  • Stage 8 is old age. We either embrace our memories and past or we feel regret over our past.

Every stage is important for our development and mental health. It’s believed that interrupting this development can cause damage in a chld’s future, from mental illness, to personality disorders, to how a person behaves socially.

The Risks of Interrupting Childhood Development

Children of addicts deal with extended stress compared to their peers. A study was done on the risks of children growing up in households with alcoholic parents. They focused on 3 areas.

  • The first focus was academic and cognitive functioning. Children with alcoholic parents performed weaker than their peers in reading, spelling, and math in middle childhood. These children will experience a lower grade point average and they are less likely to pursue an education outside of high school. Specifically, boys with several generations of male alcoholic family members have a risk of lower ability to verbally and abstractly reason.
  • The next focus was the child’s ability to socially, emotionally, and behaviorally adjust to situations. These children have increased rates of depression, anxiety, conduct problems, aggressive behavior as well as lower self esteem. Mood disorders are reported to be double that of their peers.
  • The last focus was substance involvement of children with addicted parents. By adolescence, 53% of the children had either tried drugs or were using actively.

Children of addicted parents have a greater risk of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. We are 2.7 times more likely to be physically or sexually abused and 4.2 times more likely to be neglected. We are also 2 times more likely to have an alcohol or drug abuse disorder by young adulthood.

This is an alarming and needs to be addressed and confronted.

How to Help the Children and the Parents

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 Now that we know the risks on the children of addicts, how can we help them and how can we help their parents? These kids are suffering in silence and need our help.

The parents are suffering as well. We need to stop looking at addicts as morally deficient and criminals. They are suffering from a health problem, a disease in its own rights.

My parents were unaware of the ramifications of their drug use on their daughter. Their intent wasn’t to hurt me or destroy my world. Their intent was to feed the addiction and numb themselves from their own hurt.

How to Spot a Child Dealing with a Parent’s Addiction

 Every case is different but there are a few signs to be on the look out for to know if a kid’s home life is a mess.

  • The child’s clothing and appearance can speak louder than their words. Some children have to take care of themselves. They may come to school in dirty clothes or they’re unkempt. Their attire might not be right for the weather, such as shorts in winter or no coat. They might be lacking in the hygiene area.
  • They might be tardy to class or absent often. Parents can be so caught up in their drug use that the children won’t have a stable home to pay attention to their attendance. Or they may have free roam in life and with decisions so they don’t attend school.
  • Participation in class may be a sign of an unstable home. The child can be withdrawn and quiet. They may isolate themselves from other students and won’t participate in discussions. They may fall asleep.
  • They may show emotional signs of distress, such as anxiety and depression. They might act out because they are screaming for attention.
  • They might be self-harming. Their wrists or legs may be covered in scars, old and new.
  • They may be experimenting with drugs and alcohol themselves.
  • They might run away from home often to escape the tension. I would hide in the cornfield across the street to get away from the fights so I could be alone. Other children may attempt to permanently run away from home. The National Council of State Legislatures reports that thebiggest reason of a runaway is drug abuse in the home.

How to Help the Children

  •  Talk to the child. It may be hard for them to open up because of a subconscious vow to protect their parents. But if you are persistent, the child may open up. On the inside, they know they need someone to confide in about their trouble at home.
  • Motivate the child to keep a journal to keep track of their moods and feelings. It will be a healthy outlet for the turmoil in their hearts.
  • Suggest the child join extracurricular activities. This keeps the focus away from home and gets them out of the house more often and away from the tension in their home.
  • If you’re able, get the child into a counseling program or therapy. This will help the child engage with their emotions the correct way. It will build self esteem and the realization that their situation is no their fault. It’s common for a child to blame themselves for their parent’s addiction.
  • Talk to the parents calmly. If you’ve talked to the child, don’t mention this fact to the parents. Point out the signs you’ve spotted. Most will get defensive but sometimes the parent realizes their failings and will take the necessary steps to get better.
  • If the situation is bad enough, due to physical or sexual abuse, you may need to report the situation to the Department of Human Services. I consider this a last resort because the tearing apart of a home can be just as traumatic as the drug abuse.

How to Help the Parent

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It’s true that addicts won’t get better or get help until they’ve realized they need to change their lives around. However, sometimes they need a reminder and a push in the right direction. The best way to confront the parent, if you know them personally, is to hold an intervention.

  • Find someone who has been through an intervention before, be it a professional or someone else who has battled addiction and has recovered.
  • Gather friends and family who see the devastation happening in the home and who want to help.
  • If possible, arrange the intervention for when the parent is sober. This gives them the ability to think clearly and examine the concern of their family and friends. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible.
  • Write down your feelings on what’s happening to the parent as well as the child. Have the child do the same. It not only helps the child to open up and relieve their pain but this makes the addict more aware of the hurt theyre causing. The parent will be less likely to get defensive than if you just attack them.
  • Have the conversation calmly. Regardless of how the parent reacts, keep your cool. Let them know your expectations in them becoming sober and what steps you believe they should take, whether it’s AA/NA meetings, other alternatives to the 12-Steps, inpatient rehab, or outpatient rehab.
  • After the intervention, keep in touch. Follow the steps they’re taking to get sober and help them keep on track to the road to recovery. Be that person they can talk to when they’re struggling.

Conclusion

 When it comes to addiction, we need to stop looking the other way and biting our tongues. Addiction doesn’t only devastate the user but everyone around them. Children, children like me, children like you, growing up in these conditions need someone to intervene on their behalf.

Let’s stop ignoring these children and extend a hand while they’re invisibly drowning.

 

Originally, I was going to publish this on my freelance blog but I’ve decided to publish it on The Bipolar Brat as well, since it has a personal story in it.

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48 thoughts on “The Ignored Ones: Children of Addicts”

  1. This reminds me of my best friend back home. I worry about her three daughters because this is exactly how it is for them at home. Very sad what drug addiction does not only to the one addicted but to those who love the addict.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s a really cool program in the city where I live that provides intensive multi-pronged support to high risk substance-addicted moms from pregnancy through until the child is 18 months old. Early intervention works so much better than sweeping things under the rug and pretending they’re just not happening.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Agreed! You live in Canada, right? There’s nothing like that around here. Iowa has a few rehabs that let mothers bring their children but that’s the extent of it. At least for Iowa! I was lucky, my mom didn’t use when she was pregnant. She started when I was 11 until I was 18.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. a really great post! Im sorry you had to go through all that. Ive never experienced drug use at home, but my dad was an alcoholic, so i do know to some degree how that can be. xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  4. God I love you. I just love your soul. You’re such a calm amidst a storm. And you’re a beautiful writer. I have mad respect for you. I’m not quiet about my upbringing and my traumas and I’m constantly like WHO ELSE IS OUT THERE??! HELLLLOO?! We are lucky to have writing and books and strength. I know this all too well. Amazing post. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ❤ ❤ Thank you so much, Ely! ❤ ❤ I'm not always calm, haha! I'm glad I'm not the only one who wants to talk about it. I've been told that "the past is the past" & similar things. But most of us (at least me, anyway) held it in for so long, we had to open up. It's healing & I want others to know they aren't alone. We are freaking warriors, Ely!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes girl, we are. And the past is the past but it’s never forgotten and it always gnaws at us in the most sensitive of places inside. There’s ZERO wrong in being open. I wish more people were like us, truly…no one should ever feel alone no matter what they’re battling… wars are meant to be fought in armies. Imagine how difficult it’s been for us lone-soldiers to make it out of our silent battles alive. Girl please. Be proud to be loud xoxo

        Liked by 1 person

  5. So powerful and informative. Great job, Casey! I had no idea the extent of the issue, and the outline of our stages of development was telling!

    I see I need to decide between generativity or stagnation. 😏

    We all know that one of the biggest problems in this country is how we tackle health care, and mental health care in particular. You’ve given us a lot of to consider here, individually and as a society!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Tom. As I said in replying to above comment, I think the realize most people don’t realize the extent of this issue is because you can find data on addiction, you can find research on how it affects children, but it was harder than hell to find how to help these kids & how to spot them! It took me days, plus I drew from my own childhood. I think people think that abuse is only beating children, sexually abusing them, or starving them. Which are all terrible but there’s also a problem when a kid is emotionally neglected & has to be the emotional support while they’re trying to process their own emotions. I think most times, at least with my parents, it’s not intentional. They are so wrapped up in their addiction, they don’t realize. There was one thing I promised myself even while using meth & that was that if I ever got pregnant, I would quit. Thankfully, in my case, I have the willpower that if I had become pregnant, I would have been able to stop. I was able to stop without kids. But I realize this isn’t the reality for all addicts. I just never wanted my kids to grow up & witness. & my biggest guilt is from using with my friends who had kids. We never did drugs in front of them, drugs were never left out, but even at a young age these children knew why their parents & friends would hide out in the bedroom all day. They sensed something was up. & the guilt of knowing I contributed to this haunts me everyday. Sorry for the long, rambling reply!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think it’s a great reply! And I also think it’s great you put in the effort to really dig and “get the story” in order to help others. You have a golden heart! So much so that you made me, part way through your story (and again here), feel bad for the addicts when what I really wanted to do was feel anger at them for their neglect. But you’re right; they have a problem! We need to remember that and find ways to help. There are some great things we can do to promote better mental health in this country, and I think a lot of it stems from solving our problem of income inequality. Having universal access to care, to education, and to opportunity can go a long way towards solving the problem of hopelessness in our society, and hopelessness is a key on-ramp on the road to addiction.

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      2. I completely agree! I was arguing over someone about the stats that minorities commit more crime on Facebook yesterday. They don’t realize the reason for this is because the higher population, the more minorities. & the real correlation is poverty. In small town Iowa, you see this. Poverty leads to drug use, to crime. I was just reading an article (I wish I had the URL right now) with good information, strong stats, about the American Dream & how it’s gone. Where you’re born, the income you’re born in to determines where you’re likely to end up. There’s so much truth to that & not just for minorities. I grew up poor. I didn’t have the money to stay in college & I didn’t want to be in debt. Im in debt now but most of that was from when I attended college. That left me with working retail jobs. Most places you can’t move up. Even if you do, its not much. Wal-Mart is the only retail company I worked for that paid assistant managers a salary wage. I was an assistant manager at Family Dollar & was only paid $10 an hour. The article also talked about those that went from poverty to being wealthy are an unusual exception to the rule, that it’s not common. Universal healthcare is important as well as education! These would help others climb out of poverty but people don’t realize that economically this would help the wealthy in its own way. I use to look at addicts, including my parents, in a negative light but becoming an addict myself opened my eyes. There are still addicts I find myself condemning but it depends on the circumstances. Some people don’t want help & it’s hard for me to understand those that don’t even try regardless if they have children. I go back & forth but we spend so much time condemning we don’t think of how to fix the problem. Not you, just society in general. I think marijuana should be legalized & other drugs decriminalized. Look at Portugal. Addictions, overdoses, have all dropped. If we stopped treating criminals like addicts. It’s a health crisis, mentally for sure & physically with certain addictions like alochol or heroin or pills. I don’t consider meth in that light because you can OD but it’s rare & you don’t get physically sick when coming down or when getting sober. You will sleep for a week & eat in between sleeping. It’s more of a mental problem because your seratonin is dropping. It’s use to spiking because of the drugs. Sorry, off topic. Haha. But this lady tried to say that prisons aren’t filled with people there for just drugs. She works at a prison in NY, which is much more liberal. In Iowa, its easy to go to jail for just drugs. You get caught with a certain amount of drugs, including weed, you’re put on probation. You get caught twice or drop dirty for your probation officer, you’re in prison. My dad was working out of state in Missouri. He bought a large amount of weed for personal use. It wasn’t bagged separate, it was all together. He had no intentions of selling. Years before that he went to jail for conspiracy to manufacture meth. When he got out, he reported to the probation officer in our small town. They didn’t have him on file. A week later, he called them. Still not on file. He check in 2 more times, they didn’t have him on file. So he put it out of his head. When I was 17 (2 years later) he was sober off meth. He smoked weed. Not a big deal. We lived in an apartment. The cops came to my neighbors. They knocked on our door to see if we knew where she was. They smelled weed. He got arrested. This was right after he was busted in Missouri & had gotten out of jail. He got in trouble for never reporting for probation, despite that fact that he truly called twice after showing up. It was their fuck up but he got in trouble anyway, plus the weed charges in Missouri he ended up in a Missouri prison. They even tried to get him for selling weed because of the amount but he was lucky enough to have a decent lawyer who appointed by the court, which is rare. Like I told the lady, you may work in a prison in NY but you don’t know what it’s like in the rest of the country. We literally criminalize addicts. Iowa & Missouri prisons are filled with people who committed no other crimes.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Great responses! And you’re right, just because someone “works in a jail” that doesn’t make them an expert in any way on societal causes of mass incarceration and addiction. Poverty leads to all sorts of terrible generational behaviors, and minority populations in America have longest been in poverty. In the United States, we have a problem with hopelessness, and it’s one we CAN solve but choose not to.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing! It means so much to me! I hope it finds someone who can make an impact on a child’s life. It was hard to even research on how to help these children because there’s tons of research on the repercussions, on addiction, but not on how to actually help these children! Again, thank you so much for sharing, lady! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you! ❤ I think you're pretty amazing yourself. You have been through your own battles & you don't stagnate. Plus, you have been an inspiration to me to get back into one of my other writing passions, poetry! I have been writing poetry since I was 12 but between addiction & sobriety, I have been lost! But I'm back to write poetry & you've helped with that! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I wanna start entering poetry contests but I’m scared. Lol. I took a great poetry class in one of the colleges I went to. My teacher was a great mentor. I wish I could remember his name because I’d love to reach out to him. He was always supportive of my writing.

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  6. This was an amazing article and it happens all too often! I grew up in a home with alcohol and drug abuse along with much other abuse. It was not an easy childhood, which I know you understand. Somehow, I will never understand why I never because addicted to anything. I caught myself drinking way too much after I was diagnosed with MS, but that was all. I think it is because in high school I had to pick up my mother’s numerous disasters. She still struggles, but that God I do not live with her and honestly I often feel like I live to close to her because she still causes a lot of problems. Thank you for sharing your story and I am so glad you found the way to be sober for so many years. You should be so proud of yourself, I am certainly very proud of your strength!!

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    1. Thank you so much, Alyssa! I applaud you for never becoming addicted! It’s considered genetic & so you had a higher risk than your peers of becoming addicted. I think a lot of people forget the genetic factor & that it’s not just drugs! You can go gambling on your 21st bday, become addcited. You can drink at a high school party & end up addicted to alcohol. You are an amazing & strong, lady! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you! Crazy thing is alcoholism runs strong in my family and I saw what it did them. I slipped for several months after the MS diagnosis, but was scared to be like my family. My mother almost destroyed her life with drugs and alcohol. She lost 2 jobs, been arrested several times and much more. I was always there to pick up the pieces. I never drank or did drugs in high school, even though all my friends did. I was just simply scared

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      2. I totally get it! I had to pick up my parents again & again as well as watch my dad go in & out of jail where he eventually ended up in prison for a couple of years. I drank & smoked weed in high school but I felt the same way about meth that you do about alcohol. I don’t know what came over me the day I tried it. I still don’t fully understand. I was living with my friend that I worked with. I had always stayed away from those that did meth but I smoked weed often. I honestly don’t considered weed a real drug but that’s a story for another time. Lol. My friend had problems with meth years before. A friend of hers, which I happened to now because I grew up down the road from him, came by & he was using. I thought to myself that I wanted to see what all the hype was about & why my parents chose it for so long over our family. Believe it or not but for years I was able to do it off & on for fun. It was when I turned to for help mentally & physically that I became addicted. I wish I had had your strength that day I tried it because if I hadnt been experimenting with it, I wouldn’t have eventually become addicted!

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      3. We all make mistakes in life, but not everyone is as strong as you! You have beat the addiction and learned to not use again. You have accomplished something a lot of people do not and you should be SO proud of yourself! I am extremely proud of you Casey!!!!

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  7. Wow this is very powerful. As I am an opiate addict myself, and a mother of 2, this post had a huge impact on me.
    Although I am the only unSober parent and my husband is extremely sober, I constantly worry about the impact my up and down emotions have on my kids who are 4 and 1.
    Right now I am trying to get into a rehab facility and help seems to take forever. It’s impossible to stay sober on my own willpower. I have done things in these last few years I never dreamed possible and I really hate myself for it but above all, I’ve been able to maintain a happy, healthy home for my kids. They have never seen me “high” in the sense of nodding off or anything because for me right now, my use is to avoid withdrawal. I don’t want this to come off as rationalizing but it’s the truth.
    I hope you have been able to find a way to heal your scars. I also hope your parents have found a way to live sober. It’s an awful way to live and definitely not a choice. No one chooses this life.
    Love and best wishes to you. I really enjoy your blog. I’ll be bsck

    Liked by 1 person

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