As soon as birth, children are exposed to new things; new life experiences that will develop the path of which direction their life will take. Adolescence is the most important time in a child’s life because it is where they learn appropriate behavior from their family and the outside world. Some children are able to use these experiences to differentiate at an early age what is right and what is wrong and hopefully carry this into adulthood.
What happens when children are exposed to the wrong experiences at an early age? What happens if children assume that what they are seeing is okay because one of their parents are engaging in harmful behavior? How does this type of experience affect the way a child develops? These are questions that I have to ask myself everyday because my children are victims of this. I have two boys, who are 10 and 7 and a daughter that is 5. Their father, who is my ex-husband now, is a drug addict and I see new issues arise with our children each day as they get older.
Parental substance abuse is often one of the biggest deterrents of normal child development. It is because of the exposure to the significant increase of parental drug abuse in Colorado that the emotional, psychological and physical well-being of a child is at risk, making the probability of normal development unlikely. The emotional state of a child is always fragile as they usually are more sensitive to the environment they are surrounded by. This is typically because of their inability to fully understand what is happening.
When a parent abuses drugs, a child reacts to the behavior that a parent exhibits while under the influence of substances. In most cases, children cope very poorly, showing anger by lashing out or they become withdrawn and avoid making friends because of the fear that someone may discover their parent has a problem. Other children become overachievers, hiding the addiction of their parent by becoming the center of attention through competing in sports or excelling academically.
However, this can be harmful to a child because hey may try to use these tactics to influence a parent, trying to make them proud, and cause them to refrain from using substances. If there are siblings in the home, children may attempt to behave extremely well, not fighting with each other to keep the home peaceful. Typically this does not work and the child or children feel guilty for not being able to make their parent quit as the end result, causing further emotional distress. I deal with this every day because my children constantly try to be perfect, to not create stressful situations and it causes more stress on them.
Children of an addicted parent will then begin to accept blame for the addiction their parent has and become the parent themselves, causing them to grow up faster. My oldest son constantly blames himself when his father relapses, thinking that he has done something to cause it. He also feels that it is necessary to parent his brother and sister when situations arise that he feels warrant protecting them. Because of the loss of normalcy, a child will eventually develop a mistrust of their parent and this will transfer over to other adults and authority figures because of the lack of stability in the home.
This is a true statement because my children have problems receiving instructions and discipline from adults other than myself or their father yet the question anything that they see us doing or tell them to do. Another impact of a parent abusing substances on the emotional health of a child is the child’s inability to understand the emotions of others, causing difficulty to form and maintain relationships with others because the child is more mature than their peers. Protecting Children) All of these coping skills are necessary in the development of a child because without them, they will become the individuals that commit crimes of a violent nature that affect whole communities, like the Columbine shootings or even the Aurora theater shooting. Parental substance abuse impacts a child’s psychological development.
According to Livestrong. com “When a child is raised in an environment with substance abuse his or her risk for developing a mental health disorder increases. (Butler). A serious element of psychological disorders that develop from a parent who abuses drug is severe anxiety disorders or depression. These afflictions in itself are enough to deter even the strongest adult from living a normal life. Depression and anxiety cause a child to withdraw from their friends or siblings, making them feel alone and suffer from suicidal thoughts. Anxiety disorders stemming from parental substance abuse also lead to learning disabilities, causing children to work below their potential.
This creates a potentially negative environment for a child, causing them to behave inappropriately which leads to disciplinary actions by the school. One other psychological disorder that stems from parental substance abuse is eating disorders. This comes from the low self-esteem a child suffers and in an attempt to be perfect; a child is willing to bring physical harm to themselves or their bodies. I have seen this to be the greatest side effect of my ex-husband’s drug abuse upon our children. My two boys suffer from depression and anxiety at varying levels.
My oldest son has been diagnosed with ulcers from constantly worrying about his father’s sobriety. Perhaps the one of the biggest effects that parental substance abuse has on a child is its ability to affect the actual physical well-being of a child. Child abuse is a prevalent symptom of parental addiction. More children are abused by a parent that is under the influence of a substance then those who are not. It is estimated that 70 percent of all reported child abuse occurrences stem from parental substance abuse.
Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics) Children will often cover up incidents of child abuse by their parent in an attempt to cover the parent’s addiction because of the fear that it was their fault for not doing something correctly. Another effect parental substance abuse has on a child’s well-being is the state their physical health. Many children suffer from severe stress because of their parent’s addiction. The stress often leads a child to suffer from “gastrointestinal issues, headaches, migraines, asthma or other chronic illnesses. (Effects of Parental Substance Abuse) The stress that was caused by my ex-husband’s addiction caused my oldest son to develop mono and he was very sick for several months. Due to the lack of care on the part of the addicted parent, these conditions are usually left untreated, causing long-term health issues for the child. Children are often affected by their parent’s drug abuse in other ways that harm their physical well-being.
Addicted parents often spend copious amounts of money on the substance they are addicted to. This causes a family to have little to no money for basic ygiene products or food for that matter. Children of addicts often appear disheveled or dirty, wearing dirty clothes several days in a row. A child also may exhibit behaviors that coincide with malnourishment or being homeless because there is no money for food or proper housing. One long-term affect that has parental drug abuse has on a child is the fact that many children will become a substance abuser later on in their life. Most tend to be very young when they begin to experiment with substances and quickly become addicted, further deterring a normal, healthy development of a child.
My ex-husband has a son from a previous marriage that was affected in the same way as my children and now has substance abuse issues and has been in trouble with the law several times. There is a good chance that a child who is raised in a home where drug use is prevalent will grow up to be a normal and successful adult. These children are the ones that have been blessed with the ability to cope better than their peers and are determined to not end up like their parent.
I have been to several support groups for children of addicts and have met individuals that have grown up to become doctors, lawyers and CEO’s of big companies. Many of them use their careers to educate others affected by substance abuse. These individuals are successful because they were able to break the cycle of substance abuse. Parental drug abuse is quickly becoming an epidemic in Colorado due to the poor economic condition of many families. Parents turn to substances as a means to escape the stress of life and unintentionally endanger their child or children.
Children hope and long for a normal family life, believing the addicted parent can change. This belief is what endangers the child even more because they do not understand they are accepting the parent for their addiction and the behaviors that affect their emotional, psychological and physical well-being. Whether the choice is made subconsciously by a child or intentionally, the affects of their parent’s substance abuse directly affects their normal development and the child will repeat the mistakes of their parent.
As a society, we need to educate our children further when it comes to substance abuse. Even though there are programs that are taught in schools about substance abuse, it is directed towards children only and does not educate them further than being able to say no to drugs. They need to be educated to know that substance abuse is not okay, no matter who is doing it and that it can be harmful to everyone. Once a child is better educated when it comes to substance abuse, they will have a strong tool to aid in their future development.
- Alia, Butler. “Effects of Drug Abuse on Children. ” 2 Sept. 2010. Web. 7 Mar. 2013 .
- Child Abuse and Neglect Statistics. ” Child Abuse Statistics – Get the Facts of Child Abuse and Neglect. AmericanHumane. org, n. d. Web. 07 Apr. 2013.
- “Effects of Parental Substance Abuse on Children and Families. ” 2012.
- American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Web. 7 Mar. 2013 .
- “Protecting Children in Families Affected by Substance Abuse. ” 2009.
- Child Welfare Information Gateway. Web. 7 Mar. 2013 .