A Parent’s Addiction Affects Everyone in the Family
With the joys of parenting also comes responsibility. Parents are expected to be role models and offer the strength that guides their family. Sometimes parents need strength and guidance or their children’s lives are completely altered. Parents who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction need to find treatment that will help them recover and be the supporting and responsible parent they would like to be for their child.
One parent’s addiction affects everyone. Children sometimes have to parent themselves and/or their own mother or father. The added stresses may cause anxiety, guilt, loneliness and disruptive behavior, and may lead them into an addiction. There are many challenges throughout the recovery process, but with success their children will benefit, too.
Experts in the field of drug and alcohol abuse are finding that a family’s recovery from addiction may take longer than previously thought. All of the ripples of anger, frustration, and troubled emotions that touched children and spouses can take three to five years to heal. A 1999 study called The Family Recovery Project, by Drs. Brown and Lewis, aimed to describe this developmental recovery process for families.
Fifty-four families, with lengths of recovery from two months to 20 years, were interviewed. From this study, Brown and Lewis presented four stages of recovery from addiction and their impact on parenting and the overall family.
- Stage 1: Active Alcohol or Other Drug Use
This stage is when parents are in the midst of their addiction. Their impairment directly causes interruption to family’s daily life. A hangover might prevent them from getting their children to school and cause embarrassment and punishment for their child. Violence and verbal abuse might cause fear or isolation.At this stage it may be difficult to share “family time.” Probation and parole might keep one or both parents away from home for extended periods of time. Family dinners may be interrupted by a parent who was too impaired to fix dinner or join the family at the table. This physical lack of presence induces emotional abandonment and insecurity in children.Parents who are mentally impaired have difficulty helping a child with homework or sitting down and talking with them about school or friend concerns. This parental involvement is crucial in decreasing the risk that their child will also turn to alcohol or substance abuse.Providing alternative social interactions for children at this stage aids them in finding other adult role models and alternatives for healthy interaction. Sports, school clubs, and keeping connected with outside family members and friends are important to keep them from feeling isolated.
- Stage 2: Transition to Recovery
For many families, this stage is more difficult on children than the first stage. This period is marked by a traumatic event, such as involvement in crime or hospitalization due to abuse. While the parent focuses intensely on recovery, children may feel lonely and insecure as their parent is absent.
- Stage 3: Early Recovery
In this stage, parents transform back to their non-addictive selves and reflect on positive changes. The entire family experiences a calming effect after the trauma of transition. During this stage, children still may feel emotionally separated from their parent as they focus on their own personal recovery. Any reassurance of security and love by friends and family will help the child feel more emotionally calmed and connected.
- Stage 4: Ongoing Recovery
At this stage, parents are able to release some of their self-focus and focus again on their children. As they slowly get to know their child’s routines and personality, they can share more with them.
Parents face child-rearing challenges during ongoing recovery. They must learn to set rules and discipline their children with firmness and compassion so that the child once again has a strong role model. Because of guilty feelings, some parents go to the other extreme and give in to the whims of their child, but limitations will help them feel stable again.
Parents will need to rebuild a level of trust with their child. Simple acts like getting a child to school on time or attending their play or sports event will help re-build these levels. Sharing family meals and activities will reassure that your absences will be less frequent than before.
Modifying parent behavior throughout the addiction recovery process is the key to helping the entire family recover from the addiction. Becoming a better parent will help speed recovery and make each transition toward healing easier. Parents who were once addicted can turn that negative into a positive. The lessons they learn in recovery can be life lessons in discipline, abstinence, courage, and growth that they can pass along to their children.