Children Experiencing Addiction in the Family

AUTHOR: POSTED: Nov 10th, 2009 IN: Addiction, Education


Children and addiction

Alcoholism and drug addiction is taking a toll on the American family. As a result, 8.3 million children in the United States, approximately 11 percent, live with at least one parent who is in need of treatment for alcohol- or drug-dependency. One in four children under the age of 18 is living in a home where alcoholism or alcohol abuse is a fact of daily life. Countless others are exposed to illegal drug use in their families.

The toll addiction takes on these children can be substantial. Children of addiction (or COAs) are at significantly greater risk for:

  • mental illness or emotional problems, such as depression or anxiety;
  • physical health problems; and
  • learning problems, including difficulty with cognitive and verbal skills, conceptual reasoning and abstract thinking.

In addition, children whose parents abuse alcohol or drugs are almost three times more likely to be verbally, physically or sexually abused; and four times more likely than other children to be neglected. Strong scientific evidence also suggests that addiction tends to run in families. Children of alcoholics are four times more likely than non-COAs to develop alcoholism or other drug problems.

You can help

Research shows that many children with drug- or alcohol-dependent parents can benefit tremendously from adult efforts to help and encourage them. In fact, children who cope most effectively with the trauma of growing up in families affected by alcoholism or drug addiction often attribute their sense of well-being to the support of a non-alcoholic parent, step-parent, grandparent, teacher or other significant adult in their lives.

Health professionals, school teachers and guidance counselors, community-based program personnel, social workers, athletic coaches and faith community/native spirituality leaders are just some of the adults who regularly come in contact with children. As trusted and respected figures in their lives, they are in a unique position to support children who live in alcohol- or drug-dependent families.

Understanding children and addiction

Children living in alcohol- or drug-dependent homes are regularly confronted with denial, shame and silence about their family experience. The unpredictability and irrationality caused by the addiction in the family often creates an atmosphere that is blaming, emotionally hurtful and sometimes physically unsafe. COAs often feel obligated to take on the parental responsibilities. For many, this results in a loss of childhood.

Although some COAs will outwardly exhibit negative behaviors that may alert the adults around them that there may be a problem at home, others work hard to succeed and please in spite of the stresses at home. Often these children do not have a balanced childhood, that may result in negative consequences for the future, including an increased risk of substance abuse problems.

When parents receive treatment

Living with an active alcohol- or drug-dependent adult is undeniably difficult for all family members. But surprisingly, the experience of a loved one who is beginning treatment and going through recovery also can be traumatic for children, particularly as the family dynamic associated with addiction begins to change. The uncertainty and tension that are part of this change may be uncomfortable and confusing for children. When a parent receives treatment, their partner and children should also receive appropriate services as well, so that all members of the family can recover from the impact of addiction.

How you can help

Most adults can support COAs in three ways. First, you can provide children with age-appropriate information about alcohol, drugs and the disease of addiction. The most important messages for COAs to hear from trusted adults are:

  • Alcohol/drug dependency is an illness. It is not your fault that your parent drinks too much or uses drugs, and you are not responsible for correcting it.
  • You can take care of yourself by talking with a trusted person and making healthy choices in your own life.
  • Treatment for alcohol/drug dependency is available and can be effective in getting a parent with addiction on the road to recovery.
  • You are not alone. You need and deserve services. There are safe people and places that can help you.

Second, you can teach children how to identify and express their feelings in healthy ways, especially by seeking out and speaking with “safe” adults. You can guide them toward educational support programs at school or in your community. Such programs can help them develop coping skills to deepen their innermost strength and resilience.

Third, and perhaps most important, you can take the time to develop a healthy adult/child relationship with a COA who needs you. Children who live in alcohol- and drug-dependent families learn not to trust adults. By offering your time and an open ear to provide assurance and validation, you can counteract much of that mistrust and make an immeasurable and positive impact on a child’s life.

If you are in a position to influence the adults in the family, help them find a qualified professional who is experienced with intervention and can help them get the assessment and treatment they need to begin recovery. An actual family intervention only should be undertaken with a qualified professional who is experienced in the intervention process.

Where you and COAs can turn for help

A number of resources are available to help adults identify and support COAs, and refer them to local programs and services that can assist them. If you want to help children in alcohol- or drug-dependent families, familiarize yourself with area peer support groups, such as Alateen and Al-Anon, school-based student assistance programs, and therapy programs that can assist COAs. Additionally, there are a number of national organizations dedicated to raising awareness, educating and assisting COAs that can provide resource materials to caring adults, as well as COAs themselves. All of these organizations are available to help COAs, but, for you, just showing an interest in the child and offering support can make a difference in his/her life.

We Are All Connected

AUTHOR: POSTED: Jun 20th, 2009 IN: Addiction

We Are All Connected

Each person is a son or daughter, a mother or father, a friend, a spouse… for those of us who have loved ones who suffer from the disease of addiction it is obvious why we cannot give up. No one wants to watch their brother suffer; no one wants to have children raised without their mother; no one wants to bury their child…

“When I was a young mother, I was on a walk with my young daughter. I noticed a homeless man up ahead. I avoided eye contact, believing this would be safest. The man also avoided eye contact, though more out of shame. My daughter insistently let go on my hand and quickly walked over to the man. She stuck her little face in his and with a smile said, “Hello”… Both the man and I were taken by surprise as our eyes welded up with tears. I was taught a very important lesson that day. We are all connected and we all have a powerful influence on each other for good…”

–Johanna Salter, Founder

If through our efforts one person is able to live a healthy, productive life, we will have been a success…

Family Roles and Addiction

AUTHOR: POSTED: Nov 26th, 2008 IN: Addiction, Education, Health

Family Roles and Addiction

What roles are family members playing that might contribute to the continuation of addictive behavior by the addicted family member?

Families do not cause addiction. Families can however play a role in the continuation of addictive behavior as well as a role in the recovery of an addicted family member.

When a family determines that a member of the family is addicted to drugs or alcohol it becomes important that they begin to reflect as a family about the family’s role with regard to the addicted family member. Addiction is a disease where it has been shown that family involvement in the process can help increase recovery rates of those who are suffering the effects of the addiction.

Many family systems have a way of maintaining an equilibrium. When this equilibrium is thrown off balance due to addiction many family members either pick of new roles or embrace existing roles to a greater degree to help address the imbalance of the family system due to the effects the problem of addiction being faced by a family member. The phenomenon where families react to the addiction has been studied widely. There are several key roles that researchers have identified as common. It is important for the family to be open to the therapeutic process and what roles if any they might be playing that might inhibit the recovery of the addicted individual. Let’s take a look at some of the most common roles researchers have identified.

Common family roles relating to addiction

The Addict – Person by which the rest of the family system revolves. This person is the person who gets all the family attention and focus in many different ways. This role often has the largest impact. This person is often in denial and blinded by their addiction. This person will struggle to fulfill responsibilities and will look for others to take their responsibilities over.

The Chief Enabler – Enablers do things both consciously and unconsciously that allow the addict to continue and progress in their addictive behaviors. They help addicts hide from and prevent consequences. Enablers make excuses for the addict, live in denial of the problem, and often blame others for addict’s behaviors.

The Hero – This person tries to single handedly save the addict and the family system. They often believe that they alone can control the family into health living. They are often perfectionists and overachievers. Often they are in denial with regard to the problems within the family and with the addict

The Lost Child – The lost child handles the trauma of the addict within the family by avoidance. They seek to escape the problem by being the silent one who spends a lot of time alone or with other people and does not offer much regarding his or her position on the family’s problems.

The Scapegoat – The scapegoat will often be the one blamed for the family problems as opposed to the addict themselves. They may get into trouble often and have an oppositional attitude. This person serves to divert attention from the addict and keep the family system in dysfunction.

The Mascot – This person is the family clown and similar to the scapegoat moves attention away from the person with an addiction and the problems that the addiction causes in the family. This person tries helping the family’s process of denial by trying to make jokes during stressful times.

Roles are dynamic

Roles are dynamic. A person might change roles or at different times play two roles. There are also other roles that might not be identified here. What becomes important in treatment is that each family member identifies any patterns of behavior that might be contributing to the dysfunction of the family system and makes the necessary changes to address the dysfunction in the family

Remember families don’t cause addictions.

The issue here is not blame. The issue in recovery is what is our part in the family system connected to the addiction and what we can do to help ourselves and our addicted love ones?

Author: Ryan Salter, LCSW – Mr. Salter is the clinical director of a prestigious treatment center for the disease of addiction located in Utah. He also serves as the head of a non-profit addiction research and education foundation. In addition, he is a professor at the Utah Valley University and has helped develop courses and trained others for work in the field of addictions.

Relapse Prevention

AUTHOR: POSTED: Nov 26th, 2008 IN: Addiction, Education, Health

Relapse Prevention

Addiction a disease where relapse, similar to other diseases is a possibility if the addicts program of recovery is not maintained continually by the addict or alcoholic.

Recovery works because addicts and alcoholics learn to manage their disease in effective ways that maintain sobriety. If the person with the addiction stops managing this disease relapse may occur. Relapse is dangerous and all preventative methods should be maintained in the addicts program of recovery to prevent relapse. If relapse does occur it is important to understand that in most cases it is not a failure of the program of recovery being implemented by the client. If the program was working and some period of sobriety was maintained then that program of recovery needs to be reimplemented. Often times addicts and their families think that relapse means their program has failed. This is wrong. Relapse should be viewed as an opportunity for revaluation of where the addict alcoholic went off course with regard to their program of recovery so that correct course might be reestablished.

There are several common relapse issues that must be managed by the addict in a preventative fashion to help the addict never enter the cycle of relapse.

Unhealthy relationships

Patterns of addiction traditionally lead to unhealthy relationships between addicts and peer groups as well as addicts and romantic partners. In some cases these relationships can be restructured to be healthier however in some cases the best alternative is to end the relationship due to a refusal of one person in the relationship to adjust their unhealthy patterns of behavior. This process or relational restructuring is generally addressed in treatment however the new relational patterns learned in treatment must be maintained by the addict to avoid relapse.

Mismanagement of Anger

The text for Alcoholics Anonymous states that, “resentment is the number one offender”. Many addicts and alcoholics use anger or resentment as a justification for their substance abuse. In treatment the addict will learn alternative coping strategies for anger that must be employed to prevent relapse due to this issue.

Not managing co existing mental health disorders

The national institute of drug abuse (NIDA) recommends that drug and alcohol treatment address both the addictive disorder and any coexisting mental health disorder. Examples of common disorders occurring with addictive disorders are: depression, anxiety, bi-polar, post traumatic stress disorder. Though this is a brief description of common co existing mental health disorders, there are many others disorders that play a part in addictive behaviors that must be addressed in treatment. As part of the addicts treatment plan in treatment the client will learn coping strategies to manage his or her complete mental health profile. These strategies must be continually employed as the client enters early recovery. Many times medications are also used in addressing underlying mental health issues. These medications must be maintained for a least a year in early recovery. Many times addicts discontinue these medications in their own leading to continuing mental health difficulties resulting in relapse.

Not managing cognitive behavioral distortions of thinking

Addicts are often plagued by cognitive thinking errors that distort their reality. They also have trigger thoughts and automatic thoughts that can lead to the temptation to use drugs and alcohol. These problems in the cognitive process of the addict must be managed effective to prevent relapse. Addicts will learn skills for reframing these cognitive distortions and for managing them in the present. These skills must be continually practiced and maintained to prevent relapse

Not managing core issues

Most addicts have core issues contributing to both the addiction and coexisting mental health issues. Examples of common core issues are; self esteem abandonment, shame and issues of abuse. Psychotherapeutic work during treatment addresses these issues and this work needs to be maintained through the coping strategies taught in treatment as well as periodic meetings with treatment professionals. If the addict does this work it is likely that these issues will not become reoccurring issues that may lead to relapse

Not becoming involved in general recovery community

Addiction is a disease that needs constant management. It is particularly important for those within their first year of recovery do something to manage their disease daily for at least one year. This makes 12 step meetings very necessary. This makes having a sponsor necessary. It is important that people have other addicts who they can talk to and feel supported by when they are in recovery. It is also important that addicts learn to have fun in recovery and the recovery community can help to teach this as well.

Following these steps reduces the possibility of relapse

If the preventative measures outlined above are followed it is my experience that the risk of relapse is significantly reduced. The management techniques discussed here are not time consuming. This program is manageable in daily life. If addicts will do what we know works in managing the disease they will often get results leading to their sobriety. When people relapse it is because they stopped working a program of recovery. If they will “work” the program their results will be made visible in the form of sobriety.

Author: Ryan Salter, LCSW – Mr. Salter is the clinical director of a prestigious treatment center for the disease of addiction located in Utah. He also serves as the head of a non-profit addiction research and education foundation. In addition, he is a professor at the Utah Valley University and has helped develop courses and trained others for work in the field of addictions.