11 Union St.,
Lawrence, MA 01840
For Immediate Release
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Contact: John Guilfoil
The Psychological Center, Inc. Offers a Reminder that Children Are Victims of Addiction Too
LAWRENCE — As the opioid epidemic continues to impact communities across the country, The Psychological Center, Inc. (TPC) would like to remind and educate the community on how this crisis is impacting children of substance abusers.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 25 percent of children under the age of 18 are exposed to family alcohol and drug abuse or dependence. Research has shown that children in this environment are more likely to develop depression or anxiety at a young age, and use alcohol and/or drugs at an earlier age.
“It is easy for people to forget that in a household where a parent or another family member abuses drugs or alcohol, there are more victims than just the person who is suffering from addiction,” said Carina Pappalardo, CEO of The Psychological Center. “Ultimately, the children get hurt. These children are often neglected, which can result in mental and physical health issues, and even increase the likelihood that the child will develop a drug or alcohol problem of their own. Please, if you have or know a child who may be falling victim to their parent’s or guardian’s substance abuse, get them the help they need now.”
The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress (AAETS) reports that parental substance abuse can interrupt a child’s normal development, which places them at a higher risk for emotional, physical and mental health problems. In fact, children of addicts are more likely than their peers to suffer from depression, anxiety, eating disorders or attempt suicide. Additionally, children of addicts are three to four times more likely to become addicted to alcohol or drugs themselves.
According to AAETS, the following can be consequences of parental substance abuse:
- In homes where a parent is abusing substances, physical and sexual abuse of children is more likely.
- Even if the children themselves are not victimized by family violence, simply witnessing violence can have emotionally destructive consequences.
- Children of substance abusers are six times more likely to witness spousal abuse than other children. As a result of these stressors, children often have difficulty in school and may be unable to focus on school work. They are also more likely than their peers to develop learning disabilities, be truant, repeat more grades, transfer schools and be expelled.
Medical and Psychiatric Consequences
- Healthcare utilization: Studies of children who are affected by addiction have documented increased rates of several physical illnesses that are generally believed to be stress related including enteritis, colitis and asthma.
- Child abuse and neglect: Child abuse and neglect have been linked to parental alcohol abuse, as has incest. Such abuse may be the cause of physical as well as emotional trauma.
- Birth defects: Significant alcohol intake by the mother during pregnancy has been linked to a variety of birth defects, most serious of which is the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which consists of a combination of facial dysmorphia, severe and persistent growth deficiency, central nervous system dysfunction with mental retardation, and other defects.
- Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: Children of substance abusers are at approximately three to four times greater risk for developing alcoholism compared to children of non-alcoholic parents. Additionally, these children are at an increased risk for developing other drug dependence.
- Psychiatric Disorders: Children of substance abusers are at a higher risk of developing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders, anxiety and depressive disorders, pathological gambling and sociopathy.
- Mistrust: Parents with an alcohol or drug problem often exhibit unpredictable behavior. For the child, the rules may be constantly changing and this lack of consistency can lead to a mistrust of parents and often other adults.
- Guilt: Instead of understanding a parent’s substance abuse as a disease, the child sees drinking and/or drug use as a reaction to bad behavior.
- Shame: The child of a substance abuser is often deeply ashamed of the “family secret.” They may avoid friendships with other children or feel like they cannot invite other children to their house because a parent might be at home drunk or high and embarrass them.
- Confusion: Substance abuse in a family creates confusion for a child when the family fails to validate the child’s internal or external reality. A child may observe their mother drinking, becoming intoxicated and passing out on the floor, but be told by the father that she is “sick” or “tired.”
- Fear: Some children of substance abusers fear that their anger towards their parent could cause him or her to die, or more realistically, that the parent could die as a result of drinking and driving, other drug-related trauma or illness.
- Insecurity: Low self-esteem, tension, anxiety, depressed feelings and acting out behavior are often reflections of insecurity due to a difficult home environment.
A parent’s substance abuse can have other effects on children besides parent-child interactions. For example, if a parent loses a job as a result of drinking or drug use, the child suffers the economic consequences. Without employment, a family might lose their home, car or other valuable possessions.
It is vital that children of substance abusers know that they are not alone and that other people in their community may be in a similar situation, and that they are not responsible for their parent’s addiction struggle.
“I have personally experienced how addiction can impact children from seeing how my own disease impacted my kids,” said Gregory Davenport, Assistant Program Director at TPC Daybreak Shelter. “Having parents who are addicts can cause children to develop insecurities, abandonment issues and countless other negative effects that can ultimately affect them even in adulthood. If you suffer from addiction, please make sure that your children are also getting the help they need.”
The Psychological Center recommends several resources for children of addicted parents and guardians:
Granite United Church
Moms Do Care Project
Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
Family Services of Merrimack Valley
Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts
About The Psychological Center, Inc.:
The Psychological Center, established in 1971, is committed to serving individuals living with substance abuse or alcohol addiction, mental health issues or homelessness by providing structured and comprehensive environments that offer hope while empowering individuals to achieve recovery with respect and without stigma. Each person receives individualized treatment to make changes happen toward a healthy and meaningful future. For more information on The Psychological Center, please visit its website.