What Happens When Parents Become Addicted?

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Drug and alcohol addiction is something that affects many different groups of people. People who are parents are no exception to this. There can be many different reasons for a parent to turn to substance use. In the world today,  moms and dads have a lot on their minds and in their schedules.

A parent’s addiction will change everyone in the family. It can change the family dynamics in an instant or over time. It is important for a parent who has a substance misuse problem to seek addiction treatment. This is not only for their benefit but also for their family’s benefit.

We want to give help families who are struggling with the addiction of one or both parents. We want families to have information about addiction and addiction treatment and know what help is available to them.

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a disorder that changes the brain. When a person first starts using drugs or alcohol, it makes them feel good. These feelings come from the brain. But, substances also take away a person’s control, which is how addiction can begin. They think they have control over their usage of the substance, but they usually do not. They get into a pattern of always thinking about, wanting and needing the substance, leading to increasing their usage amounts.

Drugs and alcohol change how the brain works. These changes can be long-lasting or even permanent. Oftentimes, the person’s behavior is affected because of the way the addiction changes the brain.

Addiction can affect people from all groups of life: any social class, any race, any gender, any age. And addiction will not stop if someone is a parent.

Signs of Addiction

Knowing what addiction looks like is important for someone to help a parent or loved one. Even though specific symptoms can vary depending on the substance, there are some general symptoms to look for.

The symptoms an addictive parent might display can include:

  • Psychological symptoms:
    • Being unable to stop using the substance in spite of attempts to quit.
    • Continued use even with developing health problems.
    • Needing the drug as a way to deal with problems.
    • Becoming obsessed with the substance.
    • Increasing risky behavior.
    • Using large doses initially.
  • Social symptoms:
    • Sacrificing activities they enjoy such as time with the family.
    • Stopping favorite hobbies or activities.
    • Keeping a supply of the substance even when their home budget has to be sacrificed.
    • Being secretive and secluded.
    • Being in denial.
    • Consuming excessive amounts of the substance, potentially leading to an overdose.
    • Keeping stashes hidden in unlikely places.
    • Having legal and/or financial difficulties.
  • Physiological symptoms:
    • Going through withdrawal when the amount of the substance drops below a certain level.
    • Change in appetite.
    • Damage or disease to the body.
    • Insomnia
    • Appearance changes.
    • An increase in tolerance.

Addiction Glossary of Terms

There are some terms that are good to know about that are related to addiction.

  • Misuse – Using a medication in an improper or unhealthy manner. This includes using someone else’s prescription medication or using more than what is prescribed.
  • Abuse – This term is being replaced by misuse in a lot of addiction language. This has been the term used when a person continually increases their substance usage in an effort to prolong euphoric effects and escape reality.
  • Tolerance – This happens when the person needs to use higher doses of the substance to feel the same effect.
  • Dependence – When someone uses drugs or alcohol regularly, their body will readjust itself according to the usage. When the drug is stopped, the body has to change again, which can lead to withdrawal. This is true for any substance, legal or illegal, even if it is taken as prescribed.
  • Withdrawal – These are symptoms that come when a substance is stopped. They are uncomfortable and can be life-threatening.

Statistics of Parents with a Drug or Alcohol Addiction

There are an increasing number of substance use disorders in all walks of life in the past several years. The statistics for moms and dads who have turned to addiction show the same trend.

A SAMHSA report of children who have lived with a parent with a substance use disorder showed the following:

  • 8.7 million children (about 1 in 8) under the age of 18 lived in a house with at least one of their parents who had a substance use disorder. This is the recurring use of drugs, alcohol or both that leads the person to be significantly impaired.
  • 7.5 million children (about 1 in 10) lived in a house with at least one of their parents who had an alcohol use disorder.
  • 2.1 million children (about 1 in 35) lived in a house with at least one of their parents who had an illicit drug use disorder.

The National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare released statistics on the correlation between alcohol and drug use of a parent and child welfare. These were their findings:

  • Between 2000-2016, there was an increase of 16.8% (from 18.5% to 35.3%) in cases of children being removed from their homes due to parental alcohol or drug use.
  • From 2012-2016, parental drug abuse or alcohol abuse increased from 30.7% to 35.3%. This increase was larger than any other reason children were removed from their homes.
  • Children under 5 represent 41% of children in out-of-home care.
  • The number of infants (estimations) exposed to substances prenatally and affected by substances was as follows:
    • Tobacco – 488.000 (12.2%)
    • Alcohol – 352,000 (8.7%)
    • Illicit drugs – 220,000 (5.4%)
    • Binge drinking – 176,000 (4.4%)
    • Heavy drinking – 34,000 (0.8%)
    • Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) – 24,000 (6 per 1,000 births)
    • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) – 28,000 (7 per 1,000 births)

How are Children Affected by Parents’ Addictions?

It is difficult to be the child of an addict. It is doubly difficult if both parents have a substance use disorder. There are many ways children are negatively impacted by the substance use disorder of a parent.

One report shows the following interaction patterns that can develop in a family with one or both parent with an addiction disorder:

  • An attitude of negativity – This can happen between any of the family members and can be complaints, criticism or general displeasure. There is an overall downbeat mood in the house. Any positive behavior that comes along is usually ignored. A crisis can be the only way to get attention. Negativity can reinforce substance use.
  • Parental inconsistency – The parents often have arbitrary rules and do not enforce the rules that they do set. With no boundaries, children are often left confused between knowing what is right and wrong. This can lead to bad behavior as the children need-and want- healthy boundaries to be set by their parents.
  • Denial – The addicted parent may refuse to accept responsibility for their problem.
  • Misplaced anger – Children may resent their parents and express their anger in unhealthy ways.
  • Self-medication – the children can develop anxiety, depression or other mental health disorders and this could lead to their own substance use to help them cope.

Many times, a parent’s substance abuse can lead to the removal of the children from the home. The children can be placed in foster care and the parent cannot have the children back until they have gone through a rehab program.

The Effect on Infants

A woman who is pregnant gives important nutrients to her growing baby. When that woman is using drugs or alcohol, unfortunately, the toxins from those substances are also passed on to the unborn baby. There are serious effects this can have on the baby. These can include:

  • The baby could have serious damage to their organs causing them to be underdeveloped.
  • The baby could be born with a substance dependency.
  • There could be withdrawal symptoms present when the baby is born. These could include:
    • Fussiness
    • Irritability
    • Hyperactivity
    • Problems with feeding
    • Diarrhea
  • Mothers who abuse alcohol put their baby at risk for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). The symptoms of this can include:
    • Problems growing, both in the womb and after being born
    • Diminished muscle tone
    • Poor coordination
    • A delay in developmental milestones
    • Problems with vision
    • Hyperactivity
    • Anxiety
    • Excessive nervousness
    • Short attention span

Babies who are born after being exposed to drugs or alcohol (or tobacco) have a higher risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

What Types of Programs are Available for Parents with an Addiction?

There are many different options for drug and alcohol addiction treatment. Recovery programs are designed to meet the needs of the individual with the addiction. These are addiction programs that could be offered:

  • Detox – This is the process of removing the toxins from the body that the drugs or alcohol cause. This is only required for certain substances as withdrawal symptoms can be more dangerous for those than for other substances.
  • Inpatient rehab – This is usually the beginning of rehab for many people. The person will check into a facility for a period that lasts around 28 days. It can include detox, if necessary. They will start therapy, which can include individual therapy and group therapy. They will receive care around the clock during this time. If the time period is not long enough, long-term inpatient rehab is also an option.
  • Outpatient rehab – Thie rehab is usually the step after an inpatient program. The person will continue with therapy sessions and group meetings but will not have to stay at the facility.
  • Intensive outpatient programs – IOPs offer the same support as an inpatient program. However, the person can love at home during this program. They are expected to attend evening appointments 3-5 times a week for 12 weeks.
  • Partial hospitalization programs – PHPs are similar to IOPs in allowing the person to live at home. However, the appointments are more demanding and are during the daytime.
  • 12-step meetings – Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are two peer-led groups that are well-known these groups meet on an outpatient basis and offer members accountability and support.

SpringBoard Recovery Can Help Parents Who Struggle With Addiction

SpringBoard Recovery has many options for parents who find themselves in the tough situation of wanting addiction recovery but unable to do it on their own. We have different treatment plans that can help anyone who wants it.

As part of our outpatient programs, we help offer various forms of therapy. Some of those include:

Along with these, SpringBoard Recovery also has sober living homes. These are residential homes that offer support for those in a rehab program. They are good for people who travel from out of state or who live in a situation that is not conducive to recovery.

We also offer treatment for co-occurring disorders. This is when a person with a substance abuse disorder also has an undiagnosed or untreated mental health disorder at the same time.

Some common co-occurring disorders are:

When someone needs treatment for both, they will receive dual-diagnosis treatment. This will get to the root cause of the addiction and will give the person a greater chance at success in recovery. This also will lessen the chance of relapse.

More Information For Addicted or Alcoholic Parents

Parents have a hard time without the added struggle of addiction. At SpringBoard Recovery, we want to help parents thrive. We want to help children have parents who are present and active in their lives by helping their parents through the recovery process. We know it is a difficult process, but we also know that reaching recovery will make the hard work worth it.

There is a lot of help available. If you would like more information about our drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs for you, your parent, or your loved one, do not hesitate to contact us today.


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