When police arrested one woman in Temecula, she lost more than just her freedom. In addition to being charged with heroin possession, she was charged with child endangerment and being under the influence when 25 grams of heroin were found within easy reach of her three children. Child Protective Services (CPS) was called to remove the children from the home as the woman was taken into custody.
Unfortunately, the situation is not rare. Parents who are struggling with addiction often do not think through the potential consequences to their children. They often neglect the children’s needs while they are under the influence, and children also have the ability to access drugs in the home. Both are devastating to kids – both physically and mentally. Loss of child custody is one of the many life-changing repercussions of addiction that not only impact the individual but loved ones as well.
The Risks to Children Who Have Drug Addicted Parents
Kids who are born to parents who have been through addiction and those who are raised by parents who continue to struggle with the problem will face a number of unique difficulties that other kids will not endure. These often include:
- Erratic and unstable behavior in the parent that can be frightening to a child
- Inconsistent support for academics, social issues, and positive personal development
- Inconsistent physical care and maintenance
- Lack of oversight to ensure that the child makes good, healthy choices in life and with friends
This situation can contribute to:
- The feeling that they are not a priority or important even if the parent often says, “I love you”
- Low self-esteem
- An increased likelihood of experimenting with the parent’s substances of choice
- Poor academic performance and a loss of opportunities
- Stigma among friends and in the community
- Difficulty in having positive relationships with others
Harmful Myths Children Raised by Parents in Active Addiction Believe
There are a number of inaccurate beliefs that a child who is raised by a parent with addiction comes to believe, myths that can damage their ability to ask for help or accept help when it is offered. Some of these myths include:
- “Their addiction is my fault. They do it because I am a bad kid/dishonest/didn’t do X.”
- “The drugs they use are legal, so it’s not a problem. They need [their drug of choice] to feel better. They have a lot of pain/anxiety/etc. and that is their medicine.”
- “I have to take care of my parent. They have had a lot of bad things happen to them and I don’t want to get them in trouble.”
- “If I tell anyone the truth about what is happening, I will never get to see my parent again.”
- “Drinking/drug use is normal. Nobody’s parents have time to help them with their homework, get up with them before school, show up to all their school events, do their laundry, etc.”
Helping Children Heal
It is not easy for kids to heal when a parent is struggling. Even when a parent gets treatment and is able to maintain sobriety for months or years, it can be difficult for the child to trust again or to healthfully process the anger and pain they feel due to the things that happened during active addiction.
It is also difficult for them to change their trajectory, in some cases. That is, if academics have become an issue or they have a hard time fitting in at school due to issues related to a parent’s addiction, these problems are not going to fix themselves overnight. In order for the entire family to heal, the following is necessary:
- Comprehensive addiction treatment for the parent struggling with addiction that includes medical care, treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders, and long-term follow-up support
- Psychological treatment for the child
- In-home check-ins and meetings with both parent and child
- Communication among teachers, psychologists, social workers, etc., to ensure that all involved in the child’s life are aware of the situation
The more support the entire family has once the addiction has been identified, the more capable all will be to heal on their own terms and find a place of balance.
Does a child in your life need your support as they deal with a parent’s addiction?