Addiction is often a complex issue for families, because family structure can be complex itself. Situations can involve single-parent homes, stepparents, foster parents and multiple generations living under the same roof; ergo, depending on the addict’s role, different strategies might be necessary to encourage treatment and to shield children from problems. A child might require a safe setting in extreme situations, but shielding them does not mean keeping them ignorant or isolated. The goal is to protect, empower and educate children through various positive approaches.
Addiction in the Family
When implementing strategies regarding an addict’s behavior, family members must examine their own actions and attitudes. Along these lines, the government’s 2004 Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy guide notes the following harmful patterns:
- Enabling behavior, such as denying the addiction or covering for its consequences
- Allowing a child to protect a parent’s addiction
- Parental inconsistency in which house rules are erratic
- Overprotecting a child and disrupting family structure
- Ignoring behavioral and mental health issues in the non-addict
When addiction occurs, family members must check themselves, help the addict and minimize any negative influence on children. As noted by Partnership at Drug Free in 2014, immediate and extended family members should work together to address addiction, but they should also take proper precautions to minimize negative effects.
An Addicted Parent or Stepparent
When a parent is an addict and lives with a child, then other family members should monitor and minimize the following issues:
- Adverse interactions, complaints, pessimism, criticism and negative expressions must not be the norm
- A negative mood that ignores positive behavior motivates children to act out and create crises
- Some children believe they are responsible for a parent’s substance abuse
- The spouse of the addict should request help from extended family to avoid becoming overwhelmed
- An addicted parent, if living away from home, should have supervised visits with the children so they do not blame themselves for his/her absence
Step-families involve additional challenges, especially if the addict is a stepparent. In such cases, take the following steps:
- The sober parents in each family must communicate clearly
- The communication must involve biological parents and new partners
- Clear and consistent rules should connect both families
- The child should have no confusion regarding said rules
- Parental disputes should not occur in the child’s presence
When an addict and child live together, the family system may need a new structure, and new boundaries should shield the child without punishing the addict. Family counselors are invaluable resources for family change, because they can help children through the behavioral and structural shifts at home. Furthermore, if substance abuse takes place during pregnancy, involves physical abuse or threatens a family’s finances, then loved ones must increase their assertiveness and possibly include child protection services.
Addicted Grandparents and Siblings
Older adults sometimes live with their adult children, and alcohol and prescription drug abuse are the most common forms of addiction among the elderly. In other words, an addicted grandparent in a multi-generational household can disrupt family dynamics. In such situations, less financial support increases the grandparent’s isolation and substance abuse, so grown children must often assume new roles as parent and caregiver. Due to the complex relationship between adult children and their elderly parents, outside resources are often necessary to foster recovery.
Alternatively, parents might need to shield children from an addicted sibling. Pursue strong ties with the addicted child, and take the following steps to address substance abuse:
- Addiction counseling
- An intervention
- Professional rehab
Family counseling can help non-addicted child, so be honest with your family about substance abuse and the steps you will take, because these acts will reduce confusion and conflict. During counseling sessions with the entire family, sober siblings often help the addicted child, because they provide insight into family dysfunction. As with addicts in the extended family, parents must set boundaries and monitor interactions between siblings to minimize risks.
Family Addiction Help
Family members must understand that they did not cause addiction, they cannot control it nor can they cure it. However, they can help the addict by improving themselves, shielding children and encouraging professional treatment. As suggested in the 1993 book Bound and Determined: Growing up Resilient in a Troubled Family, handling a family addiction properly can benefit a child’s life skills, including resiliency, positive coping mechanisms, better judgment, moral certitude, autonomy and an increased capacity to handle ambiguity. Counseling also curtails unhealthy coping responses, such as children taking on the role and responsibilities of the parent.
Our admissions coordinators can provide help 24 hours a day, and they can even check health insurance plans for addiction treatment benefits. If you have questions or want more information, then please call our toll-free helpline now.