Addiction: Nature or nurture? Studies have shown that both genetic predispositions and environmental causes are factors that equally contribute to the development of alcoholism and drug addiction within the family system. More than 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics, and nearly 11 million are under the age of eighteen. For children of parents addicted to drugs or alcohol, life can be a nightmare riddled with confusion, fear, anger, and resentment. The task of knowing how to effectively deal with drug-addicted parents is further complicated by the fact that children of addicts and alcoholics are at a higher risk of developing their own addictions and alcoholism based on their biology and upbringings. Unlikely as it may seem, dealing with drug-addicted parents and shaping a healthier, happier life is possible for children of addicts and alcoholics.
Alcoholism and drug addiction tend to run in families; children of addicted parents are more at risk for alcoholism and other drug abuse than are other children. Additionally, the use of substances by parents and their adolescent children is strongly correlated; generally speaking, if parents take drugs, sooner or later their children will take drugs too. In this case, knowledge is a very powerful tool in learning how to deal with drug-addicted parents: if the child of an alcoholic or addict learns all he can about drug addiction, he may be able to avoid falling victim to the disease of addiction himself. Understanding that alcoholism is a disease of perception and the result of warped thinking can help to combat feelings of sadness, anger and resentment toward an addicted parent.
Children of drug-addicted parents may often wonder what it is they did to cause their parents to choose drugs over them. Crucial to understanding addiction and coping with the addictive behavior of a loved one is the understanding of the Three C’s: you did not CAUSE your parents’ drug addiction; you cannot CONTROL your parents’ addictive behavior-until they decide to put the drugs down and get better, their actions will be determined by their drug and alcohol use, often resulting in negative consequences; and you surely can not CURE your parents’ drug addiction-only a spiritual remedy, as can be found in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous or similar programs, can treat a spiritual malady.
While drug-addicted parents are given the opportunity to treat their addictions through applying the principles of 12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, the children of drug-addicted parents are also offered the same opportunity for recovery. Studies have shown that children who coped effectively with the trauma of growing up in families affected by alcoholism often relied on the support of a non-alcoholic parent, stepparent, grandparent, teachers and others; therefore, the children of addicted parents who rely on other supportive adults demonstrate increased autonomy and independence, stronger social skills, better ability to cope with difficult emotional experiences, and better day-to-day coping strategies. Support groups like Ala-Teen, Al-Anon, and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) provides children of drug-addicted parents with a safe environment in which to express themselves, identify with the experiences of others, and find support for their emotional recovery. These group programs are effective in helping to reduce feelings of isolation, shame and guilt among children of alcoholics while emphasizing the importance of peer influence and mutual support to adolescents.