People who raise us play important roles in the way we think, act, and speak. Environments and people deeply influence us while we are growing. Biology is not the only thing that we can inherit from our biological parents. We can also inherit the ways we communicate as well as our habits, behaviors, and values.
Raising children in environments that expose them to alcohol, drugs, and other addictive substances can create considerable risks and harm. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that about 8.7 million U.S. children seventeen years old or younger live in a households with at least one parent with a substance use disorder disorder in the past year.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), children raised in such environments may develop lifelong problems if they do not receive proper support or help. If their parents grapple with substance use disorder, children in such environments may experience
- Academic issues
- Social, emotional, and behavioral problems
- Earlier initiation to the use of substances
- Faster development to substance use patterns
- Higher risks of drug and alcohol addiction
Children from such environments should move to safer environments that allow them to grow to their best potential, free from risk and harm and with proper guidance and support. If parents are addicted to substances, they should seek help to recover successfully. Caregivers may have to care for children while parents are undergoing treatment for substance use disorder. This can be a difficult transition for everyone
Helping Children Adjust
If you are a caregiver, even though your home is safer and more comfortable, children may find it difficult to adjust to an unfamiliar environment or situation. They may feel as if their new surroundings are unfamiliar and uncomfortable at first. Children may be suffering from a crisis where they feel deep losses. As a caretaker, it is your job to help children adjust to a more stable lifestyle and an environment free from addicted parents.
- Here are some tips to help children adjust:
- Discuss how addiction works and why it is worrisome. Help children understand that their parents are seeking assistance to get better.
- Make them comfortable. Try to provide their favorite games, toys, programs, food, or anything they enjoy. If you provide familiar things in a new environment, you may give them comfort and things to anchor them during a potentially uncertain time.
- Be patient. Children may not tell you their feelings, especially when they meet you. Do not force them to talk with you or overwhelm them. Let everything be as natural as possible.
- Allow and encourage them to talk. Listen when they do and don’t interrupt them. Try to show your openness to conversation by asking them general questions. You may also consider seeking help from a professional counselor or by attending support groups.
- Praise them. Comment when they display positive behavior, perform well in class or in a sport, or help others. Praising children gives them positive attention.
- Educate them when they do something negative. Let them understand the consequences of what they have done and explain why they should not do it again. Use a calm voice, but be firm. Do not use physical discipline or shout.
- Regularly reassure children that you care for them, that you want them, and that you will protect and never abandon them.
- Initiate bonding time. If you play games and go on trips, watch shows, eat, and do other things together, you may create fun times and happy memories. You can teach children how to be compassionate and how to show love.
Helping Addicted Parents Adjust
It is important to remember that addicted parents also have a hard time adjusting. Although they are suffering from substance use disorder disorders, it doesn’t mean that they don’t love and care for their children. Helping them understand their predicament and adjust to changes may give them motivation and speed their recovery.
Here are some tips to help addicted parents adjust:
- Let them understand the consequences of their addiction and why recovery is important for them and for their children. Help parents understand that the consequences of using substances far outweigh their benefits.
- Set rules. Explain to addicted parents that they will not have custody of their children unless they recover from their addictions and are fit to take care of them.
- Allow them and their children time to see each other. Their children may motivate them to recover.
- Celebrate family rituals. Celebrating family birthdays or exchanging gifts on Christmas can provide familiar rituals for both children and parents.
- Provide updates to parents about how their children are doing. Share stories about their children and how their days went.
- Ask parents about their children – their preferences, their hobbies, anything about their children. Parents know their children the best. Ask their opinions to keep parents involved with raising their children even while they are in treatment.
Visiting Addicted Parents in Rehab
Policies about visiting patients in rehab facilities can vary from center to center. Visitation can be supervised or unsupervised, depending on the centers’ policies and the clients’ situations. It may be for a few hours or more. Of course, the state of the children and their parents can also affect visitation. It may or may not be healthy for children to visit their parents in rehab.
Children may have lingering trauma from their parent’s substance use disorder, so seeing them may trigger painful memories or experiences. Children may not feel comfortable being with their parents, even with supervision. Parents may still be physically or emotionally unstable. Seeing their parents can compromise children’s safety, so they may want to meet at a later date.
If the relationship between a parent and child was on good terms prior to the parent’s admission to a facility, visitation may assist both parties. Meetings may motivate parents to recover faster. They may ease children’s loneliness and give them comfort. Such meetings may also help rebuild and strengthen the bonds between parents and children.
Determining When to Return Custody
There are circumstances that make it difficult to return children to the custody of their biological parents. Some parents may respond poorly to substance use disorder treatment. Multiple bouts of substance use disorder and relapses in the past may affect parents’ chances of regaining custody. Some parents may fail to comply with treatment, which can lead to the termination of their parental rights.
Parents who have successfully completed treatment programs may regain custody. They may attend individual therapy sessions or support groups following their treatment. The professional opinion of therapists can help determine whether parents are stable enough to raise children and whether they should regain custody of their children. Courts may also require parents to take drug tests before returning parental rights. Treatment can help parents and their children regain and rebuild their families.
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.