Navigating Recovery as a Parent
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately one in eight children under the age of 17 lived with at least one parent with a substance use disorder (SUD) in the past 12 months.
Additionally, the report revealed that around one in 10 children lived with at least one parent with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) within the past year.
Research indicates that children of parents who struggle with substance abuse are at an elevated risk for poor academic performance and emotional, behavioral, and social problems. In addition, they are at an increased risk of early substance use, acceleration in substance use patterns, and higher rates of alcohol or drug use disorders.
The Impact of Addiction on Families
Recognizing how addiction has impacted one's children is an essential part of recovery, regardless of how challenging it may be. The sooner the psychological consequences of addiction are acknowledged and accepted, the better equipped an individual is to work through them and begin healing as a family.
It is difficult to provide a loving home environment when alcohol or drug addiction is present. Once treatment is over, it may be desirable to leave the past behind. However, it is beneficial for parents to communicate with their children about past mistakes.
The lingering consequences for the children of an addicted parent require attention as part of the recovery process.
Parents may feel overwhelmed when recognizing the damage they caused their children during active addiction. To maintain sobriety during times of stress, parents need to care for themselves to be better for their children throughout recovery. Here are some valuable tips for parents navigating recovery:
- Forgiveness is influential: Self-forgiveness benefits children but also helps reduce the risk of relapse for the parent in recovery, as shame and guilt can perpetuate substance use and addiction. Addiction does not define identity as a parent. Efforts should be made to re-establish self-worth and recognition that a person is more than their mistakes.
- Self-care: Practicing self-care or other activities that bring joy helps minimize negative thoughts or feelings. Parents in recovery need to take care of themselves to be better parents for their children.
- Practice mindfulness: Living each day, one day at a time, is a part of mindfulness. If upset or overwhelmed, pausing before reacting can yield powerful results. Parenting is challenging regardless of whether a parent is in recovery. Healthy coping mechanisms, like mindfulness, can be beneficial when the moment seems unbearable.
Talking to Children About Addiction
Talking to your children about addiction is a conversation that will not be easy but is necessary. Pretending a disease doesn’t exist does not mean it isn’t a reality. Having honest conversations with your children about addiction can help them discover healthy coping skills to handle trauma, anxiety, or other emotions accompanying the impact of addiction on a family.
In addition, sharing honestly about a parent's addiction can alleviate any guilt or shame the child feels. For instance, children may think that the parent’s addiction is their fault. The child may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms believing that they can help get their parent out of addiction.
Furthermore, ensure that your child is given accurate information, which may require educating oneself first. Consider various questions about substance use they might ask and prepare efficient answers.
Timing Is Everything
The conversation should be age-appropriate. Young children may not be prepared to hear about drugs or alcohol during active addiction. Still, they experienced the effects of substance abuse, so their thoughts and feelings should be validated.
Consider rehearsing open-ended questions about how your child feels in advance. Avoid overwhelming them with too much information, but the conversation should remain honest.
Older children may be more aware than the parent recognizes and will appreciate honesty over anything else. The conversation may be awkward or uneasy, which is perfectly okay and normal.
The critical factor in communication with older children is to lay a foundation of trust after a period of disappointment due to addiction. Resources about addiction should be available for any questions they may have.
Most importantly, the conversation should occur when everyone is relaxed and tensions are low. A parent currently struggling with addiction should offer their children a plan for getting help or provide steps to improve their current situation.
Emphasize Addiction as a Disease
Children must understand that addiction is a disease, not a choice. Addiction should be discussed as you would any other chronic illness. Children should understand that a parent that struggles with addiction is sick and requires professional treatment to get better.
A sober parent can explain how they abstain from substance abuse, such as through peer-to-peer support groups. By doing so, your child will understand that the disease is manageable with the proper resources.
Children Need to Know They Are Loved
It can be difficult for children of parents who battle an addiction to feel loved because of the horrific things said or done during active addiction. Let them know you love and care for them, regardless of your past actions and any negative feelings that may linger in your child.
Children Should Know They Are Not Alone
Worldwide, addiction affects families and should not be a source of shame. Children need to learn about peer-to-peer support groups for family members, such as Al-Anon, Alateen, and Nar-Anon, or organizations like the National Association for Children of Alcoholics.
The conversation should end positively; let your child know there is always hope. Reassure them that honest and open communication will continue as you move forward on your recovery journey as a family.
Navigating recovery as a parent can be challenging. Talking to your children about addiction is necessary so you and your children can recover. If you or a loved one is ready to begin the recovery process, we want to help. In San Diego, California, Present Moments Recovery offers a home-like environment where individualized treatment plans can help build a firm foundation for a brighter future. Our family-run treatment center offers detox programs, inpatient and outpatient counseling services, and a sober living home to ensure a successful recovery. Present Moments Recovery provides a team of professionals who can accurately perform a one-on-one assessment of each individual to ensure that their needs are met. Here, you can heal in a home setting instead of a facility. We believe recovery can only happen in the present moment. Call us today and learn about our services at (619) 363-4767.