How to Shield My Child from Addicted Family Members

How to Shield My Child from Addicted Family Members

Children with drug addicts in their families have increased risks for emotional problems

When children are exposed to addiction, they have an increased risk for emotional problems. Depression, acting out and extreme mood swings can all result from witnessing addiction, and children are especially vulnerable to these risks due to their lack of experience and their trust in adults. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and even close family friends can traumatize children through addiction—according to the University of Pittsburgh Schools of Health Sciences, children of addicts may seem fine on the outside while they suffer internally.

Symptoms of Addiction Trauma

As no two children are alike, each child reacts differently to a loved one’s addiction. Some children may act out in school or the home in defiance, but other children may withdraw and lose the ability to connect with others. Children may cry for no apparent reason, have nightmares or suffer from separation anxiety when away from the healthy parent, but others may exhibit physical symptoms like stomach aches, loss of appetite, lethargy, insomnia or unexplained pain. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network lists the following symptoms in children exposed to addiction:

  • Poor verbal skills
  • Memory problems
  • Learning disabilities
  • Lack of skill development
  • Inability to pay attention in school
  • Excessive temper
  • Easily startled and afraid of new people and situations
  • Abnormal bed wetting and other regressive behaviors

If your child has been exposed to addiction and you notice any of these symptoms, then seek help. Therapy for children who suffer from trauma can enact long-term recovery.

Protecting Children from Addiction

If your loved one suffers from addiction, then protecting your child is your top priority. Children should never be forced to spend time with people who frighten them, so find activities outside of the home to compensate. For instance, sports, hobbies, play dates and other events can get children out of the house when you know an addict will be around; furthermore, plan safe places to send your children in the event of an emergency. Choose one or two close friends who will take your child out of the home at a moment’s notice, because reaching out for help can protect your child from an addict who is on drugs.

If an extended family member is an addict, children should feel free to express themselves about being around that person. Limit the amount of time your child spends near a relative who abuses drugs: a conversation with your addicted loved one may send her to treatment if she cannot be around the child. Children should never be used as bargaining chips for getting a loved one into treatment, but an addict may seek help if he knows the reason you shield your children from him.

Treatment for Addiction

The best way to protect your children from the trauma of addiction is to get your loved one the help she needs. Inpatient and outpatient treatment can catalyze change in your loved one, as most treatment programs include family therapy. Such treatment is a good place to begin the healing process for children of addiction, because group sessions allow families to express how addiction affected them. Children need to understand that it is OK to be angry with an addict, and expressing these feelings is an important step in the healing process.

Find Help for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for teens, 25 percent of young people under the age of 18 are exposed to family alcohol or drug abuse each year. These children are more likely to develop depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses, and they may even exhibit the symptoms of trauma. The best way to protect your children from drug abuse is to seek addiction help as soon as possible. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, we can help; call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline to speak to an admissions coordinator about available treatment options.