Growing Up Around Addiction and Mental Illness

The trauma surrounding living with addiction in the household or within our families can be extensive and profound. Children often blame themselves for the dysfunction in the family unit. They feel responsible for the problematic relationship dynamics. They are filled with so much confusion as to what they might have done wrong to warrant the treatment they’re receiving. Children of addicts are not only predisposed to the biological traits for addiction, but they’re also at risk for inheriting many of the mental health issues that accompany addiction. For this and many other reasons, it’s so important to give children the benefit of therapy and support groups, even at an early age. 

Children tend to internalize everything around them, everything in their home environment, and everything they witness and experience. Not only do they blame themselves for their caregivers’ addictions, but they can also begin to feel inadequate, unloved, unworthy and ashamed of themselves as a result. They wonder why their family is so unhealthy when they see their peers in loving, happy, healthy homes. They wonder if their parents’ addictions are their fault. They ask themselves if they had misbehaved less or listened more, would their parents be less sad, less angry, or less volatile. They see the addiction as a sign of their own failure to live up to their parents’ expectations. The result is often severe mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, and persistent inadequacy complexes. They feel deeply insecure. They feel inferior to their peers. They feel sad and lose interest in the activities that once brought them joy.

When in this position, children often don’t know what they’re experiencing in order to verbalize it to someone who might be able to help. They might have a counselor or therapist they see regularly. There might be a school social worker that speaks with them. When they’re feeling ashamed of themselves, however, children often will keep the truth of their parents’ addictions to themselves. Similarly, if the addict in their lives has told them to keep the addiction a secret, if they’re threatened them with a punishment of some kind, or if they’ve abused them in any way, children will automatically suppress their feelings and keep the addiction hidden from the outside world. This is a tremendous amount of suffering for a young person to have to contend with. Support programs such as Al-ATot and Al-ATeen are particularly helpful for children in this position, as is specialized therapy designed to handle these sensitive issues.

The community of Riverside Recovery has personal experience with addiction and the feelings of hopelessness and disconnection that come with it. We’re here to help you reclaim the life you love. Call (800) 871-5440 today.