Growing up with Addiction in the Family

When we witness addiction in our families, we can later find this to be reflected in some of our emotional patterns. Sometimes we ourselves become addicts, but sometimes there are other, less obvious effects.

Addiction can create a great deal of turmoil in families. As a result, when we grow up witnessing it, we can develop severe anxiety. Chances are we weren’t given a foundation of calm and peace upon which to grow. We didn’t necessarily learn healthy ways of coping with stress. Where there is addiction in a family, there is also often a lot of fear. The rest of the family fears for the addict’s safety and wellbeing, as well as their own. They might live day to day with the fear of a violent outburst, or an accident, or a confrontation, or today being the day the addict we love finally hurts himself for the last time. We absorb our families’ fear-based ways of responding to each other, to other people, to stress and to challenges. Our anxiety can be our emotional response to what we witnessed and experienced growing up.

Similarly, we often aren’t taught healthy ways of coping with difficult emotions, and this can lead to patterns of depression. We grew up surrounded by despair. We witnessed addiction destroying the addict and ripping the family apart. This can leave us with a sadness and hopelessness that can be hard to shake, even well into adulthood. We don’t just shed our scars or forget our wounds when we grow up. They stay with us and inform how we feel and how we function going forward.

Witnessing addiction in our families when we’re young can be a confusing and overwhelming thing. We might know our loved one has a problem but not know why. This can cause us to blame ourselves. We think that if only we had behaved better, or gotten better grades, or not made them angry, everything would be ok. We internalize the other person’s addiction as our own problem. We carry the weight of it and the responsibility, even as young children. We grow up thinking that we did something wrong, that we were the cause of our family’s dysfunction, and as a result we can be filled with a deep sense of inadequacy and shame.

Growing up with addiction in our families can have painful consequences. Recovery means addressing these things in order to heal. Call (800) 871-5440 for information on our treatment programs.

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