Adult Children of Addicts

Adult Children of Addicts: Breaking the Cycle

Understanding the Effects of Parental Substance Use Disorders

Imagine yourself piloting a boat with a compass that always points towards a storm. That doesn’t make much sense. But it is often the reality for adult children of addicts. The path laid out by their upbringing brings them many challenges along with skewed perceptions of normal behavior. Growing up in a household overshadowed by substance abuse, these individuals may find themselves in a relentless struggle – trying to discern between harmful and healthy relationships. The turbulence of their early environment often leaves them grappling with low self-esteem and a distorted understanding of what constitutes a functional family dynamic.

If you or someone you love comes from such a background, this may all sound a little bit too familiar for comfort. But rest assured, hope and healing are possible at Icarus.

Icarus Behavioral Health in Albuquerque, NM, offers guidance for those seeking to recalibrate that life compass. We’ve helped break the cycle of substance abuse for countless clients. We know all too well the long-term impact of dysfunctional households on an adult child. We’re not just a place for recovery.

Instead, we are a starting point for rewriting life stories. We help those who feel trapped in this cycle of abuse to break free from the shadows of their past. Under our close guidance, clients can stride confidently into a future where life choices are normal, healthy, and hopeful.

Are you a parent, caregiver, or adult child ready to break the cycle of alcohol or drug abuse? Read on to learn more!

A Dysfunctional Household and the Adult Child

Dysfunctional Household and the Adult Child

Growing up in a home with an alcoholic parent or drug-addicted parents can feel like walking through an emotional minefield. The household’s toxic environment leaves deep scars on children. But the pain doesn’t end with maturing into adulthood.

For adult children from this setting, the echoes of a dysfunctional upbringing stay with them into their future. Like all children, upbringing shapes their worldview and personal relationships. We will look below at some of the most common roles children take to assert themselves in dysfunctional family dynamics.

The Role Model or the ‘Golden Child’

Children in these environments frequently find themselves oscillating between extremes of behavior. Some become super responsible on one end of the spectrum. They often take on adult roles and responsibilities at an early age. This hyper-responsibility is a survival mechanism. It’s the child’s way of bringing order to the chaos surrounding them.

They miss out on the carefree nature of childhood. Instead, they find themselves managing the household or caring for younger siblings. They may also try to shield their parents from the consequences of addiction. Some view it as controlling behavior, but it’s the only way they know how to deal with the family dysfunction.

Find Effective Detox and Rehab Options – Call Now!

The Scapegoat

Conversely, some become super irresponsible, mirroring the impulsive behavior they see in their parents. They may disregard rules or be unable to keep a job for long. They also have frequent difficulties managing personal relationships. The lack of stability during childhood leaves them without a typical understanding of boundaries. As a result, they may struggle with trust. That adds up to a sense of instability in their adult lives.

The emotional toll of growing up with an alcoholic or drug-addicted parent is immense. These children often don’t know how to process emotions. This emotional burden can lead to long-term psychological effects. Some mental illnesses that may result are the following:

Unfortunately, it also usually means a predisposition to abusing drugs or alcohol themselves.

Mental Illness and the Cycle of Substance Abuse

Mental Illness of Adult Children

Mental health concerns and substance abuse often occur in the adult children of substance-dependent parents. These individuals, bearing the characteristics of adult children shaped by an environment of active addiction, face many challenges. They developed atypical coping strategies in response to a chaotic home. That can inadvertently fuel this perpetuating cycle.

One of the most common challenges faced by these individuals is self-loathing. This deep-seated sense of worthlessness comes from their living in a neglectful environment. Self-loathing erodes their self-esteem. But worse, it also contributes to mental illnesses. In an attempt to escape from their reality, some may turn to substance use as a coping mechanism. It locks them into a cycle of mental illness and addiction.

How Drug and Alcohol Abuse Become a Generational Problem

Let’s take a look at the cyclical nature of abusing substances and dysfunctional family dynamics. While some variations are possible, the cycle generally looks like this:

Foundation in the Parental Generation

The cycle starts with parents who abuse drugs or alcohol. Parents may also subject the child to emotional, physical, or psychological abuse.

Some things that children of alcoholics or drug users witness at this stage of childhood include these:

  • Parents may neglect basic needs. They forget to take care of themselves and their children.
  • Drug-addicted parents and alcoholics constantly seek approval to cope with self-hatred.
  • Unhealthy relationships are often present as the parents start seeking approval from unsuitable partners.
  • Drug-addicted parents and alcoholics lie about the frequency and severity of their use. They use an excessive amount but cover it up.
  • The parent’s absence from the home while seeking drugs is often dismissed or excused.

Children grow up and perceive the parent’s substance use disorder as “normal” because they don’t know otherwise.

Confidential Trauma and PTSD Assessment – Call Now!

Internalization of the Behaviors by Children

The children internalize the behaviors of their parents as they mature. They also start to copy the coping mechanisms they observe. Internalization can manifest as trauma and emotional instability. It also often causes distorted perceptions of healthy relationships.

These children may develop feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness. They also bear the misplaced burden of their parents’ substance misuse. That can predispose them to dysfunctional behaviors when they grow up.

Adoption of Learned Behaviors by Adult Children

Adoption of Learned Behaviors by Adult Children

As these children enter adulthood, they unconsciously adopt the behaviors and coping strategies they learned in their formative years. These can include all the toxic behaviors witnessed in the family home:

  • Abusing substances
  • Abusive behaviors
  • Unhealthy intimate relationships
  • Misunderstanding concern for personal criticism
  • Approval seeking behaviors

The lack of healthy role models sets up lifelong struggles. They have not developed positive coping strategies. Nor do they understand the dynamics of kind relationships.

Repetition in Parenting and Relationships

When these individuals have children, they apply the parenting skills passed down from their parents. They see the behaviors they witnessed and experienced as children as typical. Unfortunately, that means a new cycle of abuse and neglect.

Their children are then exposed to these behaviors, and the cycle continues into yet another generation.

Understanding this cyclical nature can help one see the deep-rooted patterns that contribute to generational abuse and dysfunction. Breaking this cycle is challenging. But the work to undo the damage is needed for a better future.

Adult Children of Addicts and Alcoholics: Breaking the Cycles of Addiction in the Family

Alcohol use disorder

The possible consequences of addiction on children are far-reaching. Alcohol use disorder or drug addiction can lead to adult children who don’t know any other coping mechanism besides substance use.  The key to healing is learning healthier, alternative behaviors to those they’ve known in the past.

How can the treatment team at Icarus Behavioral Health help break this dangerous cycle? We use several evidence-based therapies to help clients heal.

Therapy to Replace Old Coping Mechanisms With Healthy Ones

Therapy plays a critical role in healing after growing up in a household with active addiction. It provides a space to explore and reframe the negative self-perceptions the client has known for a lifetime. It also helps them develop healthy coping strategies.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, in particular, can be effective. It challenges and changes destructive thought patterns and behaviors.

Therapy can be one-on-one with one of our highly skilled professionals. However, it can also be in a family session. Family members receive guidance from a trained counselor, restoring damaged family connections.

Medication Management During Treatment

Medication management is available among our many treatment options. It can be especially needed when a mental health disorder, such as depression, is present along with alcohol or drug use. Medications can help manage symptoms of mental health disorders. Thus, it becomes easier for individuals to open up during therapy.

Emotional Support Groups for Adult Children of Alcoholics and Drug-Addicted Parents

Support groups are a key follow-through that helps chart a course for a more fulfilling life.

Childhood in a chaotic household can feel isolating. Many carry shame about their home environment. They don’t understand personal boundaries. Some lack respect for authority figures. They learn to view addiction as “normal.” Every family coping with an alcoholic parent or drug addiction shares some common themes.

But support groups such as Al-Anon and others for adult children of drug or alcohol abusers show clients that they’re not alone. Unfortunately, addiction impacts every city and every town.

Spending time with those who share your struggles can be very empowering. You can find strength in numbers – please give these support groups some serious consideration.

Alateen: A Vital Support Group for Teens

Support Group for Teens

Older children must receive help, even as the parents face their own challenges.

The Alateen program supports young people who live with the challenges of having a parent or caretaker who struggles with substances. This support group, a branch of Al-Anon, specifically caters to teenagers and young adults. It gives them a safe and understanding environment where they can get support without fearing judgment.

In addition, Alateen teaches the following concepts:

  • Setting healthy boundaries
  • Developing resilience
  • Nurturing self-care practices.

A similar offering comes from the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, which has 12-step workshops. It is similar to AA but focuses on facilitating health for the adult children of drug-addicted parents.

These lessons are vital for young individuals when parents cannot teach them.

Up To 100% of Rehab Costs Covered By Insurance – Call Now!

Adult Children Can Break the Cycle at Icarus Behavioral Health

If you are an adult child who has just realized your childhood was atypical, know that change is possible. First, let us applaud you for having the wisdom to know that you need help. Second, let’s reassure you – the team at Icarus Behavioral Health can help you break the generational nature of addiction. You are not your drug-addicted or alcoholic parent. The healing process starts today.

We can treat substance abuse disorders as well as any underlying mental health issues. Long-term change is yours for the taking –just reach out to us. A brighter future for yourself – and your children – is within your grasp.

Share this post

Call Now (505) 305-0902