Kids are important to Jesus, and they’re important to me, too.
Kids like me are kids and adults of all ages whose parents are, or were, drug addicts and alcoholics, kids who have suffered, or who are suffering, abuse and neglect on multiple levels, and kids who are victims of bullying.
Helping the addicted parent: role reversal (parentification)
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 25 percent of American kids (I believe it’s more!) grow up in households where substance abuse is present. These children are also more likely to experience:
Poor performance in school
Emotional and behavioral problems
Higher risk of physical, verbal, or sexual abuse
Higher risk of developing anxiety or depression
Earlier onset of experimentation with drugs or alcohol
Greater chance of becoming addicted once they start using drugs or alcohol
In a healthy parent-child relationship, the parent is the caregiver. In parent-child relationships that involve substance abuse, these roles are reversed, and the child assumes the role of caregiver (like me with my mother and my baby sister). Many children are not even aware they have taken on this responsibility. Some of the ‘duties’ of a child-parent relationship include taking care of younger brothers/sisters, helping an intoxicated mother/father clean up after a night of drinking/drugging, or getting a part-time job to buy groceries.
Examples of such emotional engagement might include:
Canceling activities with friends in order to stay home with a parent who feels isolated because of his/her drinking
Listening to a parent recount stories of sexual encounters when he/she was high or drunk
Feeling the need to rescue a parent experiencing severe depression or suicidal thoughts
Comforting a parent experiencing anxiety and fear of being alone
Using drugs or drinking with a parent in order to create an emotional bond
Taking responsibility for a parent’s addiction: “My stepdad has to smoke marijuana because I stress him out so much,” or “Mom drinks because my father left her after I was born.”
The child assumes a level of maturity they are not ready for. Addicted parents infringe on the emotional boundaries that allow children to develop independently, turning the child into an expert caretaker who lacks social skills or a sense of personal identity.
According to the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, the emotional and mental stress of having to care for themselves and for intoxicated parents can harm a child’s brain development. In addition, children who must provide for themselves because their parents are physically or mentally absent are at higher risk of injury, exposure to crime, malnutrition, and isolation from their peers.
Worst of all, a lot of kids believe that the parent’s addiction is somehow their fault - that if they were better behaved, earned better grades in school, or took care of all the chores at home, their parents wouldn’t be so tired or stressed and wouldn’t have to medicate themselves with drugs.
Seeking help outside the home
Children of addicted parents are often discouraged (through intimidation or emotional manipulation) from talking with other grownups about problems they’re experiencing. Parents with substance abuse issues may become angry or abusive if they feel a child is ‘betraying’ the family by exposing its secrets to a school counselor, teacher, doctor, or a friend’s parent. Many parents are afraid of the real possibility that if their substance abuse is exposed, they might lose legal custody of their children and face criminal charges.
Growing up in a home affected by substance abuse can damage a child’s self-esteem, making it even more difficult to approach a sober adult or the authorities. This situation can lead to extreme anxiety, fear, and a profound sense of helplessness. The National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) lists parental substance abuse as one of the most common reasons that children run away from home or become homeless. In addition, NCSL reports that 46 percent of underage runaways are the victims of physical abuse, and 38 percent are the victims of emotional abuse - both of which are common in homes where an adult abuses alcohol or drugs.
Hey, Kids Like Me, if you’re struggling with a sense of shame, or with the fear of voicing your needs, make a list of your rights as a child or teen and repeat them to yourself. Say them out loud until you feel comfortable with them, until they become part of the way you think about yourself.
Here are a few ‘rights’ to start with:
I have the right to speak up
I have the right to get help
I have the right to be loved
I have the right to be safe
I have the right to be a kid
Retrieved from www,americanaddictioncenters.org/guide-for-children
Write to me, Kids Like Me, P.O. Box 354, Alamosa, CO 81101.
Until next time, remember, Jesus Loves You, and JESUS IS LORD!