Stories of alcoholism and drug abuse are now a daily headline in the United States. A 2013 survey conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIH) found that 9.4% or almost 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 12 have a substance abuse problem. What is often left out of the story is the family members and loved ones whose lives are also impacted by addiction.
Not surprisingly, children of alcoholics and drug users are at an increased risk for developing a substance abuse disorder themselves, as well as physiological or emotional problems such as anxiety or depression. The negative impact of growing up with an addicted parent is so great that there are entire programs dedicated to overcoming the traumas experienced early on.
Whether it is due to biology or learned behaviors it seems clear that this problem only promises to get worse in future generations.
Addiction runs in families. Based studies of twins there is a definite genetic aspect to the disease of addiction. This seems to be the lottery ticket that no one wants to draw. DNA aside, the consequences of growing up in a dysfunctional, abusive and neglectful home environment are many and they are severe.
There are fourteen common traits according to Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA), a twelve step program dedicated to helping those who did grow up in such an emotionally abusive and traumatizing households. A few of these defining characteristics are feelings of guilt when standing up for self, harsh self-criticism and self-judgement and that members “either become alcoholics, marry them, or both.”
These children learn very unhealthy, self-destructive behaviors and, as a consequence, are set for up failure from the very beginning.
Likelihood of children who are raised by alcoholic or drug addicted parents developing a substance abuse problem themselves is good. As the percentage of Americans being affected increases, it seems logical that the number of people experiencing substance abuse problems will also increase.
According to Pamela S Hyde, an administrator at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, or SAMHSA, “the enormity of this public health problem goes well beyond these tragic numbers as studies have shown that the children of parents with untreated alcohol disorders are at far greater risk for developing alcohol and other problems later in their lives.”
Where Do We Go From Here?
Substance abuse has reached epidemic proportions. There is an enormous amount of talk regarding how to rehabilitate a once active substance abuser, but how can it be prevented from spreading to the next generation in the first place?
There are programs and support groups for those who are struggling to understand how best to help and deal with active substance abusers. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are just a few of the growing community of people who are dedicating time and energy to helping the family members recover as well.
With all the resources that we as nation have at our disposal we can find a way to wake up from this nightmare.