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Addiction and Family: Advice for Parents in Recovery



Getting Sober When You Have A Family

In families where parents are abusing alcohol or other drugs, life is usually unpredictable and communication can be poor. Children often find themselves dealing with a parent who goes from being withdrawn to loving to intoxicated, and structure may be inconsistent or nonexistent. With an abundance of research affirming the negative impact parental substance abuse has on a child’s development, it’s imperative that parents recognize the problem and set a good example.

You’re not a bad parent just because you’re addicted. In fact, in seeking recovery, you’re demonstrating that you’re an incredible parent who wants to improve and is capable of admitting when they have a problem.

Growing Up in an Unstable Home Abusing Alcohol or Drugs

Substance abuse is a serious health crisis for people of all ages and walks of life. Unfortunately, millions of American children live in homes with parents or caregivers who are regularly involved in alcohol or drug use. An estimated 12 percent of children in the United States live with a parent who is dependent on or abuses alcohol or other drugs. Sadly, these children are also likely to grow up in a highly unstable home. They often feel lost in the cycle of trying to determine which parent they will get (sober or intoxicated), and are left to fend for themselves. Ineffective or inconsistent parenting can be due to:

  • Physical or mental impairments caused by alcohol or other drugs
  • Reduced capacity to respond to a child’s cues and needs
  • Difficulties regulating emotions and controlling anger and impulsivity
  • Disruptions in healthy parent-child attachment due to active addiction or difficult adjustments during outpatient rehab
  • Spending limited funds on alcohol and drugs rather than food or other household needs
  • Spending time seeking out, manufacturing, or using alcohol or other drugs
  • Incarceration, which can result in inadequate or inappropriate supervision for children
  • Estrangement from family and other social supports

Children experience a double-whammy when dealing with parental substance abuse—the combination of risk factors from exposure to drugs and alcohol and the possibility of physical, psychological, and emotional care—which are so necessary in early development. Overall, these children have a greater risk of behavioral and emotional problems when compared to children of non-users. In fact, children of alcoholics are four times more likely to develop alcoholism than individuals who were not raised by alcoholics. They’re also more likely to have trouble handling stress and to marry a substance abuser or abusive partner.

While a child who grows up in a home with parental substance abuse is likely to experience a range of negative consequences, he or she is not doomed to abuse themselves or end up with a life of hardship. It’s always possible to break the cycle of negativity. In fact, studies show that 75 percent of children from these homes do not abuse drugs or alcohol and overcome the disorder of their home lives.

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4 Tips for Making Parental Recovery Easier on Children

Tip #1 – Focus on Self-Care. If you’re a parent in recovery, you may feel guilty, especially if your children have suffered effects of your addictive behaviors. This may cause you to feel compelled to set aside your own needs to focus on theirs. To maintain your sobriety and keep your family intact, you must take care of yourself and focus on your own recovery path as well as your children. This will help your children understand that the needs of others are important, setting important boundaries for the future.

Tip #2 – Recognize and Focus on the Positive. As a parent, it’s easy to acknowledge the negative behavior of your children, but in alcohol or drug-affected families, focusing on positive behaviors is particularly important. Your children may have been exposed to upsetting situations or consequences of your actions under the influence, and they deserve credit for overcoming and progressing toward a healthy future in your recovery. It’s also necessary to recognize your own successes, no matter how small, in your sobriety. While you may be dealing with cravings, depression, or regret, it’s helpful to be mindful of all you do to stay on track.

Tip #3 – Assume Usual Parental Roles. You may feel resistant to discipline or setting rules if you’ve been setting a poor example throughout your addiction, but you must reassume parental roles. Find a way to balance supportive parenting with holding your children responsible for their behavior. Positive discipline is necessary and will most likely lead to better child development and life outcomes in the long term. While overdiscipline is one possibility in a drug- or alcohol-influenced home, underdiscipline or negligence can be just as damaging and is also just as common.

Tip #4 – Manage Absence While Maintaining Recovery. While in recovery, you must work to ensure that daily life is handled with care and children are monitored actively. Whether it’s arranging for a babysitter when you attend therapy or group meetings or drawing on help from other family members or trusted friends as you pursue withdrawal help, make sure you have a system of support that nurtures your sobriety and your child’s activities.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with parenting during the stages of alcohol or drug abuse, you are not alone. To help yourself overcome from the grip of addiction after detox, you must actively maintain your sobriety. For help with outpatient rehab, call our addiction hotline now at 1-800-910-3734. We can provide around-the-clock assistance to help you manage your recovery.


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