According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the most fundamental relationship in a child’s life is between a child and parent or caregiver. Positive parenting behaviors increase closeness between parents and their children, while negative parenting behaviors create distance. Typically, parents make decisions for children when they are young. However, when children grow into adolescence, they begin to make decisions for themselves. Parents provide guidance and support during these formative years. If one or both parents are suffering from a substance use disorder (SUD), this relationship becomes strained. Furthermore, the child’s psychological, emotional, and physical development may be stifled or altered.

Parent’s Roles in Their Children’s Lives May Include:

  • Providing emotional support and affection
  • Providing security, stability, and caretaking for the child
  • Setting guidelines and boundaries to limit high-risk behaviors
  • Influencing educational plans
  • Helping establish moral and social values

Problems Children Experience as a Result of Parental Drug And/Or Use:

  • Lower self-esteem
  • Less life satisfaction and happiness
  • Lower grades in school
  • Emotional or physical distress
  • Increased risk of behaviors such as smoking, alcohol and/or drug use during adolescence
  • Sacrificed ambitions and dreams or opportunities
  • Parentification

The role reversal that takes place among children whose parents struggle with SUD is known as parentification. Instead of receiving emotional support and affection from their parents, children often end up being the ones providing that support and care. Parentified children become increasingly independent at a young age. However, this independence comes at a price, often resulting in excessive stressors and a loss of innocence.

Parentified Children Often:

  • Worry about their parent
  • Develop anxiety about their parent’s well-being
  • Make meals for themselves or siblings
  • Start working at a young age and pay bills
  • Unintentionally become enablers

These anxieties can permeate other parts of the child’s life and continue throughout adulthood. Thought patterns and behaviors learned in relation to these anxieties may have a lasting impact on personal relationships. Furthermore, anxiety may cause obsessive thoughts about the safety of others, causing long-term excessive worry.

Need Help?

The parent-child relationship continues to affect development throughout the child’s life, into adolescence, and even through adulthood. When a parent is suffering from a substance use disorder, this relationship suffers. Psychological development is hindered as a result, often creating negative thought and behavior patterns that can follow the child into adulthood and prevent him/her from living a healthy and rewarding life.

A deep love for family, particularly between parents and children, may cause either of them to protect the other and their addiction. Shielding oneself or someone else from the consequences of addiction to drugs or alcohol is allowing the addiction to continue. Therefore, facing the addiction head-on is imperative to recovery. At Fort Behavioral Health, we offer a safe and nurturing space to address the root causes of addiction for a long-lasting road to recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 844.332.1807.


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You don’t have to face the journey of recovery by yourself. There are people out there ready to help with what you’re going through. Reach out to someone for support today.

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