Aside from peer pressure, teenagers and young adults often abuse drugs and alcohol to help them cope with mental health disorders. However, individuals may also begin using drugs and alcohol as a result of family members abusing substances. Research shows that family dynamics have the power to influence a person’s vulnerability to addiction.
It’s not surprising that the actions of family members have a significant impact on children. Parental behavior is often the first interaction a child observes, and as a result, children are raised to share their parents’ opinions, responsibilities, and habits.
Sometimes, as children grow and are exposed to other people, their viewpoints change, and they mold into their own person. Unfortunately, it may be too late for them to realize that drugs and alcohol are not the answer if that’s what they are used to observing.
Substance Use Disorder Affects Entire Families
The harsh reality is that the effects of substance use disorder (SUD) are felt by the whole family. Addiction is considered a social disease. Approximately eight million children younger than 18 are estimated to live with at least one adult who struggles with SUD.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children who experience substance abuse in the home are more likely to struggle with chronic health problems, mental health disorders, and substance abuse problems in adulthood. Children that grow up in an environment where addiction is prevalent learn that this reality is “normal,” thus increasing their vulnerability to SUD.
Do Genetics Play a Role in Addiction?
Although many people see addiction as a problem of nature versus nurture, both play a role in children growing up to develop SUD. A person’s genetic makeup plays a crucial role in influencing addiction. Scientists estimate that a person’s genetics account for about 40-60% of their risk for developing SUD.
A 2009 study also revealed that an individual’s risk tends to be proportional to the degree of genetic relationship to an addicted relative. When scientists and researchers look at addiction-related genes, they look at how one responds to drugs, alcohol, and medications. For example, a medication could work well for one person, but the same dose could cause someone else to feel sick. These differences are caused by differences in genes.
The Role of Environment
Genetics are not the only factor that determines the risk of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. For example, a child’s environment or community can reduce vulnerability to drug addiction by providing after-school activities, which can discourage drug-seeking behavior.
Effects of Addiction on Children
In a household where addiction is prevalent, whether one parent or both struggles, many children learn to adopt this as “normal” unless exposed to a household where alcohol and drug misuse don’t exist. A parental addiction places children at a higher risk of exposure to neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, and domestic violence.
Additionally, children may find themselves taking on household responsibilities, caring for younger siblings, withdrawing from friends or activities at school out of embarrassment, or fearing being placed in foster care. Due to these risks, children may find themselves overly stressed and turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and more. These children, in turn, grow up to continue perpetuating the cycle.
How to Break the Cycle
There are a number of ways to break the cycle of addiction, whether you’re a bystander, in recovery working on your mental health and rebuilding relationships with your family, or a young adult acknowledging your risk of developing SUD:
#1. Positive Role Models
Bystanders may include teachers, church leaders, coaches, community members, therapists, and more who can intervene on a child’s behalf. Similarly, if you’re working on rebuilding your relationship with your own child to encourage them to make better choices, then know it can be as simple as being a positive role model. Working towards becoming a vital source of support and stability can make a huge difference.
#2. Seeking Therapy or Other Treatments
If you grew up with parents or guardians who struggle with addiction, remember that you are in control of your own actions. You can break the cycle for yourself and your future family by seeking the help you need to create a healthier lifestyle.
Treatment may include learning methods for coping with stressful situations, practicing healthy communication, and expressing your feelings through creative arts. Overall, to better understand the triggers for the development of addiction, we must take a look at our family patterns to work on prevention and treatments.
Substance use disorder (SUD) is the result of many factors, including environmental, developmental, and genetic factors. The effects of drugs and alcohol ripple beyond the life of the individual struggling, and it can often feel like there’s no way out if your family has been suffering for years. If you’re struggling with SUD or a mental health disorder, it’s essential to recognize these factors and seek help; otherwise, you can perpetuate the cycle of addiction. Your risk of addiction could also be the result of an untreated mental health disorder such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. Achieve Concierge offers compassionate care personalized to fit your unique needs. We specialize in a holistic, collaborative approach to treating a variety of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and SUDs. Our members experience a continuum of care that addresses healing for the mind, body, and spirit. To learn more about treatment options, call (619) 393-5871.