Parents are supposed to provide their children with a source of support, strength, and unconditional love. Unfortunately, the parent-child relationship can be severely strained by the burden of addiction.
Find a Way to Confront Your Feelings
Parental addiction is more common than one might expect. Studies estimate that more than 28 million people in the United States have a parent who is addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Children with parents who suffer from substance abuse face a number of struggles in their early years. For example:
- Looking after parents when they are drunk or intoxicated
- Caring for younger siblings in a parent-like role
- Cooking, cleaning, and performing other tasks associated with running a household
- Having a lack of support to succeed in school
- Enduring emotional neglect
- Suffering physical abuse
- Worrying about family finances, including the risk of hunger and homelessness
- Being fearful that someone will find out about a parent’s addiction and separate the family
- Feeling socially isolated from peers due to problems at home
Growing up with an addicted parent leaves a child with unresolved emotional issues, including feelings of resentment, fear, anxiety, bitterness, mistrust, and depression. To heal, you need to find a way to confront the trauma you’ve suffered and acknowledge how it has affected you.
Speaking to a counselor can help you process childhood trauma, as can attending a support group such as Al-Anon. Writing in a journal or expressing yourself through art and music can also help you explore your feelings about your childhood in a safe environment..
Separate Your Parent from the Addiction
To let go of past hurts, you must be able to separate your parent from his or her addiction. Substance abuse is a chronic illness with a biological basis. Once addiction takes hold, it’s very difficult to get your life back on track without professional intervention.
Recognizing that your parent wasn’t fully in control of his or her actions due to the influence of alcohol or drugs might mean brainstorming a list of happy memories to focus on. Remembering times when your parent wasn’t actively using can help remind you of your mother or father’s love.
Acknowledge that Parenting Is Difficult
Unfortunately, there is no rule book for parenting. Even the most well-intentioned parents with access to a strong support system can make terrible mistakes. If you’re harboring resentment towards your addicted parent, it might be helpful to acknowledge that no parent is perfect. All anyone can do is try to make the best of the given circumstances.
Acknowledging that no parent is perfect may include exploring the factors in your parent’s past that contributed to his or her addiction. Since substance abuse often runs in families, he or she may have grown up with an addicted parent. Depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues may also have played a role. While this doesn’t excuse bad behavior, it does help provide you with a better understanding of the challenges your parent was facing during your childhood.
Realize Forgiveness Is for Your Own Benefit
You might feel as though your addicted parent doesn’t deserve your forgiveness if he or she hasn’t specifically expressed remorse for past actions. While this is understandable, it’s important to realize that forgiveness is primarily for your benefit.
Holding on to resentment from the past affects your current relationships with friends, family, and coworkers. It makes you angry, scared, and afraid to move forward. Letting go makes it possible for you to move forward.
Imagine you have $86,400 in your bank account. If you discovered that someone stole $10 from you, would you spend the remaining $86,390 in hopes of seeking revenge? Would you risk being left with nothing instead of accepting the loss and moving on?
There are 86,400 seconds in every day. Letting go of the negative aspects of your past gives you time to focus on the blessings you do have.
Focus on Controlling Your Future
The past has already happened. For better or worse, previous events are out of your control. However, you have the power to decide how your future will unfold. You can either hold on to wounds from the past or decide to make a fresh start. The choice is yours alone.
If you’re struggling with substance abuse issues yourself, you can break the cycle of addiction by asking for help. Addiction may have a biological basis, but genetics aren’t destiny. Substance abuse can be treated with a medically assisted detox followed by a combination of individual and group therapy. Seeking treatment can help you build a better life for yourself and your loved ones.
By Dana Hinders