How to Shield My Child from Addicted Family Members
Drug addiction carries severe consequences not only for the addict, but also for those near him. Friends and family bear their own emotional (and sometimes physical) scars of loving an addict, which is especially true for children who witness or live with an addicted family member. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, between one and two-thirds of cases involving child maltreatment involve substance abuse; according to an article from Huffington Post, such children are also more likely to witness domestic violence, develop mental health problems, marry an addict and to struggle with substance abuse later in life. Given the serious ramifications of being around an addicted family member, you should shield your children from drug addicts in appropriate ways.
How to Keep Children from Addicted Relatives
The easiest way to protect your children from an addicted family member is to keep your children from interacting with her. This task may mean taking drastic measures in your home: you may need to set a boundary within your family that the loved one is forbidden from your home while still active in addiction. You may even need to ask the drug user to move out of your home, which may seem drastic, but it is the best way to ensure your child’s safety. Allowing addicts to remain in your home is like allowing a serious illness to infect your entire family.
Keeping your child from an addicted family member may also affect family functions. You may need to ask the addict not to attend those family functions, or you could hire a babysitter so you can attend necessary events while also protecting your child. If you are at a function with your children and the addict also attends, you may need to leave, so explain to the host the reason for your early departure. This may anger or disappoint family members, but your first priority is your children. You can patch other relationships up later.
Give Children Time to Process Addiction
Unfortunately, your children will likely see or experience problems at the hands of an addicted family member. According to an article from Social Work Today, your child will need help processing what he experiences; because of their age, children lack the vocabulary to work through their thoughts and emotions.
Children who witness addiction often experience the following emotions:
- Anger at the addict or others involved, which they may express as aggression
- Anxiety about the addict’s health or actions in the home. An addict’s chaotic and erratic behavior will bother children, because they need structure and healthy boundaries to feel safe.
- Confusion over broken promises, excuses, and/or the addict’s behavior
- Embarrassment over the family member’s behavior. This is especially true as the child grows older and understands the social stigma associated with addiction, which can lead to shame and fear of being associated with the addict.
- Guilt over mistakenly thinking the addiction was somehow their fault
Children need to express and understand their emotions, which can take place in family counseling, support groups and individual therapy.
What Your Children Need to Know About Addiction
You need to talk to your child about addiction. They need to know what is happening with the family member, and they must know addiction is a chronic disease, not a bad choice. Also, discuss the treatment the addict is going through and what that treatment is like. The more information children have, the better they can process misinformation they hear later.
Furthermore, children affected by addiction often hold misconceptions about the addict and her behavior, so communicate important principles concerning addiction and how they affect addicts.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, children need to know the following three Cs:
- You did not cause the addiction
- You cannot control the addiction
- You cannot cure the addiction
Many children assume that they could have prevented the addiction, or that they can control or stop it. However, the aforementioned principles alleviate children of any responsibility they feel regarding addiction.
According to a 2010 article from Psychology Today, children need to know that others like them deal with addiction among family members. They also need to know that they can talk about the situation without shame or embarrassment. Keeping the addiction a secret from trusted people only breeds shame and embarrassment; conversely, talking about their emotions in a healthy way makes them emotionally stronger.
Get Help for Your Loved One’s Addiction
If your loved one needs help with addiction, then call our toll-free, 24 hour helpline anytime. Our admissions coordinators can discuss your relative’s addiction and help you find treatment. Call us today for instant support.