Effects of Parental Alcoholism and Drug Abuse on Teens

Addiction is a word very common in our day to day lives, but not very many people actually know what it is or how to treat it. It is an individualistic disease that can infect everybody, not just a certain group of people, with damages that can ripple through families for years to come. Addiction within parents can have effects lasting lifetimes within the family and can also have a huge societal impact.

For many, addiction is a scary word, one with a definition no one can seem to agree on. According to the Center for Disease Control, the nation’s number one health institute within the United States that has been around since 1946, chemical addictions are the result of the body becoming physically dependent on a chemical to maintain its processes (Addiction). And while addiction can be tricky to describe, describing abuse is even harder. According to Alcoholics Anonymous, a company designed to give help to those suffering from alcoholism, substance abuse is not the same as addiction or dependence, though they do often occur together. Definitions of substance abuse vary. Some experts prefer not to use the word abuse and instead use phrases such as harmful use. The key element is a pattern of continuing to use the drug despite its causing problems in the user’s life (Substance Abuse). With addiction comes a number of issues in ones life, especially if they are a parent. The basic things a parent is able to give – a stable home, parental advice, and overall a sense of discipline – are things that an addict cannot. This inevitably leads to that child having to take care of themselves and any siblings that they have; it forces children to grow up faster than they should have to. That forced responsibility in return leads to the child resenting their parent, with the parent too oblivious or medicated to realize what’s happening. Researchers have also found that alcoholism or drug abuse disrupts the attachment, or social bond, between a parent and their child, family rituals, such as birthdays or other holidays, and can even lead to family violence (Johnson and others).

It is estimated 6.6 million kids under the age of eighteen live in a household with at least one alcoholic parent or guardian (Family Alcoholism Statistics). With the challenge of taking care of oneself comes other issues physically and mentally. Mental health is a big factor in whether someone is able to properly be there for a child and whether that child will properly be cared for. Psychosis can also be induced from drug or alcohol abuse, reaction to medication, from exposure to some toxic substance, or from trauma to the brain. [It is] A psychotic state is one in which a person suffering from one of several mental illnesses loses touch with reality. People experiencing psychosis may be diagnosed as schizophrenic, manic-depressive, or delusional (Psychosis). In psychology, it is taught that people do things in order to get the consequence, or response, they seek. When talking about addiction from an outsider’s point of view it may be seen as ruining someone’s life and wonder why that is the consequence they would want, but that isn’t the response they are targeting. Most people who use substance abuse are looking to make themselves feel better, better than they ever have before, and that is what they ultimately want; whether they are ruining their lives or not is out of the question to them because they don’t see past the tunnel vision of feeling good (The Psychology of Addiction). Trauma is another reason many begin the cycle of addiction. In fact, a history of trauma has been used to anticipate alcoholic related behaviors such as relapses (Cherpitel). For many who go through a traumatic event, such as the loss of someone close or a severe injury, it is easier to cover the pain than to deal with the event.

While describing addiction, it is important to explain the types of addiction. No human is exactly like another, everyone has individualistic traits, which still applies when talking about addiction. For example a functioning addict is someone who can still function in their everyday lives; they can live like someone who isn’t addicted can (Addiction). Along with that, not everyone who drinks is considered an alcoholic. Addiction depends on many different things such as the person and their environment (The Science of Addiction) . There are other characteristics that can factor into whether or not a person is an addict. The UXL Encyclopedia of Science, a company that has been publishing textbooks about science and history since 1989, with 206 books currently in circulation, defines binge drinking as rapid consumption of large amounts of alcohol; a man consuming five or more drinks in two hours, or a woman consuming four or more drinks in two hours (Alcoholism). Addicts can also build a tolerance to alcohol or drugs, which is when there is a decrease in the reaction of the alcohol or drug which forces people to absorb more and more to keep the original effect (Alcoholism). Furthermore, there was even a psychological experiment performed by Morey and Skinner in 1986, in which they found there were three categories of drinkers: early stage problem drinkers, affiliative drinkers, and schizoid drinkers. Early stage problem drinkers are people who drink regularly and have social or medical effects from their drinking but have not built up a tolerance to alcohol yet. The second type – affiliative drinkers – usually drink daily, are more of social drinkers, and have a moderate tolerance to alcohol. The final stage, schizoid drinkers, are the most severe and are isolated when they binge drink (Babor). While all of these things can apply to a group of people, ultimately as stated before everyone is different; people don’t necessarily fall into a pretty little box that defines them perfectly.

The way to treat and prevent alcoholism or addiction is to figure out what caused the behavior in the first place. From a person’s environment to a traumatic event, the causes for each person is not as simple as it may seem. With each individual person, comes each individual situation, with causes or catalysts special to them.

No single thing can lead to drug addiction. It becomes a perfect storm where a multitude of things go so wrong so fast that everything breaks down and you just crash into something that can make you feel better (Science of Addiction). For this reason, it is hard to distinguish the causes because the simple fact is what causes addiction for one person can not necessarily apply to the next. In short, people use drugs or alcohol in order to forget or cover up pain (Substance Abuse). It eventually got so hard to determine the causes that researchers thought there was an alcoholic gene. Fortunately, that is not true. The main reason people begin to self medicate through alcohol or drugs is because of their environment. Often people go through a traumatic event that makes them snap into the cycle of drugs or alcohol, a cycle that becomes very difficult to break. The initial decision to take drugs is mostly voluntary.

However, when drug abuse takes over, a person’s ability to exert self control can become seriously impaired. Brain imaging studies from drug-addicted individuals show physical changes in areas of the brain that are critical to judgment, decision making, learning and memory, and behavior control (The Science of Addiction). While breaking the habit of using drugs or alcohol can be simple for some, others have an extremely hard time trying to stop. As with any other disease, vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person. In general, the more risk factors an individual has, the greater the chance that taking drugs will lead to abuse and addiction. “”Protective”” factors reduce a person’s risk of developing addiction (Science of Addiction). The causes are also due to the physical traits of people, such as weight and height, as well as their environment and other psychological trauma a person may endure (Alcoholism).

As stated above, being an alcoholic is complicated but when throwing parenting in with the mix it becomes traumatizing. Studies show that kids are four times more likely to start drinking and become an alcoholic if they were raised in an environment that promoted alcohol consumption, rather than those who weren’t (Alcoholism). This leads to a cycle of abuse and addiction that is never ending and will spread to generations far beyond today. Environment and behavior also have a big impact on teens living with alcoholics. According to Matt MuGue:

Behavioral geneticists distinguish three major contributors to individual differences in people’s observable characteristics (i.e., phenotypes): genetic factors, shared environmental factors, and nonshared environmental factors. Shared, or common, environmental factors equally affect all members of a group of people living together and are therefore a potential source of behavioral similarities among these people. Examples of shared environmental factors include parental child-rearing strategies, the environmental consequences of parental psychopathology (e.g., alcoholism), and family income and social status. Nonshared environmental factors are not experienced by all members of a group living together and therefore may contribute to behavioral differences. For example, differential treatment by parents, different peer groups, and idiosyncratic traumatic events constitute nonshared environmental factors. In intact nuclear families, both shared environmental factors and genetic factors can contribute to parent-offspring resemblance (MuGue).

It is also said that children are more likely to follow in the footsteps of a same sex relationship, for example a mother and daughter or father and son, rather than a mother and son relationship (Johnson and others). There have also been studies to suggest that children that have behavior problems could also be linked to increased alcohol consumption in parents, but there wasn’t enough evidence to make a general statement about the topic (Johnson and others). Moreover, other studies have shown that children that have parents who are less forgiving for wanting to pursue trying alcohol, the kids have a greater chance of trying alcohol themselves either as teenagers or adults (Johnson and others). The consequences of parental alcoholism are already so far reaching and have a bigger impact on children than what is on the surface.

Parental alcoholism is very difficult to treat and its effects have never been more serious, especially on their teenage children. Teens are at that fork in the road of life where they decide whether or not to follow in their parent’s footsteps down a hard and dangerous future; they are at their most impressionable point in their life. The effects are far reaching and can last for generations to come.

Although the long term effects of parental alcoholism are more talked about and are seen as more dangerous or scarring, short term effects are still very traumatizing to teenagers. For most, when thinking of the short term consequences of parental alcoholism, child abuse is brought to light. Studies show the abuse between the alcoholic and spouse is more common than child abuse, but that doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t occur (Johnson and others). According to the World Health Organization, an agency established in 1948 by the United Nations concerned with international public health, child maltreatment can be defined as all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligent treatment, commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival or development or dignity in the context of a relationship or responsibility, trust or power (Child Maltreatment and Alcohol). In the United States alone, reports show that 906,000 kids suffered from maltreatment from a parent in 2003. In 2000, globally there were 57,000 children that died by an alcoholic family member, most of them being ages 0-4 years old (Child Maltreatment and Alcohol).

Though child abuse is one of the more pressing issues that affect children, other things can attribute to a rocky childhood growing up in a family with an alcoholic such as having little or no structure at home, increased conflicts, and financial issues (What Are the Effects). As stated before, parents who are addicts are unable to provide the things necessary to care for and raise a child. Alcohol consumption can disrupt parenting in a number of ways. For example, it can disrupt those parenting behaviors related to promoting social competence in children. These include parents’ ability to monitor and to assign consequences to their child’s behavior. According to Dishion and co-workers (1988), the absence of these parenting behaviors can increase the likelihood that a child will develop conduct problems, experience school difficulties, and associate with deviant peers (Johnson and others). And although from an outsiders point of view these problems should be blamed on the parent, many times the children blame themselves. For example, if a child spills a glass of milk on the table and the parent gets mad and yells, the child will automatically think it’s their fault even though it was an accident (Effects of Parental Substance). This psychological damage, if kept untreated, can be life long and can hinder a person’s ability to function like someone who grew up in a more stable home. The main point of short term abuse is that it can evolve into long term consequences (Effects of Parental Substance).

As said previously, long term effects on children are seen as more traumatizing or scarring on children simply because they hinder or hold children back longer than the short term effects. When thinking about long term consequences of parental addiction, the fact that children of alcoholics or addicts are more likely to follow in the footsteps of their parent or guardian simply because they have been around it for most of their lives is brought up (Children of Addicted Parents). According to The National Association for Children of Alcoholics, a charity established in 1990 to support struggling children in homes with alcoholics, three of four child welfare professionals (75.7%) say that children of addicted parents are more likely to enter foster care, and 73% say that children of alcoholics stay longer in foster care than do other children (Children of Addicted Parents). Another well known fact among children of alcoholics is that they are more likely to develop mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and are at high risk for suicide.

The reason for this is due to the abuse and constant conditioning that parents are someone to fear (Children of Addicted Parents). Some other mental roadblocks in a child’s life could be guilt or feeling that it is their own fault, embarrassment over their family situation, confusion about why they were forced to go through something as traumatic as having an alcoholic parent, and even anger or resentment that they had no control (Leipholtz). These children can also have trouble developing relationships with others, trusting new people in their life, and can even develop impulsive tendencies (Leipholtz). Furthermore, teens who were abused in their childhood are more likely to continue the cycle of abuse as they become a parent similarly to how they are more likely to become alcoholics themselves (Child Maltreatment and Alcohol). Ultimately, teens have the power to stop the cycle and take control of their own lives. There are ways to prevent these things from happening and way to take control back into their own lives. From therapy to help hotlines, there is always someone there to talk to and to help. Teens do not have to be defined by their torchered past. (What Are the Effects).

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