Cinzia Altobelli MSc RGN Counselling, Psychotherapy and Supervision In Shaftesbury, Dorset

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The environment and parental attitudes play an important role here as well as genetic influence. Children/Young People growing up with parental addiction have an increased vulnerability . Families affected by addiction live with spoken and unspoken rules and roles where denial, shame and blame are never far away. Addiction becomes the ‘family's organizing principle’.The relationship with addiction becomes ‘all consuming’ , emotionally and financially, at the expense of all other significant relationships.

Lack of trust in self and others : often denial on the part of the person/s with the addiction and/or the family can become the main mode of functioning. This results in one’s own perception of reality being tested or invalidated. Often families report walking ‘on egg shells’, being hypervigilant, not being able to trust the environment and its unpredictability. Substance abuse in particular is associated with increased conflict, maltreatment and neglect.
It is difficult for any child to thrive in this situation and build a sense of trust in self and others.

Learn to anticipate the worst scenario: children learn early on that you cannot trust good things to come and it is best to think the worst so you are prepared and can avoid getting hurt. Whilst this is an admirable strategy in the short term, in the long term it keeps good things from happening and can cause unnecessary distress and isolation.

Depression: adult/children of addicted parents may be more likely to develop depression than other children/adults. Some of the unspoken rules of the family are ‘don’t talk, don’t feel, don’t move, don’t trust’. Communication is fraught with difficulties and feelings are dangerous so in order to cope adults/children learn very early on to suppress or minimize them and they learn ‘not to need’ as well as ‘not to feel’.

Lack of sense of agency & adequate self- care : adults/children/young people have learnt early on to ‘go without’ and ‘not to ask’. They may struggle with confidence issues and their learning may be disrupted and impaired, never having had sufficient encouragement. They can be prone to over work, over care, have incredibly high, unachievable standards and neglect themselves.

Devaluing self /Loss of self & ability to establish and maintain relationships : when adults/children do not feel loved/cared for, they do not learn how to value/love themselves. They may struggle to have good boundaries and lose themselves in relationships where they replicate some of the family dynamics they have grown up with the hope of a different outcome.

Therapy and helpful organizations who specialize in addiction can help individuals/families to recognize the potential long-term effects that growing up with parental addiction can have. This can make a huge difference emotionally to a child and an adult. It can validate their reality which was denied, free that part of themselves that was left somehow responsible and imprisoned by such huge burden.

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