“Dear Mom, Your addiction still affects me . . .”
Addicts are usually so absorbed by their disease that they don’t realize their loved ones are also affected by it. Children are especially susceptible to emotional damage due to a parent’s addiction. Even if a parent received treatment and has been in recovery since their child was young, there are still lingering effects as the child grows up that the addict is probably still unaware of.
“I’m still making excuses for you”
Addicts develop a different sort of mindset during their addiction. The addiction inhibits their ability to think objectively and hijacks any decent decision making skills. The addict’s mind then turns only to survival. They feel they can only survive with their drug of choice. What does this mean for children of addicts? An addict’s family loses their loved one to corrupted heuristics and are forced to make excuses. This can mean excusing things like lying, stealing, or even physical abuse. Children experience this type of distress more strongly than others because their addict parent is their superior, caregiver, and role model. Children have no choice but to accept and excuse their parent’s behavior.
That response doesn’t just go away after the parent is in recovery and the child grows up. The child may have forgiven the parent and the relationship might have been rebuilt and in place for years, but the trauma can’t be forgotten. Even if a recovered addict makes a mistake that is unrelated to their recovery, the child has learned to excuse it and will continue to do so even if they feel hurt.
“I need approval from everyone”
Because addicts are so consumed by their addiction, their children suffer from a lack of love. The desire for the love and nurturing that a child lacked never completely goes away. It seeps into all aspects of our lives. Children of addicts need approval to validate their place in another person’s life, even in adulthood. That can mean constant attention from a significant other or a simple “I appreciate your work” from a boss. But that strong desire for approval can actually be harmful. Adult children of addicts can become self-sacrificing just to gain the approval of someone they love.
“I don’t know what normal is”
Children of addicts grew up in chaos. That’s what “normal” was. Now, as an adult, it’s incredibly hard to find a sense of normality. The struggle to make sense of a state that we don’t – and probably never will – understand causes us to become controlling in our daily lives. While children of addicts may be used to chaos, that’s not necessarily what we want. Adult children of addicts crave a sense of direction and a set plan for their lives. So we meticulously manage the people and things around us so that we aren’t forced into that same dreadful chaos we know so well.
Additionally, an adult child of an addict finds it hard to understand why no one else understands. There’s no way to know the chaos, confusion, and hurt that the child of an addict went through unless you actually experience it for yourself. Life may be better in adulthood after the parent in in recovery, but people still won’t completely understand the lingering traits that the child has grown into as he or she matured.
It’s okay to be okay, but it’s also okay to not be okay…
Al-Anon and Alateen provide meetings for friends and family of addicts searching for support. The pain of our past may never completely heal, so it’s important to be forgiving and understanding everyday.