“Don’t trust, don’t feel, don’t talk” is the family secret rule that children of addicts need to break, regardless of age, to recover. This rule is not spoken out loud, but is impressed upon every child who lives with an addict.
Children of Addicts by the Numbers
- The National Association for Children of Alcoholics estimates that one in four children are exposed to alcohol abuse or dependence in their family of origin within the United States.
- Child Welfare System reports 33-66% of child abuse cases involve substance abuse.
- The same report estimates 12% of children in America are affected by a parent with a substance use disorder.
- Claudia Black, author of It Will Never Happen to Me, reports in her book that 43% of adults in America have been exposed to alcoholism in their family of origin.
- She also reports 26.8 million children of addicts are in the United States as of 2001. Research suggests 11 million of these children were under the age of eighteen. Imagine that number today in 2018.
Why Are These Numbers Significant?
- Children of addicts are at higher risk for substance abuse than children from non-abusing families.
- Many children of addicts are more likely to marry into families with substance use disorders.
- Children of addicts are susceptible to shame-based beliefs and depression, lack of life-meaning, victimization, and suppressed rage.
Spouses and Children of Addicts Suffer from Codependence
A codependent person is preoccupied with the behaviors of an addict. This person enables the destructive behavior of the addict by making excuses for the addict and not setting healthy boundaries. A codependent person usually loses a sense of self in the face of the addict’s disease.
A codependent person becomes obsessed with the addict and the addict’s behavior. This person will not face her own life and needs in favor of enabling the addict. She will disregard all other priorities to care-take the addict. This person is deep in denial that a problem exists.
The children of addicts are doubly affected by the behaviors of the addict and codependent spouse. Neither parent responds to the children’s needs. While the children may have basic physical needs met, they are neglected emotionally. This is traumatic for the child and may cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcoholism, or other addictions. The unhealthy dynamics in the family sets the children up to replicate unhealthy marriages.
PTSD and Psychic Numbing
PTSD is a reality for children of addicts. These children grow up in a home where inconsistency is normal, and rules change by the moment to suit the addict’s needs. These children live in fear and chaos, many times living with emotional and physical abuse.
Eventually PTSD can lead to a condition called psychic numbing. These children feel detached from life and others. They never feel like they belong to any group of people. Emotions are stuffed and intimacy, tenderness, and sexuality become difficult to express. Children of addicts are eight times more likely to repeat the cycle when they get married.
Break the Family Secret Rule to Heal
Children of addicts need to break the unspoken rule of “don’t trust, don’t feel, don’t talk”. This can happen through early intervention and providing a safe place for these children to speak their truth. They need reassurance that their emotions and feelings are valid and can be expressed in a safe environment.
One of the best places to support children of addicts is through Adult Children of Alcoholics International (ACOA). Peer group meetings, sponsors, and program literature is available to help children of addicts of all ages. For children ages 4-12, Confident Kids support groups is a helpful resource.
Ready to Break the Rules?
Children of addicts need support to treat the underlying trauma that led to personal addiction. Are you an adult child of addicts who is struggling with addiction? If so, Aion Recovery in Southern Florida can help you find sobriety through evidence-based treatment, support groups, and trauma therapy. Call 888-811-2879 to speak to an addiction recovery specialist.