IMPACT ON CHILDREN OF PARENTAL SUBSTANCE USE
Addiction Expert Dr. Indra Cidambi Shares Tips on How to Help Children Affected by Addiction
NEW JERSEY-Our country is in the middle of a drug epidemic and, as per SAMHSA, 1 in 4 children in the United States is exposed to alcohol abuse or dependence in the family. More children are living in families with an illegal substance or prescription medication abuse. Leading addiction expert, Indra Cidambi, M D. says, “It is important to address the impact on children of parental substance abuse because such children have a predisposition to behavioral problems and abusing drugs or alcohol themselves~ They also could have more problems in school or social relationships.”
“Explaining the behaviors of an addicted adult or telling a child that a parent is going away for treatment, separating from the family or, even worse, has passed away is one of the most difficult conversations to have with a child,” says Dr. Cidambi. Children of addicts experience physical or emotional abuse and neglect, domestic violence, lack of boundaries or inconsistent messages about right and wrong “It will break anyone’s heart to have such a conversation with an innocent child,” says Dr. Cidambi who has been treating families dealing with a loved one’s addiction for over a decade. “However, the bright side is that these children can overcome the damage from a flawed environment with help.” She suggests some steps that will help children cope with, and eventually overcome they’re less than an optimal living situation.
1. Help them understand the situation.
Children are aware that things are not normal, but they may be confused. They need to understand that their parent is “sick” with a disease – alcoholism or addiction to drugs – and help them make sense of their parent’s behavior. “Having an insight into their parent’s behavior will add to their resilience,” says Dr. Cidambi.
2. Make it clear that it is not their fault.
Children tend to blame themselves for their parents’ behavior as they hear statements from their parent(s) that blame them for things being the way they are – for example, “If only I could have some peace and quiet, I would not feel the need to drink.” It is critically important to let children know, repeatedly if needed, that their parents’ addiction is not their fault.
3. Help them express their feelings.
“Children of people suffering from substance use disorders learn not to talk honestly, and discount, minimize and rationalize their feelings,” says Dr. Cidambi. They need to know that they are not alone and that it is ok to feel the way they feel, share their feelings and learn to express their feelings appropriately, including anger. Repressing their feelings could eventually lead to behavioral problems.
4. Facilitate problem-solving
Children who live with parents using substances are often left to fend for themselves. “They may come back to an empty home, and may have to fix a meal for themselves and their siblings and sometimes they may face neglect,” says Dr. Cidambi. Educating these children about the range of options available to them helps them better cope with their situation.
“Identifying and connecting these children to significant people in their lives who can provide a sense of belonging and acceptance is crucial,” says Dr. Cidambi. Such people could help the child to not have to act out a survival role~ It could be a grandparent, an uncle or an aunt. Linking them to support groups such as Alateen may also be helpful.
6. Help a Child, Be a Child
Children whose parent(s) suffer from substance use disorders often grow up quickly. However, a child is not an adult and they need an opportunity to have fun and act like children. Keeping them busy and keep them laughing. Let them know that there is more to life than their experience behind closed doors.
Providing a chance for children affected by families dealing with addiction a chance to heal is one of the best gifts they can receive at this stage in their lives. The above tips can help a child trapped in a family affected by substance use to overcome their circumstances and lead normal lives.
Dr. Cidambi is a leader in addiction treatment and innovator of safe and effective ambulatory (outpatient) detoxification level of care for alcohol, benzodiazepines, opiates, and suboxone. Prior to founding the Center for Network Therapy, she completed her residency in Psychiatry at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and an Addiction Medicine Fellowship at NYU/Bellevue Hospital in New York. Due to the successful detoxification program, Dr. Cidambi was featured frequently by media outlets, including NPR, CBS, NY Times, and Wall Street Journal.