A few years ago a close friends’ teenage daughter became an addict to drugs, causing turmoil and chaos throughout the whole family. She came from a lovely respectable family, and the thoughts of her becoming addicted to crack cocaine were beyond belief.
This caused huge confusion to my friend, as she had no concept of drug addiction and the disease model, putting it down to people’s choice, lifestyle, lack of control and behaviours. She blamed herself, constantly asking where, as a parent, she went wrong? What could she have done? Why didn’t she notice? She beat herself up emotionally constantly and became very anxious.
Her other friends and I could tell her until we were blue in the face that she was an excellent parent. She would nod and agree, although she still proclaimed she wasn’t perfect, but did however agree that she had done her best to provide a nice home and good environment for her children to grow up in, providing an open and inviting atmosphere for her children. She could not, however, fathom how her beautiful and clever daughter had fallen into the grips of cocaine addiction and yet her younger son hadn’t? They had the same upbringing, the same opportunities the same rules and the same amount of love and nurturing.
Society in general is quick to judge the parents in situations like this, especially when there is alcohol and drugs involved but experts tell us that addiction is no one’s fault. Just like diabetes and cancer are no ones fault. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, the 12-step programs for families with a significant other in the grips of active of addiction, offer the affirmations that “I didn’t cause, I can’t control it, I can’t cure it.”
Although it is a very worrying time to live through when your child is in full-blown active drug addiction, spare yourself the guilt of thinking you caused this, or you ruined their lives somehow. After attending these 12 Step Fellowships my friend found some solace in that fact. Many of my close friends worry when I tell them of my own personal journey of addiction and recovery, as I myself came from the nice family, the good school etc. and they worry about shielding their own offspring from the horror of addiction.
Whilst some diseases are hereditary, including addiction, life choices often play a big part also. The connections between smoking and various cancers are well-known, as is the connection between diet and type 2 diabetes. And we all know that diet and lack or excessive exercise can affect heart health. It is the same with addiction. There are factors and behaviours that can increase the chances for someone to develop this complex brain disease.
We as parents can do our best to protect our children from many threats our children may face, like immunisation, road safety, personal safety; we can also use basic harm minimisation. While there are currently no physical tests to determine whether your child is pre-dispositioned to being, or becoming an addict blood.
There are 4 major risk factors for drug and/or alcohol addiction. So when considering the chances of whether your child could become an addict, ask yourself these 4 simple questions:
- Is there a history of substance abuse in my family? Addiction has a tendency to run in families. While genetic predisposition for addiction does not alone determine the future of who will become addicted, it is a predictor. Parental responsibility lies with educating their children on whether they are at risk, it is a good idea to encourage abstinence from alcohol and other drugs. This can be an arduous task, especially given that young people are susceptible to peer pressure, but having a historical family awareness is imperative
- Can my child access alcohol and substances easily? Many people don’t comprehend that addiction is primarily a disease of adolescence. Addictive behaviours, for the majority of sufferers, are developed in the teenage years. In fact, the average age of onset for most people who identify as addicts is 12. We know that teenagers who begin using alcohol before the age of fifteen are five times more likely to develop an addiction in their lifetime than teenagers who abstain from it. Whilst they are under your care and guidance, you will have some control as to making sure that they have no access to alcohol and substances, it is not always possible to monitor them 24 hours a day and to vet everyone they associate with. It’s a case of awareness and vigilance
- Is it possible my child has a mental illness? 50% of people who are registered addicts may also suffer from something called a “co-occurring disorder.” Accordingly, young people with ADHD, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, schizophrenia or other mental illnesses are at heightened risk for addiction. Parents need to ensure their children receive proper treatment and support for mental health issues, reducing the risk of the child going on to self-medicate. Addiction is not a disease that goes away without a fight
- How does my home environment look from the outside looking in? Households where drugs and alcohol are omnipresent tend to influence whether or not a young person experiments with substances. Whilst plenty of families where a child grows up in a drug-and-alcohol-free home and he or she still develops addiction issues, parental behaviour nevertheless remains an important influence. There is also a link between addiction and early childhood trauma such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
At the end of the day no one can control the choices and behaviour of others, not even a parent over a child. Children will make their choices and many argue that teenagers will experiment with alcohol and other drugs regardless of what we do as parents. That is likely true for some. But drug prevention strategies at home can still help to minimise damage. Even if we can do nothing more than to delay the onset of abuse until adulthood, we can improve the outcomes for many of our children.
To learn more about this and other addiction problems you or a loved one might be experiencing, please contact us to speak with a professional and we can advise you on what your next steps should be.