How to help children of drug addicts to a good life

There are diverse stories in every house and behind doors in the society around us. Some of the homes have a better story to tell than it looks like on the outside, other homes hide bad conditions for children of drug addicts and children in dysfunctional families.

Are children of substance abusers condemned to a life of their own abuse?

Children with drug-addicted parents can actually be hard to spot, even if they live in the house right next door to you. This can be both children with alcoholic parents where the abuse is hidden so well that they are not aware of it themselves, or children who grow up in dysfunctional homes that are unable to take care of the child adequately.

Life is tough for these children, perhaps already from birth, and neglect can have bad repercussions later in life. What are the real consequences for children of drug addicts in their lives? And what will the lives of adult children of drug addicts be like? We dive into this interesting, important and slightly sad topic.

What exactly is “substance abuse”?

It is not easy to define the word substance abuse. What may seem like normal drug use to one person may seem like abuse to another. One of the most commonly used ways of defining substance abuse is if a person resorts to an intoxicant over a long period of time and uses the intoxicant in a way that can harm both the person using the intoxicant and the people around him or her.

There can be both internal damage to the body and external damage such as financial problems, difficulties in relationships and problems in professional life. Occasionally, the person who uses drugs may even admit that their use is harmful, both to themselves and to those around them, but would still not want to stop.

From this we can see that substance abuse can be difficult to both define and detect. This can make it extra difficult to know how to deal with such a problem if you encounter it.

It always gets worse and more difficult if there are children involved. This is because all children deserve to be well, but children who are born into a dysfunctional family constellation where addiction prevails are often extremely loyal to their own parents, no matter how severe the addiction and neglect.

The consequences for children of drug addicts are many and painful

We can see some general consequences in people who come from homes where drug addiction has been, or is, a problem. Here we are not only thinking about the short-term effects for the children who grow up in dysfunctional and unstable homes, but also the long-term effects this can have.

Children who grow up in homes where drugs and unpredictability are commonplace are subject to neglect. Care failure can have massive consequences for the life of the child in question. If a child grows up in a home where it feels unsafe and difficult, the child’s body will enter a state of constant stress. The child feels that he must always be prepared, and must look after his dependent parents.

This prolonged level of stress can lead to major problems later in life. Among other things, the children may have difficulties adapting to adult life. This can lead to a lifestyle where they more easily fall outside society.

But much can be done and saved if the family and the child get help in an early phase. There is a lot of help available in society than just getting the child out of the family constellation! Family therapy and support can change a family dynamic, if those involved are on board with this change.

In 2020, 26,717 new family protection cases were registered , but not all of these required that a child be taken out of the family and placed in a foster home.

The most important thing is to recognize the ripple effects as early as possible.

The most harmful thing for children living in homes where addiction has an iron grip on their lives is not being recognized and seen. If you have a suspicion or a gut feeling, it’s not enough to carry on as before and hope that someone else will see the problem.

We humans may find it a bit difficult to step over the threshold and go home to a neighbour, a friend or a family member who may be struggling with addiction. It can feel as if we are getting too close and stepping into a home that is not ours and where we have nothing to do.

Here are some checkpoints you can take with you if you come across children who are not having it easy at home:

  • Knock on the door – you can’t tell how a child is doing just by standing outside
  • Create an open space for dialogue – the child often needs someone to talk to in confidence
  • Do not push for solutions – it is not always good advice that the child is looking for
  • Contact professionals and ask for help – if you want to be there for a struggling family but don’t know how, therapists can help you do that
  • Talk to the child protection service – look after the children who need it by getting guidance from the child protection service where you live

It pays to care! It is useful to be “the one” for the children who need to be seen. Just by daring to knock, daring to care and daring to talk to a child who might be struggling, you might change a whole life!

Here it is important to remember that you may be wrong and there may not be as big a problem as you might have thought in a family. But how are you going to find that poor child who actually needs a real adult who cares and sees it, if you don’t knock?