Effects of Having a Substance Dependent Parent

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It is no secret that experiencing life influenced by a parent who is an addict can result in a magnitude of lifelong effects. Having a substance dependent parent is mildly common, where up to 25% of American individuals were raised in homes where substance abuse occurred (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018). This literature review is interested in the long-term developmental effects of being ‘raised’ by a parent with substance abuse problems.

There are a variety of ways that witnessing a parental figure’s behaviors and values can affect an individual throughout their lifetime. Much of the current research suggests that adults who were children of drug addicted parents have an increased chance of developing psychological, mental, or relationship problems, their own substance dependency, may struggle with codependency, or difficulties with their own parenting.

A major finding from literature related to the subject focuses on the long-term psychological effects that arise from the exposure to a substance using parent. Ali & Munaf (2006) suggest that individuals who are the offspring of parents with addiction have a higher chance of dealing with psychological problems, such as schizophrenia and paranoia, than the offspring of parents who are not addicts. One of the most prevalent causes of individuals being at high risk for developing mental illness or addiction is having a parents battling it themselves (Leijdesdorff & Klaassen, 2017). While Ali & Munaf do not elaborate on exactly which type of addiction, Kelley and Fals-Stewart (2004) propose that children living with parents experiencing substance addiction rather than alcoholism have higher chances to develop psychiatric disorders.

Similar to the previous findings, there is a wide array of other mental effects that are not as severe and potentially life crippling as paranoia or schizophrenia. Many researchers have findings on the increased risk and higher levels of anxieties, depression, self-harm, negative emotionality codependency, or other personality disorders in children of addict parents (Richter, 2016). In particular, there are numerous areas of study pertaining to a type of posttraumatic stress disorder or reaction.

Dayton (2011) indicates that PTS reaction occurs whenever an individual allows for their unresolved wounds from previous experiences to reside for long periods of time until they’re later resurfaced and the reaction sets in. In the 1980s, the term ‘adult child of an alcoholic’ (ACA) came to be, and these individuals conveyed a variety of experiences that later led to instances of confusion, pain, and anxiety. Dayton also reported that these adult individuals experience moments of childhood pain, emptiness, vulnerability, and lack of identity.

Not only does having a substance dependent parents create the potential to have lifelong mental and psychological effects, but it also has the ability to conjure problems in the individual’s personal relationships. Being the child of an addict often correlates with neglect and various types of abuse throughout childhood. Tedgard, Rastam, & Wirtberg report there’s an increased probability that as an adult, the individual may be fearful of the addict parent, distrustful of the parent, or even avoid or entirely cut off the relationship. Even in family relationships that do not involve that substance dependent parent, difficulties are common, such as lack of healthy communication skills and possible PTSD symptoms that directly affect family members (Richter).

One of the issues that could most strongly affect the individual’s family and relationships is if they have a substance dependency of their own. Having an addict parent is one of the largest risk factors for an individual developing a substance dependency of their own (Mellentin, Brink, Andersen, Erlangsen, Stenager, Bjerregaard, & Christiansen, 2016). Witnessing a parent cope with stress and life situations with substance influences substance use of their own.

Especially since children greatly learn through observation, they learn that drugs help cope (Marino, Moss, Vieno, Albery, Frings, & Spada, 2018). Also, research has been completed that show when parents witness the suffering of their children caused by their addiction, they tend to offer help the only way they can, which is through substances. Ultimately growing up with an addict parent has the potential to lead to an endless, vicious cycle of substance abuse (Youell, 2016).

An additional finding as to why being a child of a parent who is an addict could lead to codependency issues is due to experiences of allowing the parent to be dependent on them. Youell (2016) reports on time during childhood and adolescence when children were most likely put into reversed roles, having to aid and rescue the parent. He explains how typical parental addicts are focused on themselves and their addictions rather than properly being occupied with the raising and wellbeing of their child.

Contrastingly to Greenberg & Lyon, Youell suggest that the effects of this role reversal cause those individuals to be cautious of dependency later in life. Research completed by Greenberg & Lyon (2016) found that there was strong evidence on effects of women who are the children of alcoholics. It is common for them to have codependent behavior and continuously seek approval, and even have a preference for individuals of a more exploitative and angry nature.

Whereas these previous researchers focus on relational, mental, and psychological effects, there are many studies and articles focused on the child of an addicted parent’s own ability to parent. Because of situations where the child may be taking on the mother or father role, Barrocas, Paizao, & Vieira-Santos (2016) explains how this causes normal processes related to the parenthood transition to become delayed or problematic. 19 participants completed interviews on the experiences of being raised by parents abusing substances in a study by Tegard, Rastam, & Wirtberg (2018).

It was shown that these parents were perfectly able to meet their children’s most basic needs, but the problem appeared when it came to more emotional and psychological issues. These individuals specifically had heightened levels of parental stress. Tegard, Rastam, & Wirtberg imply that many of these now adult individuals developed insecure attachment styles in childhood. The effects of such development may cause fear, anxiety, and/or avoidance of relationships and possible emotional dysregulation.

Due to the research that’s been completed on developmental effects of having a substance dependent parent, a vast amount of information has been learned with the ability to help reduce or alleviate the overall impact of the parent on development. Researchers are aware of the various dynamics and focal points that need attention and assistance within the child (adult). Literature and knowledge related to the subject provides the ability for individuals and their development to be able to be positively aided in a healthy way. Without such previous research, adults who were raised by a substance dependent parent would ultimately be left with innumerable lifelong psychological and emotional effects.

Cite this paper

Effects of Having a Substance Dependent Parent. (2021, Mar 26). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/effects-of-having-a-substance-dependent-parent/



What are the effects of dependence?
Dependence can lead to a loss of control over one's life and can cause physical and psychological harm. It can also strain relationships and lead to financial difficulties.
What impact does the use of substances have on families?
Substance abuse can tear families apart. It can cause financial problems, communication problems, and emotional problems.
What parenting style is most associated with substance abuse?
The parenting style most associated with substance abuse is neglectful parenting. This parenting style is characterized by a lack of supervision, support, and affection.
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