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What About the Kids?

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What about the kid that an overdose left behind? What about the kid whose parent is actively using? There is a generation growing up watching what addiction is, what it can do, and what can come from it. Parents dealing with an addiction are compromised, priorities shift while in the grips of any addiction. We have children growing up with mental health and emotional taxes that we need to help them with. Addiction effects so much more than just the addict or alcoholic themselves.

What are the Numbers?

We are falling behind in research for our next generation. In 2012, the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens reported that 25% of youth are exposed to family alcohol abuse or dependence. Approximately 33% of alcoholics indicate the presence of an alcoholic parent when they were younger. This is in 2012. In 2016, it was reported that 33% of alcoholics indicated the presence of an alcoholic parent when they were younger.

According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), about 1.6 million children aged 17 or younger resided in a two-parent household with at least one parent who had an illicit drug use disorder, and about 538,000 children resided in a single-parent household with a parent who had an illicit drug use disorder. These statistics are based on data from the combined 2009 to 2014 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health. These are staggering numbers.

What about the Kids?

Children with parents addicted to drugs and alcohol lose out on imperative developmental skills due to lack of parenting. Children are growing up with feelings of uncertainty and insecurity left unaddressed. The kids afflicted with addiction in the family are left feeling empty and alone. They have a higher risk of developing mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. They can end up with emotional and behavioral problems.

They are at a higher risk of physical, verbal, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse. Kids left at risk need help. Growing up with low self-esteem makes it so hard to ever feel good about themselves. Perhaps worst of all, kids growing up in this environment are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol at an earlier age. They are also more susceptible to becoming addicted. These kids are growing up neglected.

Role Reversal

In healthy parent-child relationships, the parent takes care of the child. That relationship should offer security, practical discipline, and emotional support. Sometimes, in a parent-child relationship that involves drug or alcohol abuse the child can take on the role of caregiver. Children may not even notice the amount of responsibility that they have taken on. The child that makes dinner for his/her siblings every night. The child that cleans up after their parent’s night of heavy partying. The child is being forced to grow up and act at a level of maturity that they were not ready for. They miss out on a childhood.

The Family Left Behind

Approximately 110 Americans die of an overdose everyday. How many of them were parents? After a parent dies, where does the child go? Some grandparents take on the role, some end up in foster care, and some end up on the streets. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania preliminary data gathered by the Allegheny County Dept. of Human Services shows that about 50% of residents who died in 2018 from opioid-involved overdoses were parents. The remaining family, like grandparents, that take these children in are not being helped either. That family must go through the system.

They need to go through a lot of red tape to receive any type of financial aid to help the child. That child should be able to receive any help he/she may need especially therapy. The rise in children being put into foster care because of drug abuse has skyrocketed across the nation. From 2013 to 2015, the number of children in foster care nationwide jumped almost 7 percent to nearly 429,000, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children and Families. There are some trying to help the kids that end up in foster care. Psychologist Anthony Mannarino, PhD, who directs the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh is on the front line in Pennsylvania.

They are implementing Trauma­ Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). TF-CBT is an evidence-based treatment for children and adolescents impacted by trauma caused by a parent or caregiver. There are some programs like this out there, but not enough to keep up with this epidemic.

Kids look to us to guide them and care for them. They look to us to show them love, compassion, and security. They are our future and we are their models. We cannot let our children grow up feeling ashamed or abandoned. We have made a lot of positive steps in the right direction with addiction treatment.

The government has begun providing funding for more research into addiction and access to help. There are rehabs helping an addict or alcoholic get into all types of treatment, like inpatient or outpatient programs. There is hope. We need to extend that research and care to the families. If there is one fact we cannot ignore it is that addiction is a family disease. It creates a ripple effect that touches everyone, especially our children.

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