If you want to help your child grow up to be a healthy adult free of destructive addictions, you will want to learn about the factors that predispose one to addiction. There are several things you will need to consider to protect them.
The Effects of Parental Substance Abuse
Children of alcoholics are found to be four times more likely to grow up to be substance abusers. The home environment of a child with an parent with a substance use disorder is likely to be chaotic, stressful, and inconsistent. Finances could also be a problem. The child grows up seeing many unusual behaviors of the parent, the other parent or significant other, and other adults that may abuse drugs too. This dysfunctional atmosphere would make it almost impossible for this child to know what healthy or normal looks or feels like, and would likely hamper the development of their social skills.
Children of addicts often feel immense shame because they may be embarrassed of the conditions they are being brought up in, and of the parents' unpredictable or unpleasant behavior. They may feel responsible for the parents' problems somehow.
The importance of a Interesting, Supportive, and Safe Environment
Many experiments have been done on animals to discover the biological and psychological drives that would predispose someone to be an addict. One of the most famous of these has been affectionately named "Rat Park." Bruce Alexander, a psychology professor, noted that former experiments on drugs on rats had a major flaw. The rats were put in to boring solitary cages with the choice of drinking drugged or clean water being their only available activity. After a while the rats were solidly addicted to the drug water.
Professor Alexander decided to improve the environment of the rats and see if this had any effect. He made the cages bigger, made sure the rats had other rats to commune with, that they had great food, and also added plenty of entertaining stuff for the animals to do. Turns out rats in great environments weren't interested in the drug water. Even when the professor put solidly drug addicted rats in rat park, they soon became disinterested in continuing their addiction.
During the Vietnam war, many soldiers became addicted to various substances such as heroin while they were engaged there, but when they came back over 95% of them gave their habits up upon return to the states. One theory about why this was so, was that the environment that the soldiers came back to was vastly different than the one where they had developed the addiction. The soldiers were stressed, out of their element, had drugs readily available to them, and felt isolated in Vietnam. Upon return to the U.S. and to their families, they were reintroduced to familiar environment where it was more likely that they could get their needs met.
Things You Can Do
To involve your children in positive endeavors, provide a stimulating environment, and make them feel supported, you can:
- Consider joining a community outreach program or a church that has good programs for families and children.
- Involve your children in doing household chores from an early age. It is better when you do chores with them, and it can provide opportunities to talk and make chores fun.
- Talk to them about substance abuse in age appropriate ways and prepare them for the pressures they will face.
- Support them in any interests they may have such as in art, music, dance, sports, writing, and more. Help them to find opportunities to learn about these things and provide the materials for them to be able to do them. Help them to be persistent with loving encouragement and praise.
- Help them maintain relationships with extended family such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. If they have extended family ties, they will feel like what they do matters to people that care about them.
The take-aways you can use from the research available is that your child needs a stable, loving, attentive, and safe environment to grow up in. They require supportive people looking out for their best interests, plus stimulating and fun things to do to stimulate their growing intellect. Without these things, there is a vacuum that may be filled eventually with substance abuse.
If you have a substance use disorder, you need to get professional help to address the problem. If your mate or significant other has the addiction, they should be encouraged get help as well. Consider contacting a local rehabilitation center, such as Bridgeway Recovery Services Inc., to discuss your questions and concerns. You will want to make sure your child grows up knowing what healthy and normal feels like.