What You Learn as a Child of Drug Addicts

No matter how old we get, it seems as though we are always deeply affected by the people who raise us. I remember talking to my therapist and asking why I feel the way I feel and he simply said it was my upbringing.

The influences we get from the people who raise up not only include the genes we inherit from our biological parents, but also the behaviors, habits, values, and styles of communicating. This same idea can be applied to the way we use alcohol or drugs.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 25 percent of American kids grow up in households where some form of substance abuse is present. These children are also more likely to develop an addiction themselves and also tend to experience:

  • Poor school performance
  • Emotional and behavioral issues
  • Low self-esteem
  • Physical, verbal, or sexual abuse
  • Anxiety or depression, or other forms of mental illness
  • Earlier usage and experimentation of drugs or alcohol

In a healthy parent-child relationship, the parent is the one who takes on the role of the caregiver. They are the ones who are supposed to provide shelter, emotional support, and the financial well-being of a young person who is still developing. In parent-child relationships that involve substance abuse, however, these roles are often reversed, and the child takes on the role of the caregiver. Many children are not even aware that they have taken on this responsibility.

In these cases, the child is almost always forced to take on a level of maturity that they aren’t ready for. Addicted parents often violate the emotional boundaries that allow their children to develop independently and freely. This can turn a child into an expert caretaker, but also someone who lacks “normal” social skills or a sense of personal identity since their whole life revolves around caring for others.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids reports, “growing up in the chronic emotional stress of families impacted by parental addiction negatively affects children’s brain development from the earliest days of life. Unaddressed mental illness, physical or emotional violence or having a parent in prison are also negative factors.”

To make matters worse, a lot of these children will grow up believing that their parent’s addiction is their fault. Maybe if they have been better somehow or smarter or maybe if they had not even been born. Young people who find themselves in this situation will have a hard time trying to step outside of the caregiving role and better themselves.

These are the types of things that I have always had to deal with. Granted, my mother died when I was almost 6 years old, but by that age, I was already the designated babysitter for when she was up in her room, coming down from a drug binge.

I was five years old making bottles for my baby sister and my younger brother  and I spent ours entertaining ourselves until our younger sister’s father came home. We didn’t have a normal home structure for the majority of our childhood.

Our mother dying merely amplified these effects. She was dead, but we were left in the custody of our younger sister’s father, a recovering drug addict himself.

I don’t like talking to him because he doesn’t deserve it, but the way he treated me and my siblings growing up has affected us in more ways than not.

So, what have I learned?

After I graduated high school, I made it my life’s mission to be better than the people who had raised me. My father didn’t raise me, but I eventually learned that he died from a cocaine overdose – the same way my mother died.

Cocaine, opioids, alcohol – they have done more damage to my life than I ever realized and I don’t actively use them and I’ve only ever drunk alcohol. I’m afraid of drugs because I know what they can do to people and I’m done with them destroying my life.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m starting to forgive my parents, especially my mother. For the longest time, I blamed her for all of my problems. I struggled a lot because of the choices that she made and while I have never battled drug or alcohol addictions, I realize now that the addiction I have had to make myself feel better has been food.

I eat and I’m slightly a compulsive shopper when I’m emotional or unhappy. Of course, it doesn’t help that I have depression, anxiety, and possibly OCD. I understand the need to escape all those negative, unhappy emotions and I can see how easily someone can slip into an addiction.

They say growing up with an addict as a parent is detrimental to the growth of a child. Children of addicts experience trauma, especially when those drugs kill their parents.

They say these children are more likely to grow up to be an addict as an adult; that they’ll be negatively affected both mentally and psychologically. They’ll view their exposure to self-medication or using drugs and alcohol to feel better or ‘normal’ and have to deal with poor mental health.

It is my responsibility to manage my feelings, even though my understanding of things doesn’t always align with my emotions. But, I’m working on it.


If you or anyone you know is suffering from an addiction, please don’t hesitate to get help. Please give the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline a call:

1-800-662-HELP (4357)





Featured by Inge Maria on Unsplash


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