Lonely child of addict experiences emotional neglect

The Invisible Ones: Children of Addicts


Sober Recovery Expert Author

Lonely child of addict experiences emotional neglect

There is a constant and growing focus on treatment and recovery for the addiction disease. However, addiction, as most know, is a systemic disease. In other words, it affects more than the addicted individual. With addiction, the entire family is adversely impacted by the illness.

Typically, for this reason, a family component exists in most addiction treatment and recovery programs. Still, the overall focus on family members is minimal compared to that of the addict. Moreover, children of addicts are often almost completely overlooked both in the addiction field and society as a whole.

While recovering parents have opportunities to share their stories and experiences in the treatment process, children of recovering addicts rarely get a chance to tell their story.

The latter reality is one that only adds to a recurring theme in the lives of these children. The vast majority of them have been emotionally neglected—overlooked by their families—and therefore had their needs ignored throughout the duration of their parent’s active addiction. As expected, the stereotypical egocentric actions of the chemically dependent parent—victimization, manipulation, dramatization, etc.—take center stage. Unfortunately, that attention-seeking behavior only grows more apparent to the child with time, even as the addicted parent seeks treatment.

Treatment Trap

Even upon entering treatment, the focus of family members and friends tends to remain on the addicted parent rather than their adversely affected children. This may be a natural response since, considering the medical facts, the only one diagnosed with a disease is the parent. However, the children are equally as sick, as everything they have learned and come to model stems from active addiction. Additionally, these children lack the developmental skills and resources to express or meet their need for help.

To make matters worse, because children of addicts take on various maladaptive roles—scapegoat, mascot, lost child and hero—and therefore don't always overtly exhibit socially dysfunctional symptoms, they often fall through the cracks and their pain and suffering simply goes unnoticed. Some even see a celebration of their dysfunctional behaviors—like in the case of the hero or lost child. This isn’t only damaging to children on an emotional level, it also typically leads to future addiction as well as emotional and mental imbalances for them as adults.

Meant to Be Heard

While recovering parents have opportunities to share their stories and experiences in the treatment process, children of recovering addicts rarely get a chance to tell their story. This can make them quite resentful and may even send a message that the only way for attention or approval is through self-destructive means (and the recovery processes that follow). As such, it is quite possible that this is one way children of addicts come to continue the cycle of the disease within their families.

Regardless of the long-term effects, potential of and cause for behavior modeling, the children and future adult children of addicts desperately need treatment and recovery too. The numbers on active addiction are in the tens of millions. As such, imagine the number of children negatively affected. Think about the maladaptive, dysfunctional roles they’ve assumed in an effort to survive their childhood.

Those roles may or may not involve substance abuse, but they will certainly include various methods of self-sabotage and self-destruction. And, though children of addicts may seemingly be invisible with regard to the current focus on our nation’s number one and deadliest disease, the tragic statistics they generally become is a large stain on society too dark to continue to ignore. If you or someone you know is seeking professional support, please visit our directory of counseling and therapy centers or call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.

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