Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Home:  Children and Addiction

Children who grow up in an addicted home suffer just as much, if not worse than the addict or alcoholic.  Dysfunctional homes can take a toll on a child’s emotional, physical and cognitive development.  When addiction is present in a home, children take on different roles to compensate for the lack of guidance from the addicted parent.  These different roles lead to long term emotional problems, and studies show that children that grow up in addicted homes are more likely to develop substance abuse problems themselves. 

Depending on the child’s method of coping with the dysfunction in the home, children of addicts and alcoholics take on different roles.  These coping mechanisms are a child’s way of dealing with the severe pain they are experiencing.  Some children develop a way to shut things off and hide their pain, while others will offer up too much information at inappropriate times.    Let’s look at some examples of the roles children play in an addicted home.


This is the child is the care taker and protector.  They assume the household responsibilities and take care of siblings.     The enabler is emotionally close to the addict or alcoholic.  They feel grow up feeling sorry for themselves and they grow up with very low self-esteem.  They feel like nothing is ever good enough. 


This child gets in trouble and acts out in school.  He or she diverts attention from the problem by gaining negative attention.  They are disobedient and defiant with authority figures.  They are full of anger and rage. 


This is the child who disappears into their room or isolates from family and friends.  The disappearing child may also find a healthy family or friend to escape to.  This child’s escape may also be some kind of fantasy world through books or a make believe friend.  They are introverts who are quiet and withdrawn.  This child will grow up with extreme social phobias. 


This child is a perfectionist.  They believe that their accomplishments will make the family seem “normal.’  He or she is always seeking approval by being over polite and following the rules.  They are over achievers, but always feel less than. 


This child is the class clown or entertainer.  They are extremely immature and insecure.  The jokester uses comedy and pranks to deflect  negative emotions. 

Children of addicts and alcoholics can play any or all of these roles at different times throughout their lives.  They usually have a very unbalanced childhood, and they grow up in constant fear.  As these children grow into adults many take on symptoms of an addict without ever putting a substance in their bodies.  They begin seeking out love from people they feel they can rescue.  Many become addicted to chaos and create drama in their lives. 

There is a Way Out

Children and adults who grow up in addicted homes can recover.  They need to feel they can express their feelings and emotions in a safe place with people they can trust.    Other family members, teachers, social workers, sports coaches, church leaders, and respective community figures can be positive role models.  Children who have grown up in an unhealthy environment gain a sense of well-being from the presence of mentors like these in their lives. 

The healing process begins when a child or an adult child of an addict or alcoholic starts talking with a counselor or someone they trust about their feelings.  Support from groups like ACA, Alanon/Alateen, and connecting with other Watershed family members on this site are extremely helpful.  Through this healing process children of addicts and alcoholics will learn to take responsibility for their own actions and change what they can change in the present moment. 

-See more at: Dysfunctional Family Roles: Growing Up With Addiction

Read 4942 times Last modified on Friday, 02 May 2014 15:23
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