The Challenges of Living With a Parent With an Opioid Addiction

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September 6, 2020

Those who have witnessed a family member struggle with addiction understand the pain of watching a loved one wrestle with a life-threatening disease that seems to consume them. The challenges of living with someone with a drug addiction involve dealing with mood swings and a lack of stability. For children in this situation, these challenges have profound, sometimes life-altering ramifications. A parent with an opioid addiction cannot provide a child with the emotional support they need for healthy development, and failure to pursue recovery can result in losing custody of the child and other consequences.

On the other hand, children who can speak up and access the right resources can have a significant impact on a parent with opioid addiction. Understanding the effects of substance abuse on children is essential for coping with a parent with opioid addiction and helping them seek treatment.

Living With the Addicted Parent: A Role Reversal

Healthy parent-child relationships cast the parent in the role of the caregiver. They provide physical shelter, give emotional support and keep finances stable, all for the health and well-being of their developing child. In the presence of substance abuse, however, these roles tend to become reversed. The child will assume more and more of a caregiver’s responsibility as the addiction progresses, and many kids don’t even realize they are taking on duties that should not fall on them.

Many of the tasks a child of an opioid-addicted parent will take on are clear-cut, like cleaning up the home while the parent is under the influence or taking a part-time job to ensure the bills get paid. However, some hallmarks reveal an unhealthy level of emotional intimacy in these relationships. Some of the things a child might do include:

  • Refusing invitations or canceling plans to stay at home and care for the parent.
  • Listening to a parent share inappropriate information related to their drug use.
  • Soothing a parent with issues surrounding depression, anxiety or suicidal ideation.
  • Sleeping in the same bed with a parent to alleviate their feelings of fear and isolation.
  • Using drugs e with the parent to try and forge an emotional bond.
  • Enabling the parents drug use by hiding it from other’s or helping them obtain/use drugs.
  • Taking personal responsibility for the parent’s addiction.

All of these scenarios have one thing in common: They ask the child to take on an exceedingly high level of maturity they are likely not ready to assume. Children need robust emotional boundaries to develop a healthy lifestyle, and parents with opioid addiction tend to infringe on these boundaries frequently and intensely. Children in these relationships typically turn into experts at caregiving, though they lack adequate social skills or a strong sense of personal identity.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids suggests that the mental and emotional stress involved with being a caregiver for themselves and their addicted parents can harm the development of a child’s brain. Kids who must provide for and take care of themselves due to a parent’s physical or emotional absence are also at higher risk for injuries, malnutrition, social isolation and exposure to crime. No child wants to bring friends home to a parent who is high on opioids, and they may fail to develop any real peer friendships because of it.

Many children also struggle with the firm belief that they are the source of their parent’s opioid addiction. They tend to feel that if they were somehow better, their parent would be under less stress and wouldn’t have to self-medicate with opioids. They may think if they got better grades, kept the house cleaner or attended more closely to their parent’s emotions, the parent wouldn’t have gotten addicted. This self-blame is one of the most harmful aspects of living with a parent addicted to opioids.

Adult Children of Addicted Parents

Unfortunately, the adverse effects of living with a parent with an opioid addiction do not stop once the child reaches adulthood and leaves home. The Adverse Child Experiences study gathered information from more than 17,000 adults and found that children who grew up in abusive home environments — including those with addiction — were at greater risk of developing chronic health issues in adulthood. Some of the physical and mental health problems observed included:

  • Alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder
  • Depression
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Sexually transmitted diseases

Seeking Help for an Addicted Parent

Regardless of age, children living with a parent with an opioid addiction often have trouble addressing the issue with their parent and may not encourage them to seek help. People with addiction generally discourage any discussion of the topic, and may manipulate the child or outright forbid them from talking to others about the problem. The parent may get angry or abusive when they think their child is speaking to other adults about the substance abuse, and accuse the child of betrayal. This dynamic makes it exceptionally difficult to acknowledge the addiction at all.

It’s intimidating to talk to a parent about seeking out addiction treatment, especially when the parent makes the child feel like they are engaging in an inappropriate betrayal of trust or violation of authority. Addiction warps the user’s perception of reality over time and helps them hide the truth, even from themselves. Many parents who continue drug abuse are in complete denial of the effect their addiction is having on their children, and refuse to recognize the chaos they are causing in the child’s life.

Getting the conversation started is challenging, and having a successful discussion is even trickier. However, if the child prepares for the encounter, it can go more smoothly. The following preparatory steps will be helpful to a child living with a parent with an opioid addiction, regardless of age.

  1. Write down and organize your feelings.
  2. Seek someone with intervention experience to help you out.
  3. Recruit other relatives and loved ones to participate in the conversation.
  4. Have everyone rehearse what they will say.
  5. Figure out a time when your parent will be sober.
  6. Stay calm during the conversation.
  7. Write down your expectations and potential consequences.
  8. Get help to make sure your parent follows through on expectations.

These conversations are never easy, but they can help convince an addicted parent to seek the help they need to recover.

Trust AppleGate for Addiction Treatment

AppleGate Recovery offers office-based opioid treatment based on the most current addiction medicine. Our doctors and care team administer medication-assisted treatment using FDA-approved medications to allow participants to live their lives and engage with counseling and other recovery services. If you are the child of a parent with opioid addiction or a parent realizing that you need help to overcome opioid abuse, call AppleGate at 888-488-5337 or reach out online for more information.