Becoming a parent is a life-changing experience, and many adults improve their lives to better their family. They may secure a higher-paying job, move to a safer neighborhood and start taking better care of their physical health. This is the nature of becoming a parent, and this is the nature of making good choices.
Unfortunately, addiction doesn’t come with choices. Addiction is a compulsive brain disease that doesn’t go away just because a person becomes a parent. Therefore, there are many children in America who are exposed to drugs and alcohol on a regular basis.
Addicted Parents Struggle with Good Decisions
Active drug addicts don’t intentionally set out to harm their children. Most want to be good parents, and some move in and out of rehab centers trying to put their life back together. Unfortunately, they lack the support, skills, and resources to stay clean and sober, and they end up relapsing. The addiction gets in the way of being a good parent, and they end up sacrificing their hopes, dreams, and goals just to get the next high that their brain and body craves.
Children of addicts are stigmatized, which is hurtful and unfair because they do not choose this path. Many end up living lives that are tumultuous and unsteady. They may become victims of abuse or neglect. Or, they may be exposed to drugs. These children don’t get the help they need in school, and they don’t participate in extracurricular activities as other children do. Children of addicts tend to lack the things that most people take for granted, including a safe home, healthy meals, and two loving parents.
Nature vs Nurture: Does One, Both or Something Else Cause Addiction?
Since there is an ongoing debate over which factors cause addiction – Genetics? Environmental factors? Underlying mental health conditions? – researchers have studied the children of addicts for years to better understand addiction.
We know that the children of addicts run a greater risk of addiction. We also know that there are genetic links to addiction. But, if addiction was purely genetic, all children born to addicted parents would turn out to be addicts themselves. This isn’t the case. There are many instances where two siblings who share the same genetic background turn out very differently. One may pursue a good education, career, and normal life, while the other struggles with abuse.
If addiction were purely environmental, however, children exposed to drugs throughout their life would become addicted, too. Again, this isn’t the case. Some children see the behavior and are turned off, and they set out to break the cycle. Others follow because it’s normal and familiar to them and they don’t know what else to do.
Also, we must consider parents who were addicts but ended up getting clean and sober. Where do they fall in the cycle? Is it the genetics that matter, or the fact that the parents acted as good role models for their children and got clean and sober?
These are questions that no one can answer, at least yet. Even experts with decades of experience and research can’t agree on what causes addiction. While most experts agree that both genetics and environmental factors play some role in addiction, it’s difficult to determine if one is more powerful than the other. For every case that fits the framework, another one disproves it.
Despite Some Answers, Addiction Has No Boundaries
At The RS, we always remind clients and their families that addiction has no limitations. It can affect anyone of any age, of any background and any socioeconomic status. We’ve worked with addicts who come from sober families, and we’ve seen siblings of addicts who managed to break the cycle. Anything can happen.
We also like to point out that co-occurring disorders such as anxiety or depression play a role in the onset of addiction. It may be that a child exposed to drugs and alcohol, with a genetic background of addiction and an underlying mental disorder, is at greatest risk. These disorders may be a missing link when determining which people are more likely to get hooked.
Although addicted parents do not always raise addicted children, the issue becomes real when parents who are or were addicts raise a child with the same issues. The addiction must be confronted in both the parents and the child if they want to break the cycle. Fortunately, this is possible, realistic and attainable with a holistic recovery that takes into consideration both nature and nurture.