Nearly half of the adult population in the United States has been exposed to alcoholism via a close family member. For many, the responsible family member is a parent, someone who is supposed to provide, shelter and love the child unconditionally. Unfortunately, children of alcoholics and addicts often do not get the love they deserve. In fact, many grow up in homes filled with chaos, trauma, domestic violence and emotional and verbal abuse.
If you know a child who is in this situation, whether they are a family member or close friend, you might feel compelled to help. But what can you do? Following are three things you can do to help the child of an addict cope with their parent's addiction.
Be Honest with Them
Even the youngest of children can tell when something is wrong, and they can also tell when everyone around them is lying, which makes them feel confused and alone. Cut through the confusion by having an open and honest conversation with them. Explain to them that addiction is a disease that requires treatment just like any other illness. You should also let the child know that many of their parents actions and behaviors are caused by the disease and that their parent is not trying to purposely hurt them.
Help Them Explore Their Emotions
Children of addicts experience numerous emotions, including shame, embarrassment, anger, depression, fear and stress. Often, the emotional upheaval continues well into adulthood, causing emotional disturbances that can contribute to the vicious circle of alcoholism and addiction. You can help a child deal with such emotions by allowing them to talk about them. You may also wish to get them in counseling or encourage them to take part in a support group for children of addicts.
Lessen Their Responsibility
If you see that a child is shouldering a great deal of the household responsibility or is caring for their parent, lighten their load by helping out. Let the child be a child and take over any adult responsibilities you can. If the child feels responsible for their parents addiction, reassure them that it's not their fault, that their parent is responsible for their own actions.
Being the child of an addict is not easy, but you can offer a bit of hope by being a shining light in an otherwise dark and scary world. If you're not sure how to do that, you can also reach out to support groups, such as http://www.olalla.org, that are there to help family members and friends deal with another's addiction.