As you have lived with substance use disorder (SUD), it is likely that your relationships have changed. There might be tension that once did not exist, and the situation may have caused distance between people you were once very close to. Coping with addiction can lead to changes in behavior and priorities that don’t benefit you or your family. You might feel that others do not understand you and pull away, or your loved ones may feel helpless in the situation and take a step back. This can happen with romantic partners, siblings, parents, friends, and more.
One relationship that is arguably one of the most special is that which exists between a parent and child. If you are struggling with SUD while trying to maintain a relationship with your child, it can be a unique challenge. It is a powerful bond and one that you most likely would do anything to keep from losing.
Parents have many types of relationships with their children that can vary because of many different factors. Some people raise children with a committed romantic partner, while others have a custody arrangement with the other parent. It may be the case that the children are in the care of a foster family and an individual is working toward reunification. These situations apply mostly to families with younger children and teenagers, and there can be even more possibilities for adult children. Some parents have strong bonds with their adult children, while others are more distant and even estranged.
If substance abuse has been hindering your ability to be a good parent, you are not alone. There is help available, no matter your situation. You are in control to take the necessary steps and get your family back.
#1 Treatment Is the First Step
Whether you are in a happy marriage raising an infant daughter or grappling with estrangement from an adult son, addiction can put a lot at risk. Being a parent is not easy, no matter what form it takes, and substances make it even more difficult. Children need consistency and support, and living with addiction can get in the way of being able to provide that. Seeking treatment is the single best thing you can do for everyone’s future and well-being. Working with a licensed clinician will give you the tools to sustain recovery and focus on what is most important to you without the barrier of drugs and alcohol.
Seeking treatment as early as possible is even more critical when you have young children. Children growing up in a household around substances presents unique challenges to their development. Having a parent with addiction is considered an adverse childhood experience, and this is correlated with worse physical, mental, and social health outcomes in childhood and adulthood. Choosing to quit substances can protect your children from a series of downstream effects you could never have predicted. Additionally, substance abuse is correlated with other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and these can also impact the well-being of children who are exposed.
#2 Involve Your Family in Treatment
As humans, we do not exist by ourselves but in the context of our environment. Consequently, it is difficult to fully treat substance abuse without looking at you as a member of your family. Additionally, addiction does not just affect you; it impacts the entire family system. This means involving family members and loved ones in your treatment can be beneficial for both you and your family. Finding a provider that specializes in family therapy or offers a Family Recovery Program can be a promising first step.
While this may not work for every child, especially younger ones, engaging with hard topics with an unbiased third party to support and mediate can open new doors to understanding. It can help you and your loved ones identify areas of hardship and address them candidly while exploring potential solutions. You will be better equipped to handle conflict and solve it in a healthy and respectful manner.
#3 Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Addiction can take away your voice. It might encourage you to keep secrets from your loved ones. That type of behavior is harmful not only to you but to those you love. Nobody wants to be lied to, as it can create feelings of distance, lost trust, and even betrayal. Fighting that urge to keep others in the dark can shine new light on your relationships.
Depending on their age, children may not be able to understand what you are going through. However, that does not mean that putting effort into effective communication will be lost on them. Discussing your treatment progress and the steps you are taking to better yourself can be effective with older children. Communication with younger children, on the other hand, might focus more on the basics.
When you are battling addiction, the little things might get lost in the current. Returning the focus to those seemingly small things — like praise after a good grade on a test, encouragement after a lost baseball game, or support after a bad dream — are all ways you can show children you are tuned into their needs and that you hear them.
Communicating with your co-parent is also essential. It can help you parent more effectively as a team and become aware of and improve any blind spots you have. This also provides more continuity and unity to your child’s life.
As a parent, you want the best for your child. You want to protect them and give them the best chance of succeeding in life. If you are struggling to overcome addiction, you might not be satisfied with the parent you currently are. This can be discouraging and frightening, as you might feel like you are losing one of the most important relationships in your life. This does not have to be your future, and you can change the directory. Choosing to get treatment for your SUD can transform your life and help you be the best parent you can be. Family-Centered Services is dedicated to keeping families together even through the pain of addiction. We are a team of licensed clinicians with passion and experience in addiction treatment, and we offer individual and family therapy, a Family Recovery Program, and much more. Call (509) 991-5822 to get started.