It’s amazing to look at other people’s homes. The picture-perfect family with the Martha Stewart mother has a raging drug addict for a daughter who is in and out of jail… while the family with the Dr. Hannibal Lecter father has kids who become success stories. How does that happen? Are parents responsible for raising alcoholic or drug addicted kids? Who is to blame?
Parents do not cause their children to become alcoholics or drug addicts. Alcoholism and addiction are not caused by environmental factors. They are a physiological, genetic allergy involving brain chemistry. Alcoholism is a disease. Drug addiction, in the great majority of cases, is just a form of alcoholism. Realize it is possible for someone who was not born with a genetic predisposition to alcoholism to become psychologically addicted to drugs… in reaction to chronic physical pain for instance.
Someone does not become an alcoholic /addict because they were raised in a dysfunctional family. Alcoholism is not caused by emotional wounds. It also has nothing to do with willpower or strength of character or morality. It does not have anything to do with intelligence.
Many people drink heavily or experiment with drugs in their teens and early twenties. The ones who have a genetic predisposition make alcohol and/or drugs their primary coping mechanism – the ones that do not find other ways of coping and going unconscious. People who become alcoholics are not as a rule more wounded than people that do not – they just have a genetic vulnerability.
All of us adapted codependent defense systems to protect us from the toxic shame we felt in early childhood – to help us survive in the dysfunctional environments we grew up in. The primary environment was, of course, our family of origin. But we were also emotionally traumatized in the schools we attended, in churches, in social interactions with other wounded human beings. We were exposed to dysfunctional messages from society in general, through books and movies, television and music, etc.
We all learned ways to cope with the pain of being human in societies that taught us it was shameful to be human. We all had to adapt defense systems that would help us disassociate – go unconscious to – the emotional pain we experienced growing up in emotionally dishonest, Spiritually hostile environments. Spiritually hostile in my definition because civilization is founded upon a belief in separation, shame about being human, and fear of differences instead of connection and love.
A parent does not cause a child to become an alcoholic or drug addicted. The emotional wounds provide reasons to drink and use, are the fuel that drives an alcoholic/addict’s behavior, but are not the cause of the disease.
We were all raised in dysfunctional families – because society/civilization is emotionally dishonest and dysfunctional. We were all wounded in our childhood because our parents were wounded in their childhood – and when we became parents we wounded our children.
You did not cause your child’s addiction. Your behaviors did wound your child because you did not love your self in a healthy way and were not given the tools, knowledge, and role modeling to teach you how to be a healthy person – let alone a healthy parent. You were wounded in your childhood, you were doing the best you knew how to do as a parent, it is not your fault that you were powerless to do it any differently. You do have some responsibility for your child’s wounding, but you are not to blame. To give power to the blaming guilt and shame of the disease will, in fact, set you up to continue to be unhealthy in your relationship with your child.
For parents, trying to understand addiction is difficult and confusing. It just doesn’t make any sense that their child will continue to use drugs and/or alcohol in spite of devastating consequences. It is hurtful that your own child will lie and steal from the family. And, because of the stigma that surrounds addiction, it can be embarrassing and shameful to have an addict in the family. Many times, it is this shame that causes parents to continue enabling – in order to prevent further embarrassment to the family.
This is why it is so important for parents to understand addiction. The first step to helping your child is gaining knowledge. If you were told that your child had diabetes you would learn everything you could about the disease. You would arm yourself with knowledge in order to face that battle. Like diabetes, addiction is a disease. By learning as much about addiction as possible, families can help their loved ones to recovery.
In the process of learning about addiction, it is equally important for parents to focus on their own recovery (from enabling behavior). By attending family recovery meetings, such as Al-Anon, parents can learn to make healthy changes in their family dynamic. They can gain strength and knowledge, as well as the extra support needed to get through the rough times. You did not cause your child’s addiction and you cannot cure it.
Understanding the disease of addiction may save your child’s life… help is available.
This is my journey… this is my life.