Can Parents prevent addiction?

Eight years ago I started my journey to recovery. I battled with SUD among many other compulsive behaviors. Removing drugs and alcohol from my life didn’t make my life better it almost made it worse. The reality is drugs and alcohol helped me cope with my already dysfunctional thought-system. I had to adopt a 12-step fellowship to operate through life because, without it, I just didn’t know how to live. Many people believe that addiction is a mental illness that people are born with—the nature vs. nurture argument. 

Addiction usually refers to Substance Use Disorder, so a family may have three children one is an addict, and they think all my other children are fine why did this happen to Johnny. I have observed that usually, the other children will have another compulsive behavior. Some examples include

  • Relationship addiction
  • Workaholism
  • Food addiction
  • Sex addiction
  • Gambling addiction
  • Shopping/Debt 
  • Marijuana Addiction

The American Psychological Association reports that about half of a person’s susceptibility to addiction can be linked to genes. I have personally always believed there is a 50/50 split between genetic predisposition and parental rearing. I would like to provide a thought system coming from someone who has battled the mental struggles associated with addiction.

Let us start with the concept of addiction involving parenting. When children develop a strong identity and sense of self they become whole people. They are taught how to cope with their emotions and they value themselves, so the concept of putting toxic harmful substances and risking their lives to do so doesn’t appeal to them. Of the thousands of addicts I have encountered they usually have similar life experiences. What is even more alike is the way they were taught to cope with painful experiences. Some examples of painful experiences include:

          • Death of a parent
          • Parental Abandonment
          • Parents who are not present
          • Molestation
          • Physical Abuse
          • Emotional Abuse 
          • Sadistic Parents
          • Co-dependent Parents 

Emotional abuse is one that may catch your eye because there are so many ways it can manifest itself, but there are no scars to show it. Emotional abuse could be a parent calling their child fat, crazy, stupid, or anything hurtful. Emotional abuse could be a raging parent or a parent who dismisses their child’s feelings. A common form of emotional abuse is neglect. Telling your child to not cry or not validating their emotions as real are all examples of ways I have seen people recovering from addiction struggle to connect with their peers and face feelings of abandonment.

Co-dependency is also a form of a emotional disruption in the home. Children who are not given the opportunity to create their own identity because the parent is overbearing or when the child tries to seek independence and the parent guilts them for it. I have witnessed a parent pretend to cry when a child was more interested in playing with others than the mother. Forming a strong identity is an essential to healthy emotional development.

No Parent is perfect! I am not saying that if you yell at your child on the occasion that they will battle with compulsive behavior, but if you continuously say hurtful things to your children and do not acknowledge or amend that behavior you may notice some form of an ism. Often in homes of addicts you will find that they were told to stuff their feelings, the negative thing didn’t even happen (you’re crazy mommy and daddy didn’t yell), ignore it, or even physically abuse a child for expressing concern. When this happens to a child they will adopt the concept that something is wrong with them. The next time emotional pain arises they will act out or stuff their feelings because they were not taught how to cope with them. 

It is also important to note, that blaming someone for another’s addiction will not help heal the person. As people we are simply doing what we were taught from our parents, but identifying causes of emotional distress can help break cycles and prevent addiction for future generations.

Anyone who has attended a twelve-step meeting has heard a speaker share the sensation of ease and calmness they received from substances. This feeling was unfamiliar to them and drugs and alcohol became their way to cope.

Genetic Factors

New research is showing genes that can play a roll in a child’s predisposition to abuse drugs and alcohol. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research suggests that some people have a gene variant that allows signals of pleasure to move quickly from one portion of the brain to the other when alcohol is in play. A number of studies over the past 20 years have suggested a linkage between alcohol dependence and chromosome 4p at the location of the GABA. Aminobutyric acid (GABAA) receptors are thought to play an important role in modulating the central nervous system in response to stress. This could also play an important role in why certain children may process trauma differently and struggle to cope. 

Research has also reported Reduced GABAA benzodiazepine receptor binding in veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder . Research is showing that trauma can impact Gaba receptors, the question now is can children inherit the trauma genetically?

I would personally like to believe even with a predisposition to addiction that we can effectively raise children to cope and process their emotions, but unfortunately, we are just beginning to understand the complexities of cognitive psychology.

If this topic interests you take the time to ask someone battling with addiction how they were taught to process emotions were they able o express their feelings? Did they feel safe to share concerns? Were there feelings dismissed or validated? You may find some interesting similarities. How do we prevent addiction to begin with?

Leave a Reply