When a family member has a problem with drugs or alcohol, the family develops ways of coping with it. Some of these coping strategies are far from ideal: keeping addiction a secret, less communication within the family, not expressing emotions, and taking on some of the responsibilities abandoned by the addict. These coping strategies appear to help the family continue operating more smoothly avoid friction and arguments, but they may also allow the dependency to continue. Family members often experience loneliness, frustration, fear, anger and shame. Some families also feel hopelessness, or they blame themselves. It is important to keep in mind that there are a variety of factors that contribute to a person developing an addiction, and the reasons are quite complex, and may be biological, psychological, and environmental all at the same time.
If the parents are the ones with a dependency, it is important to keep in mind that their addiction creates an unstable family environment. Parents may not effectively and consistently discipline their children, or regularly meet the children’s physical and emotional needs. They may, at times, fail to provide the training in basic life skills; the home environment and parents’ responses and reactions may not be predictable and understood by the children. This leads to them feeling insecure, or unloved. They may begin to act out or withdraw as a reaction to the situation. They may also begin to take on adult responsibilities that are not appropriate to their age. The best way of describing how children cope with substance abuse is by applying these three rules: “Don’t talk, don’t trust and don’t feel”; Moreover, to deal with the situation they react by taking on the following roles.
- The Responsible Child: successful at home and at school, always taking care of others, leaders and decision-makers
- The Lost Child (or adjuster): no longer carrying what is happening within the family, spending time on their own, away from the family; avoid drawing attention to themselves.
- The Placator: always putting others first, warm, empathetic and sensitive, always trying to make others feel better
- The Scape-Goat: acting out, unacceptable behavior, such as fighting, or stealing; getting attention in negative ways.
As the children grow up they continue to deny their own feelings in order to survive. Even as adults, they can’t seem to relax or have fun, experience unexplained depression, and have difficulty with close relationships. Some, develop problems with alcohol or drugs, or marry problem drinkers. As adults, they feel isolated and uneasy with other people, especially authority figures. They became people pleasers, having lost own identities in the process. Usually, they have dependent personalities, are terrified of abandonment, willing to do almost anything to hold on to a relationship . Some of the adult children of alcoholic homes keep choosing insecure relationships because they match the childhood relationships, and feel familiar.