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The Aftermath: Growing Up with an Addicted Parent

During the four years I spent behind bars, I had dozens of cellmates – most of whom were drug addicts. I came to know many of them well and they all seemed to have one thing in common: They had at least one parent who was addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Absorbing the Fallout of Addiction

Unsurprisingly, these women had had horrific childhoods. Because of the trauma they’d experienced as children, a certain pattern of character traits had somehow become ingrained within them – forever altering their personalities and outlooks on life.

To illustrate just how deeply children are impacted when they’re raised by an addicted parent or parents, let’s take a into their futures. Here are a few of the traits these children develop and carry into adulthood:

    • Constant Fear: Many women I lived with were emotionally closed off– they were terrified of letting someone in and then being abandoned. Only after months of living together would they eventually open up and trust. This constant fear leads to isolation as many become convinced they need no one else in their lives but themselves.

    • Approval-Seeking: Self-esteem in these women, I’d find, was always exceptionally low – and it was no wonder. Just imagine how it would feel if your parent picked the bottle over their own flesh and blood?
      Addicted parents are not emotionally there for their kids and are, therefore, unable to provide the love and nurturing required to form secure attachment. As a result, their offspring grow up seeking that in all relationships going forward. This need for approval manifests itself in co-dependent and self-sacrificing behavior. I’d often witness these women give, give, give to their own detriment, losing their own identity in the process.


    • Addicted to Drama: Sure, prison, alone, has its own fair share of drama, but it always seemed to be the addicts who were the front and center of every altercation. These same women, I learned, also landed themselves in an endless cycle of dysfunctional relationships, often those involving constant physical abuse or habitually cheating boyfriends. This is because children who grow up in a household centered around addiction know not peace, but chaos, stress and unrest. Sadly, they feel at home in these circumstances, not because it is healthy, but because it feels “normal.”


  • Anger Management Issues: My cellmates seemed to fly off the handle at the most unexpected moments. Living together in close quarters could become pretty stressful at times, and I would never know if what I said or did would set them off. For the children of addicts, I’ve come to find out, have “stuffed” their feelings from their traumatic childhoods for so long that they’ve lost the ability to express them normally. As a result, many become addicts, themselves, to numb the pain they’ve buried for so long.

You’re in Control of Your Own Destiny

If you are the daughter of an addict, it doesn’t mean you have to follow in their footsteps. Counseling and therapy exist so you don’t have to keep suffering in silence.

A normal, happy life is possible – just don’t be afraid to make that first step and reach out for help.

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