Children of divorce are particularly vulnerable to drug and alcohol addiction. This article intends to explore why this may be the case.
Divorce is never easy for children. They often feel guilt, a loss of attention, a need to choose sides, and a tumult of other conflicting emotions. Dealing with this stress, when coupled with the changes in parenting style and communication that typically happen during a divorce, leave children more at risk of drug use, abuse, and addiction that at any other time. Children whose parents are divorced are more than 50 percent more likely to regularly abuse alcohol than children in two-parent homes. Understanding exactly why a child whose parents have divorced is more at risk for addiction is important in recognizing the signs of addiction and seeking help.
Children Resist Change
Children naturally resist change. They are most at risk of deviant behavior, like sexuality or substance abuse, when extreme changes happen at once. It is these extreme changes, that often occur significantly in a divorced household. Children are more likely to move to new school districts. They are shuttled between parents' homes. They see other adult figures in their lives come and go as step-parents or long term significant others enter and exit the picture. Each time one of these life altering events occur, they are placed at risk of deviancy again.
Children Are Master Manipulators
It does not take children of divorced homes long to learn how to play one parent against the other. The parents naturally have to alter their parenting style, because they are no longer living in the same household, making it almost impossible to work together with the child. This makes it easier for the child to engage in risky behaviors, like substance abuse, without getting caught. A single parent has half as many eyes as a parenting team, and children who begin down the wrong road can hide it longer in a single-parent home.
Children Act Out Their Hurts
Children act out physically when they are hurt emotionally. Roughly 25 percent of all children who suffer parents' divorce will struggle with finding an appropriate coping mechanism. These children act out their fear, hurt, and anger in self-destructive ways, often using sexuality, drug abuse, and alcohol to mask their depression.
Children Should Be Children
The younger children experiment with drugs or alcohol, the more likely they will suffer addiction during the adolescent years. 54 percent of fifth and sixth graders, whose parents are divorced, have experimented with alcohol. This is nearly twice the risk of alcohol experimentation found in fifth and sixth graders in two parent settings.
When a parent suspects that their child is struggling to cope with a recent divorce, or is experimenting with drug use, they should seek medical care immediately. The sooner a child gets help facing their addiction, the sooner they can heal and move forward. Failure to get them help, however, will lead to a lifetime of substance abuse, and broken promises.
If you’d like a first-person account from a child of addicted parents, check out our interview with Amy Eden. If you or a loved one is facing addiction, click here to browse local rehabilitation facilities and break the cycle of addiction.