If Your Parents Are Addicts, Will You Be One Too?
If you are raised by someone with a substance abuse problem, it is only natural to wonder if your parents are addicts, will you be one, too. While addiction may have a genetic component and environmental factors can predispose one to addiction, you will not necessarily become an addict yourself. Children of addicts need to be vigilant and thoughtful about their relationship to drugs and alcohol, but addiction is never inevitable. There are things you can do to prevent the cycle of addiction from continuing through you.
The first and most important principle you must always remember is that the only thing you can control is yourself, and your choices are what shape your life, not your parents’ decisions, biology, or random statistics. Yes, children of addicts are more likely to become addicts themselves, but in truth, everyone has a fifty-fifty chance of becoming one. The reward circuitry in our brain that is triggered by substance abuse is also triggered by a number of normal, pleasurable activities. That reward system is actually one of our evolutionary advantages. Among other things, it encourages us to eat and mate. Even those healthy activities can backfire on anyone, however, if we eat too much or become sexually indiscriminate. The point is that we all have the potential for addiction hardwired into our brains, regardless of our family’s history with addiction. Children of addicts simply need to be more mindful of that predisposition since the environment they grow up in fosters unhealthy behaviors, poor coping skills, and a familiarity with substance abuse that others do not have.
While taking responsibility for oneself and feeling empowered can make a tremendous difference, on a practical level, you also need to develop skills that allow you to cope with life in healthy ways. Through counseling, support groups, and self-improvement, you can learn how to contend with life’s ups and downs in a positive and productive manner. Support groups are great because they let you know you are not alone. You meet a group of people who can empathize with your situation and reinforce the idea that your parents’ addiction is not a reflection upon you. A therapist, particularly one who specializes in addiction, can provide valuable insight into your upbringing and how it affects you today. By being able to understand addiction and your specific circumstances, you can break harmful patterns and replace feelings of despair with hope. Addiction professionals view stress as the primary trigger of substance abuse. If you build a life that reduces the occurrence of stress and acquire the tools you need to diminish its effects, you will have significantly improved your chances of avoiding addiction.
Of course, the best way to eliminate the possibility of becoming an addict is to abstain entirely from drugs or alcohol. There may come a day, however, when you are prescribed essential medication that has the potential to become habit-forming or you want to join in a celebratory toast. Unless you are an addict or in recovery, there is nothing wrong with taking that medication or trying an alcoholic beverage, if you have taken certain precautionary measures that constrain those calculated risks. You should make sure that all medical professionals who treat you are aware that you have a family history of addiction. This is just as important as informing a doctor there is a family history of heart disease or cancer. Armed with the proper knowledge, your doctor can be on the lookout for signs of addiction and will be more likely to come up with less risky treatment options. Also, the support systems you developed to understand the role of your family’s addiction can provide another layer of protection.
If you are seeing a therapist or going to a support group, tell them about your encounters with drugs and alcohol. This is effective on two levels. Primarily, it allows you to talk about your experiences and how they affect you. It is only natural to be concerned that a healthy use of medication or consumption of alcohol could quickly snowball into addiction. Being able to talk about those feelings will help you cope with your anxiety. Furthermore, the more people who know you have been exposed to potentially addictive substances and are aware of your family history, the more likely someone will notice and address with you any early signs of addiction you may display. Of course, nobody wants to feel watched all of the time, but if you take these preemptive steps before addictive substances enter the equation, you will be far more likely to stop addiction from taking hold.
Everyone has the potential to become an addict, and we should all be thoughtful about our relationship with drugs and alcohol. If your parents were addicts, you are by no means doomed to become one yourself. You do, however, need to be more cautious than those who have grown up in sober households. By taking certain steps, such as educating yourself, placing your upbringing in the proper context, developing healthy coping skills, and building strong support systems, you can minimize the impact of your parents’ addiction on your life and the chances that you, too, will become an addict. Life is a series of choices, and, regardless of who your parents are, you have the power to make decisions that lead to a happy, healthy, and addiction-free life.