Coping with Addiction: The Children

In every family, each person has a role to play. but with drug abuse, those roles will shift and cause long-term problems.

While parents are typically the caregivers and the ones who provide for the family and protect them, with children dependent on the parents, drug abuse can change this.

How do things change? Children take on new roles to cope with the addiction.

For example:

Mary and her husband John have three children. John had trouble at work and turned to drugs and alcohol. He became an abusive addict. While Mary tried to protect her children, Christina, the oldest daughter took on the role of the enabler and the hero. She cleaned up after her father’s addictions so that her mother wouldn’t see it and get upset. She bought groceries when her mother was helping her father. She made sure that the younger children were always ready for school and walked them to their classrooms. Christina worked hard to make everything as perfect as possible, cleaning up after everyone, helping the younger children with homework, and always overachieving in school.

The middle child, a boy named Evan, became lost and isolated from his family. He responded to the addiction and abuse in the home by distracting himself with fantasy books and fantasy movies. He didn’t have any friends and he barely talked to anyone in the family.

The youngest boy, Christopher, always tried to make jokes when things got bad. He could tell when his dad was high or drunk and he could tell when his mom was about to break down and cry from the stress. When these moments happened he would make jokes to try and ease the tension in the room so that no one would overreact, throw things, or hurt anyone.

The Addicted Individual

In a home where there is addiction, one or more parents will face emotional turmoil, remorse, guilt, and shame because they can see the distress and the pain that they are causing their children but they are unable to quit whatever substance they are addicted to. The decision not to get treatment or the recognition that they failed can make them even angrier and cause them to lash out against their family. When this happens it makes the remorse, shame, and guilt even worse in a terrible cycle.

But it’s not just the addicts who are impacted, the children are impacted as well.


The oldest child or maybe the spouse that doesn’t have an addiction will become an enabler without meaning to. Enabling an addiction might originally come from a place of love. The non addicted spouse or the older child just starts taking care of the things that the addicted parent isn’t doing like making sure all the younger siblings get up and get ready for school, making excuses for parents when they don’t show up somewhere they should, or buying groceries when a parent doesn’t.


The older child might take on extra responsibilities trying to keep the house as perfect as possible and usually assuming some of the same roles that the parent is supposed to. In response to the potential damage of a household with addiction, this older child will try to appear competent and serious in all things. They will work hard to overachieve, and do more than should be expected at their stage of development. Unfortunately, the child who takes on the role of the hero ends up with even more responsibilities as addiction gets worse.

Trouble Maker

There might be one younger family member who regularly misbehaves or gets in trouble not just at home but it’s cool. And as this child starts displaying defiant behavior toward authority figures, they get in trouble with the law as well. Children who have these problems behave this way because it is a response to the chaos of a home with addiction. And as the addiction in the family progresses, the level of trouble but the younger family member is in gets worse. It starts to affect every part of their life.


Other children might try to bring levity to the situation by always making jokes or using humor. Humor can be another coping mechanism. The child who realizes that making jokes can temporarily bring relief to a tense situation might take it upon themselves to always try and keep the tension low at home by making jokes whenever it is necessary. This child will be seen as more casual and happy compared to children like the hero or the troublemaker, but they end up working too hard to try and keep levity in the home when a serious problem arises.

Lost Ones

Addiction can also result in one or more children becoming lost. As older children try and pick up the slack and some children try to compensate with humor, their other family members who just get isolated from their siblings and their parents. They can’t develop relationships. This starts to affect the rest of their life as well because they can’t engage with friends at school or in social situations. When there is a negative environment at home because of addiction, the Lost Children find ways to distract themselves physically or emotionally from all of the bad things that are happening and they usually turn to things like fantasy in book form, games, movies, and more. The long-term detriment is that they are never able to really pull themselves away from this fantasy world and develop healthy relationships down the line.


Lacey has worked for over a decade as a writer, in conjunction with having worked around the world in poor social and economic living conditions to provide sustainability programs through numerous non-profits. Her efforts focus on making a difference in people's lives one small step at a time.