Commentary: Children from Addicted Families

Children of addicts often grow up in broken homes. Therefore, when an addict parent is going through the process of recovery, the treatment of the child is incredibly important as well. Clinical Psychologist, Rosalie Cruise Jesse addresses these needs in an innovative treatment plan. In her thirty years working in a hospital, she rarely found that the needs of addict’s children were addressed adequately. Many of these children experience neglect, abuse, or other traumatizing experiences due to the presence of addiction in their family unit. Such experiences can greatly affect a child’s ability to self-regulate and to thrive as they grow up. The addict parent is an essential agent in the recovery of the child, making recovery a family affair.  Because the parent’s actions were so impactful upon their child, they must renew bonds of communication and trust with them, to ensure their psychological well being.

Jesse’s treatment plan is divided into chapters in a book and has sections regarding the treatment of “Traumatization”, “The Child Versus the System”, “The Process of Child Development”, “The Family in Recovery”, and “The Child in Recovery”.  Jesse’s subjects of examination are children in middle childhood, between the ages of 7 and 11, and the polyaddicted family, because the majority of addicts present with more than one addiction. Instances of child abuse, including psychological abuse and neglect, and corresponding addictions are investigated. The development of the relationship between the addict and child and any siblings must be thoroughly investigated, as does the ways addiction can distort relationships inside the family unit.

Childhood is an important time because it is when a great deal of deterministic physical and mental development occurs. Children from addicted families may present with a myriad of problems, due to their inability to receive proper physical and mental care during this time. These children may have perception and attention difficulties, issues with cognitive development, including a low IQ score and trouble with language concepts, and motor development problems, such as hyperactivity and listlessness. Anxiety and depression are believed to be a major component of such issues, as are motivation problems, sensitivity to stress, chronic overreaction, and possibly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(1) .

The child will be impacted by their parent’s treatment, including the rebuilding of the family unit during sobriety, in either a positive or negative way. Such responses are important in determining the time it will take the child to recover and to what degree they may need support and assistance. The child must be examined as an individual in the context of this treatment, but his family dynamics cannot be overlooked. Childhood experiences are impactful upon an individual’s ability to be in control of himself and to be intimate with others. If these skills are not recovered, he will struggle throughout every stage of his life. In this sense, recovery can be a life changing experience for both parent and child alike. Therefore it is essential that each have their personal and familial needs addressed effectively.


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