I have been looking at a book by Claudia Black, “My Dad Loves Me, My Dad Has
A Disease” (A Child’s View: Living With Addiction, full of pictures and writing by children), and remembering the children of addiction, and the mentally ill. I have seen five-year-olds acting like little adults, some even saving their parents from death by overdose and other calamities. I have seen children acting out to be the cry for help for the family. I have worked with children who have learned to dissociate, check out of their bodies and minds to escape the pain. I have seen children abused, verbally, emotionally, physically, sexually, spiritually. I have known more than one addicted mother who had lived in her car with her children, all of them doing whatever they could just to eat. I have known many parents who have lost their children because of addiction. More children have lost their parents. Bill Moyers, in his marvelous PBS series on addiction, introduced a family where both parents were heroin addicts. He focused on the children and how they coped. It was heartbreaking, but also showed the amazing resilience of children. In Black’s book, one child writes, “I don’t know which Mom I’ll be coming home to.” Another writes, “My dad takes all the money for drugs, so we never get anything, like bikes” (each is accompanied by the child’s drawing). I have known children who were terrified by the sound of ice in a glass!
I have often been awed by the children. What adaptable little survivors they are! What is sad is that they have no choice. There is another side to this: Just today I was in an addiction self-help meeting, and there were children there, as there usually are. These are happy children, clinging lovingly to their clean and sober parents. There is a room set aside for children with games, toys, videos, books, but some children, especially the younger ones, even babes in arms, stay with their parents and are exposed to honesty and hope, as well as some colorful language, by the sober adults there. I once attended a meeting where a mother and her 14-year-old son came regularly because they were both alcoholics. It was wonderful to see that boy getting and staying sober. Yes, they can be out of control alcoholics and addicts that young! He started at 12. I have worked with children who were involved in Alateen, the self-help program for the children of alcoholics. What wonderful growth they get there as they shed their guilt and shame. I have seen children who “grew up” in AA or NA get help sooner with their own problems if they became addicted, because they knew where to go and knew it was safe there.
Most of all, I work with the adult children of alcoholic/addicted/mentally ill parents, or even grandparents. My family is typical of the latter. The alcoholism was in the grandparents, but our parents were both affected by it and it affected how they related to others, how they parented. My mother was dissociative. My father was a rager. We children fell into classic survival roles of the alcoholic family, without a living alcoholic around! Addiction has been called a family disease, and it is, affecting multiple generations, troubled children becoming troubled parents. I survived, but I became a troubled boy who became an alcoholic. My poor son had a drunken, angry father until he turned 16. He did not inherit the disease, and he is a better parent than I, as I, despite the alcoholism, was a better parent than my father. This is one of the wonderful things about the work I do; I get to help break the multi-generational chain of dysfunction and spare future children the pain I and so many experienced growing up. I made a lot of mistakes in my life because I did not learn healthy coping or relationship skills in my family, but I eventually learned that it is never too late for an adult child to grow up and pass on a better way of being in the world to the children.

Author's Bio: 

Paul Hood is a Licensed Professional Counselor, practicing in Evergreen and Bailey, Colorado as Mountain Spirit Counseling, LLC. He has been counseling alcoholics and addicts since 1983 and was formerly an Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor (lapsed) and a member of the Board of Directors of the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors. He holds a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology with a specialty in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling. He has been working with the families of addicted people since 1987. He is a former member of the Marin County Dual Diagnosis Task Force and has worked with individuals with co-occurring chemical dependency and mental disorders since 1987. He continues to do alcohol and drug primary Intensive Outpatient Treatment, part-time, with the Valley Hope Foundation in Centennial and Westminster, Colorado in addition to his private practice.

Paul also has attended and continues to attend many hours of continuing education and worked to stay current in the fields of Substance Abuse, Psychotherapy, and Marriage/Family/Relationship Counseling. He is qualified for substance abuse and psychological assessment. He has special expertise in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), particularly in adolescents and adults, Bipolar Disorder, Personality Disorders, Anxiety Disorders (including PTSD) and Depression. He is trained in a broad spectrum of counseling and psychotherapy techniques, and is currently training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.