It’s universally understood that parents who abuse drugs or alcohol are not fully capable of taking care of their children. Addiction is a disease that hijacks the brain- when a parent’s mind is focused on chasing the next high, it leaves little room for them to put food on the table, pay the next rent check or read a bedtime story.
As more families are ravaged by addiction, grandparents are stepping up to the plate. It’s becoming increasingly common for grandparents to play the role of primary caregiver to their grandchildren as their parents struggle with substance addiction. According to Generations United, approximately 2.6 million children in the United States are being raised by their grandparents.
With so many grandparents taking on the new-found responsibility of raising a grandchild, how can they come to terms with their child’s addiction and successfully support a grandchild broken by their parent’s addiction?
Accept That Addiction Is Not You Or Your Grandchild’s Fault
Like most parents of those struggling with addiction, grandparents tend to feel guilt surrounding their child’s addiction. These feelings are amplified because grandparents also have a grandchild to worry about. The grandparents often fear that they could have done something to cause their child’s addiction and in turn, hurt their grandchild unknowingly.
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However, the harsh truth of addiction is that it is no one’s fault. It’s easy to place blame and point the finger at someone or something else, but addiction can happen to anyone. While some people have a predisposition to addiction based on genetic makeup, others fall into substance abuse as an emotional escape. Regardless, no one else can cause someone’s addiction, or cure someone’s addiction.
Accepting that addiction can’t be blamed on the grandparent or the grandchild is an integral step in healing.
Learn About the Second-Hand Effects Of Addiction
While those that are actively addicted don’t intentionally hurt the people around them, their words and actions often do regardless. When a child is removed from an environment where they were witness to heavy drug and alcohol use, they will likely suffer from some physical and emotional traumas due to their exposure to this lifestyle.
These traumas can manifest themselves in the many ways, including:
- Low self-esteem
- General fearfulness
- Stomach problems
- Sleep problems
- Trouble concentrating
- Emotional detachment
- Feelings of shame and guilt
Any combination of these symptoms can appear in a child who has been exposed to addiction. Grandparents should know these signs in order to watch for them and address them with their grandchild if or when they appear.
On the other hand, grandparents are also susceptible to experiencing the ripple effects of their child’s addiction. Understanding these signs is an essential first step in learning to manage and treat them.
Don’t Talk Badly About Your Grandchild’s Addicted Parent
It can be hard for a grandparent to not speak poorly of someone who has hurt their grandchild- even if it’s their own son or daughter. However, a grandchild’s parent is still their parent- regardless of their addiction.
A grandchild’s parent may be in jail, in treatment, or in denial of their illness at any given moment, but that doesn’t mean an addicted parent can’t recover in the future and rekindle a relationship with their child.
Additionally, when a grandparent speaks poorly about an addicted parent to their grandchild, it can cause tension between the two. This friction can create a tumultuous and unhealthy environment.
Instead, grandparents should help their grandchild remember happy memories of their parents, but remain honest about the realities of addiction. Preserving good memories of a grandchild’s parent while building an honest understanding of addiction will help children of addicted parents separate their mom or dad from their disease.
Find A Support Group
States hardest hit by the opioid epidemic are seeing as much as a 62 percent increase in the number of children being placed with a relative in foster care. Many of these children will experience the adverse effects of being exposed to a lifestyle surrounded by drug and alcohol abuse, and many grandparents will be left to manage the emotional aftermath.
With so much stress stemming from addiction, it’s critical that grandparents who are raising a grandchild with addicted parents find a network of support.
Support can come from anyone, but it can be especially therapeutic to speak with others who are going through a similar experience. As relatives are increasingly taking on the responsibility for babies, children and young adults affected by addiction, Generation’s United reports that there has been a surge in addiction support groups for families. Not only are grandparents dealing with raising a grandchild, but they’re also grappling to come to terms with their own child’s addiction.
Grandparents should seek out their local Al-Anon or Nar-Anon chapters to start connecting with other grandparents facing similar challenges.
Talk About Drugs And Alcohol With Your Grandchild
After all the heartbreak that drugs and alcohol have caused, grandparents may think it’s simpler just to brush these topics under the rug. However, not talking about them could hurt a grandchild who grew up in an environment where these substances were heavily abused.
In these cases, the only relationship that the grandchild has with drugs or alcohol is a destructive one. As the primary caregiver, it becomes a grandparents responsibility to show their grandchild that it is possible to have a healthy relationship with drugs and alcohol.
This starts by opening an age-appropriate dialogue between grandparent and grandchild about the reality of drug and alcohol use. While illicit drugs are out of the question, when prescription drugs are used as directed by a doctor, they can dramatically improve someone’s quality of life. Additionally, it’s possible to drink alcohol without getting drunk or blacking out.
Grandparents need to be talking about drugs and alcohol with their grandchild because many teenagers will experiment with one or both at some point in their life, and arming them with knowledge is often the best way to ensure that a grandchild makes the best choice.
After years of gradual decline in the rate of children placed in foster care, this number is once again on the rise with over 30 percent of kids in foster care living with their grandparents. The increase is largely attributed to America’s growing opioid epidemic.
Across the United States, the message is consistent- parents struggling with addiction are pushing more grandparents into the role of primary caregiver to their grandchildren. As this trend increases in popularity, it’s vital to begin including grandparents in the conversation surrounding America’s ongoing battle with addiction and the opioid epidemic.