How Parenting Styles Can Contribute to Adult Addiction

Being the parent of an adult child struggling with addiction can be a heartbreaking experience, and it can be all too easy to blame yourself for your child’s choices. But by learning to address the guilt stemming from your child’s addiction and better understand the potential connections between parenting and addiction, you can use your role as a parent to shape your child’s recovery. This will allow you and your son or daughter to work together toward creating a happier, healthier future.

Every action that we take in the presence of another person has the potential to affect them in ways we cannot always predict, or even imagine. We might not think about it consciously, or even realize the extent of these effects, but whether this influence shows its face in a day, a week, or a year, it is there—and nowhere is this more evident than in a parent-child relationship.

Taking on the role of the parent is something that requires the courage to walk down many paths without knowing what lies ahead. Your method of discipline, the way you reward your children, the goals that you try to instill within them—you hope that these choices put your child on the path to success and work in their favor, but sometimes the way that we live and our actions push our children in directions that we don’t expect. Sometimes, these directions lead to addiction.

Addressing the Guilt Stemming from Your Child’s Addiction

If your son or daughter is showing signs of addiction, it’s natural to fear for them—and for yourself. You worry it was your parenting choices years ago that pushed them down this path. You want to “fix” the situation, to help your child, but you don’t know what to do. The feelings of shame, guilt, and fear seem like too much to handle, and you become caught in a cycle of self-blame.

But addiction isn’t so simple that parenting is ever the sole cause—addiction is a disease of the brain that changes the way that we think. Yes, parenting can contribute to the development of addiction, but remember, parenting doesn’t end when your child moves out and begins to create their own life. And, no matter what happened years ago, or what the true root cause of your child’s addiction is, guilt and shame will not help you or your child overcome this situation. What will help is understanding how your parenting is linked to your child’s addiction, and using this knowledge to rebuild your bond with them on a healthier foundation, working with them to begin the process of healing and recovering from their addiction.

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Potential Connections Between Parenting and Addiction

For years, many researchers have emphasized the notion that addiction is influenced by attachment, that the unique relationship fostered between children and their parents during their early years sets the stage for the nature of later interpersonal relationships which can foster addiction. If your adult child is struggling with addiction, understanding the nature of the parent-child bond’s link to addiction is necessary if you want to help them break free from their struggle.

Uninvolved Parenting

Also known as neglectful parenting, uninvolved parents lack focus on their children—they have few expectations for them, pay them limited attention, and ultimately play a small role in their lives compared to other types of parent-child relationships. Of course, this is often unintentional—many uninvolved parents do not realize this is their style until they take a step back to consider what uninvolved parenting really looks like.

Maybe you had a demanding hourly work week when your child was young and simply couldn’t find the time to make it to parent-teacher conferences or share hobbies with them. Chances are, you’ve had emotional and physical struggles of your own to deal with over the years; perhaps these took up the time or energy you might otherwise have spent on your child. Or, maybe you were simply too stressed or exhausted to engage with them on an emotional level at the end of a long workday.

Whatever the case, the fact remains that uninvolved parenting has been linked to insecure attachment—which, of all the attachment styles, appears to be the most likely to lead to addiction. In these cases, children come to rely not on their parents but themselves, looking for ways to self-regulate, and many times their solutions end up involving substance abuse. One study highlights the connection between insecure attachment and addiction, showing higher rates of depressive personality traits and more severe psychiatric problems in alcoholics with this attachment style compared to the securely-attached group.

Authoritarian Parenting

Unlike authoritative parenting, which mixes strictness with compassion and understanding, authoritarian parents are adamant in enforcing rules and regulations, but tend do so (intentionally or not) with a focus on fostering obedience, rather than building a mutual understanding. For instance, imagine your child has stayed out late past their curfew. Parents of both styles are likely to punish him or her, but an authoritarian parent will not feel it is necessary to provide any sort of explanation as to why he or she is being punished.

Like uninvolved parenting, authoritarian parenting also tends to create an insecure attachment style and, as such, has also been implicated in addiction.

Permissive Parenting

No matter how strong your desire is to express your love for your child, when a high level of nurturance isn’t coupled with some level of control, children can become dependent to an unhealthy degree.Permissive, or indulgent, parents express low (if any) expectations in terms of chores, grades, and homework, giving the child much more freedom to do what they want. They also provide their child with a high level of attention—parents that fall under this parenting style are quick to respond to their children’s needs and wants, even minor ones, and are highly unlikely to punish their child, even when they misbehave. This, unfortunately, can create an anxious attachment style defined by a strong desire for affirmation coupled with an intense fear of abandonment.

The lack of discipline and self-control permissive parenting tends to lead to opens up more opportunity for children to fall into patterns of drug use. In addition, the anxiety fostered by anxious attachment styles opens up many more doors that could lead to anxiety disorders, which are often comorbid with substance abuse disorders. Research highlights the effects of permissive parenting on addiction, revealing a link to increases in alcohol and tobacco use during adolescence.

Using Your Role as a Parent to Shape Recovery

The connection between these parenting styles and a child’s susceptibility to substance abuse is well-researched, but this is by no means an exhaustive list—and, as mentioned above, one parenting style or another is never the sole cause of addiction. Unearthing the biggest factors in your child’s struggle with addiction isn’t that simple—but you can help facilitate this process by using your role as a parent now to help your child seek proper residential treatment.

Mistakes are a part of life for both children and adults—we can’t foresee the effects of even the most well-intentioned actions down the road. Nevertheless, it’s important for both your sake and that of your child to move past this guilt and use your role as a parent to help guide them towards recovery.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive addiction rehabilitation for people living with a number of substance abuse disorders. Contact us today to learn how you can uncover the nature of the relationship between you and your child and use this understanding to promote recovery.