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Youngest Victims Of Addiction

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 4 Apr 2011 | comments*Discuss
Addiction Children Youngest Family Drugs

Addictions are an enormous problem in adults. Children and teenagers, however, are sometimes the forgotten victims of addiction. They suffer the effects in numerous ways. Whether it is the consequences of living with an addicted parent or being given a medication with potential for addiction when it’s unwarranted, they are the youngest victims of addiction. It’s important for everyone – parent or not – to be aware of how young people are affected by addiction.

Young People and Prescription Medications

Prescription medications used long-term such as those for ADHD have led to concerns among educators and opinion leaders regarding safety. Millions of children under the age of eighteen have received a diagnosis of ADHD and the standard treatment is with medication. Some studies even show that the youngest child in a class is most likely to receive the diagnosis, primarily due to their emotional and social development stage rather than the condition of ADHD.

A problem with the drug used – Ritalin – is that although when used properly it’s thought to help concentration and focus, it can also be abused to give users a pleasurable high. Such abuse may come from adults or teenagers seeking it out and using it when they have not been diagnosed with ADHD. Others are diagnosed with ADHD but take more of the drug dosage. This is more common in teenagers rather than children who have their drugs dispensed by parents or teachers. There have been reports of young people who, when unable to access more Ritalin via their monitored prescription, have purchased the drug illegally to experience its effects.

Young People and Addicted Families

Addiction has many causes and perhaps similarly numerous effects. For children who live in a home where there are addicted parents, the effects are devastating. Millions of children live in an alcoholic home and suffer from a variety of consequences.

A child who has parents dealing with addiction is more likely to suffer from alcoholism or drug abuse compared to their peers. We know this to be true because alcoholism and other drug addictions have a familial thread. The effects of living in an environment of drug addiction, particularly where the parents do not fulfill a positive parenting role, compound the potential for addiction in the child.

Addiction and Family Conflict

Another issue is that where addiction is present in the home, there is a higher likelihood of family conflict. Lack of communication between parent and child and overall unhealthy parenting styles can be damaging to children. Emotional and physical abuse can occur and children can be left very isolated. In addition, children who live in a home with drug-addicted parents are much more likely to be removed from the home at some point, which further disrupts their growth and development. While their safety can improve when being placed with foster parents, they can still feel a sense of instability and have the challenge of adjusting to a new home.

Yet another problem is that children of addicted parents are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. They may show more behavioural problems at school and have difficulties with their peer group. Issues with self-esteem can lead them to try drugs and alcohol in hopes of fitting in with other children at school. Because addiction has some genetic threads, when coupled with an environment that puts children in close contact with a situation where they can try alcohol or drugs, research suggests they may be particularly vulnerable to addiction.

Overcoming Addiction

Overcoming addiction means helping parents to treat their addiction so that children can grow up safe, healthy and free from its effects. It also means understanding better the factors that lead to so many children being diagnosed with conditions, then prescribed drugs with addiction potential without properly monitoring them and ensuring treatment is correct. All young people deserve the best environment but sadly, they are far too often our youngest victims of addiction.

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