Sis Wenger, NACoA President/CEO
Nothing is more impactful in shaping the life trajectory of a child than the values he or she learns at home. Children learn through the modeling of their parents, grandparents, siblings, and other caregivers.
But what if that family at home is broken? Every day in the United States an estimated 19 million children and teens are affected by or exposed to a family alcohol problem. Many others are impacted by a family drug problem. Research convincingly reveals that children growing up in these environments are much more likely to be subjected to adverse childhood experiences, use drugs and alcohol more than others, use them earlier, and develop mental and physical health problems that negatively impact them throughout their lives. Most will never receive the focused early intervention and support they need unless they attend a school with a student assistance program that includes addressing their issues. They suffer in silence as they attempt to navigate through the chaos that alcoholism and drug abuse create in families.
SAMHSA/CSAT data suggests that 90% of people who need treatment for alcohol or drug use disorders do not receive treatment. While many addicted parents find other ways to recover such as 12-step programs, the majority still do not. Consequently, only a small fraction of the children in our country who are adversely impacted by their parents’ alcohol or drug use see their parents recover from these destructive disorders. Even when a parent recovers, it doesn’t always follow that the anxiety, guilt, sense of abandonment, anger, shame or other hurts the child has suffered will be addressed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Even when the parents do not recover, the child can, and can go on to lead a safe and productive life, provided there is a concerned helping hand during those critical developmental years which helps them be safe and to make sense of the craziness that governs their families.
It often takes only one caring adult. Clergy, neighbors, grandparents, relatives, teachers, coaches, counselors, primary health professionals and other trusted adults can provide needed support, thereby breaking the silence that reinforces their sense of shame, stigma and isolation, whether or not their parents find recovery. In other words, these potential influencers in a child’s life matter – and they matter greatly. They have the power and opportunity to make the critical difference, to help grow healthy kids. Adults can –- and do — change the trajectory of an impacted child’s life, simply by caring and being there.
Sis Wenger, NACoA President/CEO, has trained about and advocated for children growing up with parental alcoholism and addiction for over 35 years.