When a person becomes addicted to drugs and alcohol, the entire family unit suffers. In a household with active addiction, a once safe environment can become hostile and stressful, affecting the family's unity and the physical and mental health of all of its members.
Beth Covelli, the Senior Director for Outpatient Services, and Kerri Black, a family therapist at Outreach Treatment Center in New York City, spoke with CBS News as part of the #14Days on the Wagon series.
Covelli explained that addiction makes the entire family sick, and it can be especially upsetting for the family when the addict is a young person. According to a 2009 government survey, one in 10 kids between 12 and 17 years of age are current users of illicit drugs.
Outreach features an outpatient program that treats middle school aged adolescents. Kerri Black works with some of these children in their homes. In home visits, she sees firsthand the devastating effect addiction has on the entire family.
Families become increasingly dysfunctional as addiction takes root inside the home. Because substance abuse involves shame and stigma, it is typically kept secret. Family members begin playing specific survival roles to cope with the chaos addiction brings.
These survival roles can shape a child's developing personality, Covelli says. "It becomes who they are and what defines them in their family. When families have intervention and they get healthier, those survival roles can develop into stronger coping skills."
She goes on to say that, just as the addict needs to learn ways to cope with his or her disease, so do members of their family. Community support can be incredibly effective in helping families affected by addiction. Outreach Treatment Center offers support services in New York City; Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are popular national programs that champion a message of self-care for families affected by addiction.
These issues are important for families to be aware of when their children are young, even if drugs and alcohol are not currently a problem. Because some of the kids Black and Covelli have worked with at Outreach began using drugs as early as the age of six, Black advocates the importance of early prevention tactics. She says simply speaking openly with young children about drugs and the dangers of addiction can help mitigate the effects of peer pressure or their own innate curiosity, preventing substance use in the first place.
If you are concerned about your child using drugs, Black suggests some signs to watch out for: "We're looking for changes in behaviors. Parents know their children better than anybody. So we're looking for changes in academics, whether it's grades, behaviors in class, truancy from school, their attitudes and behaviors at home, changes in the friends they're spending time with."
She says if a child shows any of these signs, take action immediately. Have a conversation with the child, and seek outside help from a counselor. She also notes that addiction is a progressive disease and a person can become dependent within a very short period of time.
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