For every addict, there are five to seven people deeply impacted by living with addiction. People whose lives will be forever changed. The most vulnerable of these are children. There are several factors that impact how traumatizing the experience of growing up with addiction might become. Among them are, a child’s access to outside support, their age/developmental level and of course, the natural power imbalance between parent and child. Afterall, where can a child go with their lunchbox, teddy and no money?
Children are trapped by their size, age and dependency when they grow up with addiction. There is little escape from the kinds of shocking, disturbing and disappointing behaviors that surround it. Add to that, that the people who the child would normally go to for comfort, support and to make sense of a scary situation are in fact, the ones scaring them and it becomes a double whammy. Even if one parent is trying their best to maintain stability, if the addict continues to use, that other parent becomes part of the disease, too. And all too often part of the cover-up. Without help, this family will continue to cause considerable and regular pain to the child. And because this pain will likely be hidden and cumulative, it will likely impact the child’s healthy development.
The National Association of Children of Alcoholics (nacoa.org) was incorporated in the USA in 1983 and nacoa.uk five years after that. These organizations have spent the past three decades trying to give forgotten children a voice, to speak for kids who can’t speak for themselves. Their approach has been to educate all who “touch a child’s life” like clergy, doctors, nurses and teachers to recognize the signs of a child who is experiencing, and often evidencing this pain. And to mobalize support “on the hill” so that help for these kids can become part of ongoing initiatives. Kids don’t know how to say, “my family is struggling with addiction and that’s why my grades have gone down. That why I am sullen, I fight, I have less energy, I am anxious. That’s why I don’t always have a lunch packed and my permission slips aren’t signed”. They need us to do this for them. They need us to, at the very least, have some knowledge of what it is to live with familial addiction, so that they aren’t left to manage all alone. So that we can show them understanding.
A few days ago a group of us from nacoa USA had tea with nacoa UK at the ICAAD conference in London. Surrounded by professionals who deal with this issue daily and the warm, engaged and energized energy of the conference, this was a tea that brought friends together, “hands across the water”. It was inspiring and motivating.
We learned about the excellent work that nacoa.UK is doing is both on the ground and in cyber space, is part of this reaching out effort to educate and advocate. “We’re so proud that over the last few years, the Nacoa helpline has been central to a wider national discussion around children affected by their parent’s drinking and how we can help them”, says Piers Henriques, head of communications, nacoa.uk. “With a group of Members of Parliament, we’ve managed to convince the UK government to put in place money for a strategy to help children affected. It’s the first national strategy of its type for COAs in the world. As well as managing our core helpline services, which are available to anyone in the UK, we’ve also been working at reaching out to children, and adult children, by starting conversations in both social and traditional media. Nacoa’s work has been splashed on the front pages of major newspapers, featured in several BBC documentaries, and admired by national and international leaders on social media. Our associated community blog, COAisathing.com, has given voice to hundreds of previously-silent voices. It’s been a busy time, but never in our thirty years have we seen the general understanding of the issue growing so fast. For those affected, it’s enabled countless people to find and support. For those of us demanding that more be done to prevent the damage of someone else’s drinking cascading down the generations, it has given a tremendous momentum.”
GIVE A LISTEN to…..
The ‘Monster Downstairs’ — a BBC Radio documentary featuring the work of nacoa.uk. It provides an extraordinary window into the experience of growing up with addiction. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p075jvb0