Would you be surprised to know that more than 8.3 million children under 18 years of age, or almost 12 percent of U.S. children, live with at least one parent who was dependent on or abused alcohol or an illicit drug during the past year? This is according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey sponsored by SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). For more information on and statistics from this study, go to www.oas.samhsa.gov.
The nature of addiction is cyclical, and how parents' behavior impacts their children is something to keep in the forefront of our minds. Joelle Katan, outpatient therapist in the substance abuse treatment program at West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, helps guide adults, many of whom are parents, toward sobriety. "Many of my clients are adult children of alcoholics. I remember one client whose story about his son has remained a powerful picture to me. When the man was drinking and his son used to ask for a sip from his glass, he'd always say 'no' because there was alcohol in the glass. He was aware he was a bad example, but he couldn't stop drinking. He wanted to be a better parent," Katan recalled. "After coming through treatment and reaching recovery, he could freely and proudly tell his son 'yes' when he asked for a sip from his cup, because there was no alcohol in it. He not only redeemed himself, but he redeemed the idea of being a good parent."
Soon, the fifth anniversary of Children's Mental Health Awareness Day will be upon us. Thursday, May 6, is that day. While the focus is on children, the role that adults play in a child's mental health status should not be forgotten. The SAMHSA organizers of this Awareness Day have the following vision: to promote positive youth development, resilience, recovery, and the transformation of mental health services delivery for children and youth with serious mental health needs and their families. Awareness Day raises awareness of effective programs for children's mental health needs; demonstrates how children's mental health initiatives promote positive youth development, recovery, and resilience; and shows how children with mental health needs thrive in their communities.
According to Sean Derry, child and family therapist at West Yavapai Guidance Clinic, the entire family makes adjustments once a parent moves from abusing drugs/alcohol to a life of recovery. "Often, children have had to take on the parental roles when the parent is using substances. Children can struggle with giving up their new role and trusting that the parent will provide the stability and predictability that they need," Derry said. "There is a need for communication and patience as the family learns to function in a new way. Allowing strong feelings and concerns to be expressed and worked through is crucial."