Shocking But Increasingly Common
Earlier this year, the world heard of a tragic story that took place at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. While a seven-year-old girl was undergoing reconstructive surgery on her windpipe, her parents, Wesley and Mary Ann Landers, were busy shooting heroin in the hospital’s bathroom. In the end, the little girl’s mother died of a fatal opiate overdose, and her father is behind bars on a series of drug and firearms related charges.
While this story is particularly shocking due to the location and outcome of events, heartbreaking tales of drug addicted parents are not rare. The National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that more than 2.5 million Americans currently struggle with opiate abuse. But the effects of drug abuse are not only felt by the addicts. In another survey, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that 2.2 million children in America are currently living with one or more parent who is dependent on or abuses illegal drugs.
The Challenges Of Parenting As An Addict
While being a drug user is not guaranteed to make someone a bad parent, raising a child while struggling with heroin addiction can pose numerous dangers and challenges.
Many heroin addicts fail to see the harm that their drug use has on their ability to parent, but studies have shown that children living in homes where one or more parent is a regular drug user are far more likely to have delayed brain development, difficulty with controlling their emotions, and poor behavior in school.
The risks a heroin user faces when rearing a child include:
- Wild and unpredictable mood swings when the needs of addiction are not met.
- Impaired motor skills and alertness, especially during potentially dangerous activates like driving a vehicle or cooking over an open flame.
- Long periods of inattentiveness when the parent is on an opiate induces fog, leaving the child without proper supervision.
- Prioritizing one’s heroin addiction over the material needs of the child, often leading to malnourishment and inadequate clothes/shelter.
Moving Towards A Better Future
Many heroin addicted parents make the argument that the social stigma attached to their drug use contributes to their parenting struggles. Out of fear of losing their children, opiate addicts are hesitant to reach out for the support offered to other groups of at risk parents, leading to feelings of isolation and helplessness. If you are a parent struggling with heroin addiction, know that help is available.
Overcoming your addiction can be a long and painful process, but it is the only way to ensure that you are providing the best care for you children. Take the initiative before the government steps in by seeking professional counseling and treatment. Community outreach groups and churches are a great source of support that are very often free.
Experiencing withdrawal and resisting the urge to relapse is incredibly difficult to manage alone. Depending on how severe your addiction has become, you might also consider spending time in a residential rehabilitation program.
Ways To Help An Addicted Parent
If someone close to you is raising a child while battling heroin addiction, you can help in the following ways:
- Offer them your support, rather than judgment. Harsh words are likely to result in anger, make sure the parent knows that your only concern is helping them and their children achieve a better life.
- Learn more about the effects of heroin use. Understanding exactly what an addict is going through is the foundation of building empathy.
- Offer to care for the child while their parent seeks treatment at a rehabilitation center.
- Instead of providing direct monetary support, offer to buy grocery, pay a bill, or purchase clothing for the addict’s children. But take care not to enable the parent. There’s a fine line between help and enablement.
Discover more ways to love an addict without enabling them here.
Countless parents are able to overcome their heroin addiction for the sake of their children and go on to live healthy, happy lives in recovery. Regardless of how dire your situation may seem, know that there is always hope for you and your family.