Family Addictions

Why do parents use dangerous drugs with their children, such as cocaine or even heroin?

Rev. Rich MollicaRev. Rich Mollica

Rev. Richard Mollica has 17 years of professional experience in providing Christian counseling, group counseling, pastoral care, and intervention services. He has also helped to establish Christ-centered programming in treatment facilities across the country.

I write this based on my work experience, with no intention of demonizing families or flinching. 

As with any behavior, there are different motivations for different people. I want to focus on what I see as the most understandable patterns:

  • Affection and connection.

As unbelievable as it may sound, an addicted parent has normalized their use over years. The ways that they know how to connect and feel friendship and relationship are all centered around getting high. How can we be closer? How can we stop fighting? How can the thing that I do all the time or much of the time stop dividing us? The answer is irrational and puts another life in jeopardy, but it makes distorted sense in the midst of an active addiction.

  • Feeling needed and being able to care for a child's needs.

Shame can creep into any parent's mind when they look back with regret. For the parent who is addicted, often times there are years that they know they cannot get back. When their child is using they can, in a distorted way, parent them. They can protect them from danger on the street, tend to them when they have been injured, help them get drugs to avoid withdrawal symptoms, etc. All this would be avoided if the child was sober, of course, but that thought isn't allowed to enter the perception. The need being met, in a very destructive way, is the need to feel like a good mom or dad--the need to feel like a good nurturer and protector.

  • Equipping for life/ Rite of passage.

In a person's addictive worldview, EVERYONE does exactly what they are doing. Everyone gets high is the false truth.  "Everyone gets high" is their false truth.  Therefore, getting high with a child--as young as 12, or a 16 year-old-- is seen as a kind of a preparation for life. "If I show them, they will be safer" is a real belief.

How does a parent get restored after this?

  • Get help and get sober. "If you do what you did you will get what you got" is a true statement. Arresting the addictive process is the only way to remain in relationship and stop the damaging patterns of family use.
  • Eat the guilt sandwich. When we become aware of the wreckage of our past, it hurts and we don't like how we see ourselves. Avoiding the awareness of our lives only gives us more years to regret.
  • We need support and structure to stay safe in this but at some point, we have to walk through the guilt, grief, and hurt. 
  • Know that guilt serves a purpose but shame is a lie. Guilt says "I've done things I want to change.

Shame says "I'm a piece of trash." Shame is a lie. Whatever has happened, there is a comeback trail. God forgives, lives can change, and we do recover.  A person doesn't have to feel like that's true at first. If we act like it, maybe true miracles can happen. The results might not be what we expected life to look like, but we can have a better life then we have known. 

There are parents whose intentions for using with their children are more sinister. Sexual slavery, molestation, and other patterns can be the driving force for this behavior. Anytime a parent uses a drug with a child, it's abuse and should be reported immediately.  I have seen many families restored from a place where using drugs together was normal. I have not in my experience seen families restored where the drug was part of sexually abusing a child. In my experience when that is the motivation safety requires separation. When there is not a sexual component to the families shared drug use I have seen even that level of unhealthy dysfunction restored in recovery.

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