Addiction is hereditary; children do get it from their parents. Children of addicts are eight times more likely to develop an addiction. But it’s not always a matter of genetics.
In 1987 there was an American public service announcement by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America: A father confronts his son about the (unspecified) drugs and paraphernalia discovered in his closet. He demands, “Where did you get it? Who taught you how to do this stuff?” The son, after trying to pretend it wasn’t his, finally shouts, “You, alright! I learned it by watching you.” The announcer then solemnly says, “Parents who use drugs have children who use drugs.”
In other words, just say no. (Today, whether crack, heroin or Xanax, addiction help would be offered, too.) As heavy-handed as that message is, it’s not wrong. But it’s not the whole story either.
Addiction isn’t passed down from parent to child only by the child observing and imitating addictive behavior. Sometimes it’s just proximity: if you use prescription drugs, legitimately or illegitimately, they are in the home and your child may have access to them. If you don’t take the prescription on a daily basis, you might not notice that a pill or two is missing. If it is leftover for a condition from which you no longer suffer, you might not notice an almost full bottle has disappeared.
Children, even preteens, might try your pills out of curiosity, or give them to a friend. Maybe a friend told them what the effects are like. Maybe they looked it up on the Internet. According to some reports, they even pool the medications they scrounge, mix and share them at so-called Skittle parties.
Another way parents can unwittingly aid in a child’s addiction is by taking them to a doctor who prescribes a dangerously addictive drug too readily. Adults can become addicted even when taking them as prescribed, and children are more prone to addiction than adults.
The most prescribed and abused addictive pills with adolescents are the opioid painkillers – Vicodin, OxyContin – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder/stimulants – Adderall, Ritalin – and anti-anxiety/sedatives – Valium, Xanax. It's important to keep a close track of your prescriptions and your child’s prescriptions.
Locking up the medicine cabinet isn’t enough either because the most popular abused substances are kept elsewhere: alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. And although it’s become harder to get refills for opioid prescription pills, legitimate or otherwise, many addicts have switched to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to find on the black market – even in schools.
And many young adolescents begin their addictions with legal products, such as inhalants: household cleaners, glues, marker-style pens and computer duster.
Use, even abuse doesn’t equal addiction, but it is certainly to be discouraged. It’s better if your children stop their substance abuse before addiction starts, but if they don’t, Vicodin, Ritalin and Xanax addiction help is available.
BIO: Stephen Bitsoli lives in Michigan, where he writes about addiction, recovery and related subjects. A journalist for more than 20 years, and a lifelong avid reader, Stephen loves learning and sharing what he’s learned.