Every child deserves the support and comfort that comes from being raised in a stable home. Unfortunately, many children grow up without this basic necessity. According to the National Children’s Alliance, nearly 700,000 children are abused in the United States every year. Between one-third and two-thirds of these child maltreatment cases involve substance abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Even parents trying their best to provide a foundation of love and support can falter in the face of addiction. Many of these same adults may have been abused themselves as children, making this pattern of parenting deeply entrenched and difficult to stop, let alone recognize. This April is National Child Abuse Prevention month and is an opportunity for parents and the communities that support them to take a step back, reflect on the past and present, and work toward a better future for parents and children alike.

Recognizing Child Abuse

Many people believe that child abuse is wrong, but few people have a clear idea of what child abuse actually is. Because of this, some behaviors that are damaging to children can slip through the cracks. While often talked about in terms of physical or sexual abuse, other forms of child abuse are less obvious, but equally damaging. Many people also assume that child abuse is only conducted by a child’s parents, however it can also be carried out by other adults, such as teachers, strangers, neighbors and other family members.

There are four types of child abuse.

  • Physical Abuse: Any instance where a parent or caregiver causes non-accidental physical injury to a child. This may consist of hitting, spanking, burning, cutting or throwing the child.
  • Sexual Abuse: Any instance where an adult involves a child in sexual acts or uses them for sexual purposes. In many cases, this is the most damaging type of abuse because it can involve physical, psychological and neglectful abuse.
  • Psychological Abuse: Also referred to as emotional abuse, psychological abuse is any instance where a caregiver causes severe emotional harm, or impedes a child’s mental and social development. Examples may include ignoring, name-calling, insulting, threatening violence, or allowing a child to witness the emotional abuse of another person.
  • Neglect: Any instance when a parent or caregiver does not provide a child with supervision, care and affection. It may include physical neglect, inadequate supervision, medical neglect, emotional neglect and educational neglect.

Abusive behavior can come in many forms, but the commonality that brings all types of abuse together is the profound emotional effects they have on children. No matter the form, the end result of abuse is the same — a child who feels unworthy, unsafe and alone. Do you see your own behavior in some of the aforementioned descriptions, or the behavior of your parents? As painful as it can be, recognizing child abuse is the first step to stopping it.

Breaking the Cycle

If you were abused as a child or grew up with parents who abused substances, raising your own children can stir up memories and feelings that you may have repressed for your entire life. These feelings can be overwhelming, surprising and even a little scary. You may find yourself overcome by anger that doesn’t feel like your own, and feel helpless to change it. You may even find that these feelings are part of what drives you to use substances. But you don’t have to go on like this. You can learn new ways to break these old patterns, understand their origins and manage your emotions. You can break the cycle of abuse.  

You can change your reactions and offer support to your child by:

  • Developing healthier parenting skills. It can be difficult to learn appropriate discipline and parenting techniques, especially if you grew up in a dysfunctional home. Reading parenting books and attending classes and seminars can help you learn more about healthy ways to relate to your child.
  • Learning how to get your emotions under control. The first step to getting your emotions in check is to recognize that they are there. If you grew up in a dysfunctional home or were abused as a child, it may be particularly difficult to access your feelings and express them appropriately. By developing your emotional intelligence, you can better understand what goes on inside you, and stop yourself from potentially lashing out.
  • Taking care of yourself. When you don’t take the time to fulfill all of your basic needs, you’re much more likely to become overwhelmed and angry. Make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep every night. Eat three healthy meals. Exercise if you can. Your health and your parenting ability will benefit from it.  
  • Asking for help. Breaking the cycle of abuse can be difficult, especially if you also struggle with substance use disorder. If you lived through abuse, these patterns may be deeply entrenched. Through professional treatment for addiction, you can explore your past, understand your present and build a better future for yourself and your children.

If you’re a parent struggling with substance use, overcoming your addiction doesn’t just mean a better life for yourself; it could also mean a better life for your child. It’s never too late to change. It’s never too late to get the treatment you need. The Recovery Village is here to help. You’re not alone. Reach out to The Recovery Village today for more information about our programs, or to enroll in treatment. Your call is toll-free and confidential.

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By – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.