Passing on Addictive Behaviors

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How many times have you heard a parent say “I need a drink”, “I need a smoke” or even “I need coffee” in front of their children? These may seem like fairly benign statements but even these seemingly tiny announcements can unknowingly be passing on addictive behaviors to your children. As parents, we all want to ensure that we raise our children to be happy and healthy in every sense. We want to make sure that they are physically and emotionally engaged, well-nourished, and stress-free. We want them to give them the best parts of our upbringing while insulating them from the things that saddened and upset us throughout our upbringings. 

Passing on Addictive Behaviors
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What is addictive behavior?

Addiction by definition refers to a disease that results from changes in brain chemistry caused by compulsive use of drugs or alcohol. They can also include uses that damage your health, relationships, jobs, and other parts of your normal life.

Not every behavior is harmful, however, if you feel like your behavior is beyond your control and it feels impossible to stop. Then it can be classified as addictive behavior.

 Some behavioral addictions that are more common than others, include:

  • Gambling addiction.
  • Sex addiction.
  • Internet addiction.
  • Shopping addiction.
  • Video game addiction.
  • Food addiction.
  • Exercise addiction.
  • Work addiction.

What causes addictive behavior?

Although people make their own conscious choices about whether or not to take harmful drugs or to drink alcohol, there are some factors that can contribute to the development of addictions. These can include both environmental factors, such as who the individual spends time with outside the family; other biological factors, such as underlying physical or mental health disorders; or developmental factors, including experimenting with drugs at a young age.

Is addiction hereditary?

One question many people ask is whether or not children can inherit addictions or addictive behaviors from their parents? The simple answer is yes!

Children may inherit a genetic predisposition or a greater likelihood of addiction or a greater chance of having an “addictive personality”. However, most children of parents who abuse alcohol or drugs do not develop the addiction themselves.

Even seemingly benign addictions can be harmful

Despite our best intentions, life sometimes gets in the way, and we can find ourselves passing on some of the least flattering aspects of our personalities onto our kids, especially in times of stress or emotional agitation. While there’s evidence to suggest that the children of drug addicts and alcoholics are statistically more likely to fall into addictive behaviors in their adult lives, you don’t have to have an addiction that merits a stay at the Recovery In Motion treatment center to pass on unhelpful and even damaging behaviors to your kids. Even seemingly benign addictions like those to coffee, chocolate, or anything else that provides a fleeting psychological and emotional pick me up in times of stress can be picked up on and emulated by our kids.

The dangers

Passing on your addictive behaviors can warp and damage your kids’ development regardless of the substance in question. Whether we’re talking about illicit drugs or sugar, it makes little difference to a developing mind. When we see addictive patterns in our parents, it’s likely to affect us in specific ways when we grow up.

Not only can it push us towards impulsive, reckless, or addictive behaviors, it can warp our interpersonal relationships. It can cause us to see ourselves as victims and gravitate towards others who display victim-like behaviors thinking that we can save them. It can give us disproportionate feelings of guilt that we try to offset with acts of self-sacrifice.

Plus, it can lead us to become emotionally withdrawn due to fear of commitment and emotional vulnerability and it can push us to exert near ruthless control over our lives in ways that sour our relationships with others. If we’re to help our kids grow into emotionally healthy adults, it’s important to address our addictive and impulsive behaviors. 

So what can you do?

Most of us fall into the arms of our addictions when we are unable to cope with stress and emotional turmoil in our day to day lives. This means that we must address the causes of our addiction and deal with our stressors in healthy and productive ways to model appropriate responses for our kids. This can mean channeling your frustrations into exercise or other productive hobbies or meditating in order to quiet and reorganize your mind. 

The more you can involve your kids in the process the better. They’ll learn that dealing productively with life’s quotidian stressors is more productive than jumping to an addictive quick fix.

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