Addiction is an illness, and it doesn’t just impact the person suffering from it. It is also likely to affect the extended family. The closer the relationships between family members, the more pronounced the problems caused by addiction.
Grandchildren are not immune to the negative effects when a grandparent suffers from addiction. The extent to which addiction affects grandchildren depends on several factors, not least of which is how the parents deal with the situation.
If the grandparent does not live close by and does not see the grandchildren very often, the negative impact may be very slight. However, when the grandparent suffering from addiction lives in the vicinity, problems can arise.
When a grandparent who suffers from addiction is regularly present in a child’s life, the addiction affects grandchildren almost as much as if the child’s parent was the person with the illness. This is especially true if the grandparent shares a home with the grandchildren and has a role as a caregiver.
Effects of Mistreatment and Abuse
Mistreatment and abuse can be physical or emotional. Children exposed to mistreatment and abuse can suffer consequences that will affect them for their entire lives.1 In many cases, diagnosis of adults who seek treatment for eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety or PTSD reveals that the root causes are related to events that occurred during childhood and adolescence.
Eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and PTSD are all forms of mental illness, and the illness is typically chronic in nature. Having any of these mental illnesses can seriously affect a person’s quality of life. They are known to affect people’s ability to function well.
Children who grow up in abusive environments tend to be poor academic achievers, and that struggle is likely to continue into their working lives. They will tend to earn less than children who grow up in stable environments.
Ongoing Emotional and Psychological Problems
When people are under the influence of drugs or alcohol or are suffering from withdrawal symptoms, their behavior can become very unpredictable. They may become inexplicably angry, regardless of who is present. This can make children fearful, and that fear can stick with them long after the incidents have stopped or they no longer live with the grandparent.
When a grandparent suffers from addiction, peers of the grandchildren may be aware of the problem and tease and taunt the grandchildren. This can have a severe emotional and psychological impact. Grandchildren may become withdrawn and defensive. They may be unable to develop healthy interpersonal relationships.
Coping with a Grandparent’s Addiction
It is important for parents to be honest with their children in explaining that their grandparent has a problem. People who develop substance use disorders are clinically ill.2 Parents should explain that the negative behavior of a grandparent is a symptom of the illness, rather than a character flaw.
When parents restrict interaction between their children and an ill grandparent, they need to explain that it’s because addiction affects grandchildren and because of the effects the grandparent’s illness has on their behavior, and not because the grandparent is a bad person. Parents should also encourage the ill grandparent to seek treatment.