With an estimated 27 million people over the age of 12 admitting to illicit drug use in 2014, believing your child is somehow immune to exposure to drugs or alcohol is simply no longer realistic in today’s society. While we would like to believe parents, teachers, and other authority figures in a child’s life are focused on protecting their charges from the harmful parts of life, sometimes this simply isn’t true. Sometimes children become intimately aware of drugs and alcohol within their own homes or the homes of their family members and friends.

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For me, it was through my extended family – my ‘grandmother’, a cousin, aunts, and uncles. My mother was adamantly against drinking and drug use; for good reason, as her childhood was hellish as a direct side effect of her mother’s addictions and compounded mental illness. I have always been an observant person, so even with her attempts to guard me I noticed things.

I can recall the exact way the room smelled the first time I walked in on my cousin smoking marijuana. I can remember thinking it was strange that my aunt had so many needles, and the startling reality of just how thin and emaciated she grew toward the end of her life. I remember watching from my window as another cousin was arrested in front of his mother’s house for selling the small baggies of cocaine he always had on hand for his “friends.” I also remember walking pass drug dealers on my corner waiting for customers on my way to school.

The 90s was a rough time in my old neighborhood. Admittedly, it is still on the rougher side of things.

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Some say when children are exposed to drugs and alcohol at a young age they are more likely to indulge in illicit substances later in life. The statistics certainly seem to prove that, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Choosing sobriety after childhood exposure to substance abuse is entirely possible if you learn the lessons such exposure can teach you.

Most addiction specialists believe that a genetic predisposition increases one’s risk of developing substance abuse disorders during their lifetime. It explains why some people do not develop addictions to drugs or alcohol while others are hooked after only one time using these substances. Having familial ties to addiction increases a child’s likelihood of forming addictive tendencies through exposure and “normalization” of drug and alcohol abuse. However, when a child recognizes the damage caused by substance abuse they can lead a life of sobriety.

Just as I recall the details of my own second-hand experiences with addiction, remembering the consequences one witnesses in association with drugs or alcohol helps cement negative ties to illicit substances, discouraging experimentation.

Beyond the benefits in one’s own life, growing up to lead a sober lifestyle can inspire the next generation of children in similar situations to follow your lead. By advocating for sobriety and reaching out to at-risk children, you can be an integral part of ending addiction through prevention. Additionally, by speaking up, you can help other adult children of substance abusers struggling with their own versions of recovery.

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When going through difficult times, people seek a reason to hope. You could be that reason. By showing that it is possible to experience a childhood of exposure to illicit substances and other childhood traumas, you can be what they aspire to be. One’s childhood does not have to be the blueprint for the remainder of one’s life.

Choosing sobriety after childhood exposure to substance abuse can open up a myriad of opportunities throughout life. When one is controlled by addiction, feeding cravings and avoiding withdrawal symptoms becomes an all-consuming obsession which leaves little room for other pursuits such as furthering education or career goals. By abstaining from drugs and alcohol, you are giving yourself the best foundation possible for pursuing your dreams. Let your success inspire others; let your story inspire the next generation.

Set a Goal For Yourself

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