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Expert Parenting Tips for Parents in Recovery

As addicts, we like to believe that our behaviors only damage ourselves. What we do is nobody else’s business. But this is a delusion crafted by the disease of addiction. In reality, our behaviors affect friends, relatives, co-workers and everyone we come into contact with. And no one suffers more than those we most want to protect: our children.

Children of alcoholics and addicts are at greater risk for emotional problems and addiction than other children, often displaying risk-taking behavior, school failure, aggression, anxiety, depression and relationship problems. When we finally get sober and begin the lifelong journey of recovery, we set out to make right by our kids.

But without positive role models and new parenting skills, we tend to inflict the same emotional injuries on our children that we swear we will never pass on. How can we put an end to the cycle?

Through education and a conscious effort to develop the tools for positive parenting, we can become the parents we want to be rather than the parents we had, say addiction experts Dr. David Sack, CEO of Promises addiction treatment centers in Los Angeles, and Dr. Shari Corbitt, a clinical psychologist with private practices in Agoura Hills and Beverly Hills.

A Healthy Home Combats Addiction Genes

Research is increasingly showing that having a genetic predisposition for addiction does not doom children of addicts to become addicts themselves.

“We have long known that addiction runs in families, but there is a wealth of new research attempting to determine how much is genetically inherited and how much is environmentally influenced,” says Dr. Corbitt. “We suspect that while genetics are a factor, environmental influences play a much more significant role. This means it’s more important than ever for parents in recovery to learn sobriety-enhancing skills they can pass on to their children.”

While parents cannot change the genetics they pass on, they can control some of the environmental factors that strongly influence addictive behaviors.

“We encourage parents to capitalize on the strong protective factors they can use to lessen the impact of genetics and create a healthy home environment,” says Dr. Sack. “Preventing addictive behavior before it starts is far more effective than treating an addiction years in the making.”

According to Dr. Corbitt and Dr. Sack, the following are some of the steps parents in recovery can take to raise happy and resilient children.

Parenting Tip #1: Practice Self-Care

Like the airline flight attendants remind us every time we fly, we are of little use to our children if we don’t put our oxygen masks on first and then tend to their needs. Parents in recovery often feel a great deal of guilt and shame, particularly if their children have been exposed to their addictive behaviors, and overcompensate by setting aside their own needs. In order to preserve their sobriety and keep their families intact, it is critical for parents to take care of themselves and continue working their program of recovery.

“Once sober, parents often feel that they should now be ‘super parents,’ says Dr. Corbitt. “But learning new parenting skills is a process that unfolds over time. While it requires ongoing effort and awareness, perfection is not the ultimate goal. Just as there are no perfect children, there are no perfect parents.”

Parenting Tip #2: Have Fun as a Family

Families struggling with addiction typically do not know how to have fun as a family, says Dr. Corbitt. While getting sober is a major milestone, it doesn’t mean parents have a clue how to prevent their children from facing the same obstacles they did.


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