Jerry Moe: Call for More Research on Parent’s Addiction Recovery and Its Effect on Children

While the toll that a parent’s addiction takes on children is well documented, much is still not known about how loved ones’ recovery affects children, according to the National Director of Children’s Programs at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, CA.

“When a parent gets into recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction, does that lessen the chance their children will grow up and repeat the cycle? And if those children do become addicted, does their parents’ recovery help them to get into recovery more quickly?” asked Jerry Moe, MA, who recently spoke about “Understanding Addiction Recovery Through a Child’s Eyes” at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders in San Diego.

Moe called for more research on how children benefit from their parent’s recovery, and whether children’s participation in a healing program entices their parents to seek help for themselves.

The Betty Ford Center runs a four-day program for children ages 7 to 12 whose families have been hurt by addiction. “We are hoping to get to them before they’ve ever picked up a drink or drug or cigarette,” Moe says. About 40 percent of the children who attend the center’s program have parents who are still actively struggling with addiction. While the cost is $400, Moe emphasizes no child is turned away because of an inability to pay.

The first day the children learn what addiction is, that it’s not their fault their parent has a substance abuse problem, and that they can’t make it better. On the second day, the children share their experiences and feelings through artwork, stories and talking with their peers. “They begin finding out that other people have been challenged with the same problems and feelings, and that they’re not alone,” he notes.

The third and fourth days include family members with an addiction. If the parent is not in recovery, the child can attend with another parent or caregiver that does not have a drug or alcohol problem. The children and adults meet both together and separately. As families, they participate in structured exercises, and focus on new ways to take care of themselves and to communicate. The children choose a trusted adult they can talk to about their family member’s addiction.

The last day is focused on making a family plan and continuing care recommendations. Children and adults exchange cards describing what they like and love about each other.

Because so few treatment centers offer programs for children of addicted family members, many other treatment centers refer children to Betty Ford, at their main center or their satellite programs in Dallas/Fort Worth and Denver, Moe says. They also receive referrals from schools, houses of worship, drug courts and children’s protective services.

“Although we get a lot of referrals, one of our biggest challenges is getting parents to actually come,” Moe states. “Parents sometimes get scared—parental guilt and shame surrounding addiction is huge. The last vestige of denial is admitting that addiction is hurting their children. Parents want to believe their children are too young to understand what’s going on, or they say they only drink or use drugs outside of the house. But kids know so much more than we give them credit for.”

Moe tells parents, who are hesitant to seek help for their children, that they have an opportunity to change the legacy in their family. “I’ll ask them if they could have benefitted from this type of program when they were young, and they often say yes,” he says.

An evaluation of the program conducted by Moe and two other researchers, and published in the Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions in 2008, found children who participated had increased social skills, a decreased sense of loneliness and a newly formed recognition that they could not control their parent’s substance use behavior. The study evaluated 160 children before and after participating in the program through a comprehensive battery of psychological tests; 50 of the children participated in a follow-up phone interview six months later. Moe is about to embark on a new research study that will follow participants for a longer period.

6 Responses to Jerry Moe: Call for More Research on Parent’s Addiction Recovery and Its Effect on Children

  1. Marty Boldin | October 4, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    I know many sober parents and have seen the positive impact of recovery on the lives of their children. I also know youth whose parents are in recovery and believe their story is an important one., I fully support the idea of further research on this topic. This is a secondary benefit of the effectiveness of treatment that is not considered deeply or widely enough. Nice article, thank you for thinking about sober parenting and its implications on the future well-being of children or (recovering) alcoholics.

  2. Lisa Frederiksen - | October 5, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Parent recovery in a family (especially if it occurs in both the drinking and non-drinking parents) goes such a long way towards minimizing three of the five key risk factors a child faces for developing the disease of addiction, namely, social environment, mental illness (e.g., depression, anxiety), and childhood trauma. Helping children understand the disease of addiction and the impacts on the brains of those who live with undiagnosed, untreated, unhealthily discussed addiction can go a long ways towards giving a child the tools s/he needs to avoid it, themselves.

  3. Helene Robillard | October 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    I agree that educating children about the disease of addiction is vital. I do believe that Nar-Ateen and Al-Ateen are also very helpful for the recovery and coping skills of children affected by someone else’s addiction. But I do see that the parent’s living in recovery affects the children and gives them new coping skills. They begin to incorporate the steps and slogans into their daily life. I have seen it with my own children who have been affected by their father’s addiction. He and I are both in Recovery — he in NA and I in Nar-Anon and I see how our children are changing.

  4. Kim Quist | October 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    This program is awesome! I have been in recovery for almost 21 years, and my husband was at Brighton Hospital in Michigan where they offered this program and our family attended. I just wish West Michigan had this program.

  5. Carlos | October 8, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I like to see research both from parents who stop drinking and those who where not able to stop drinking. I have also seen many children of parents who did not suffered much from their parent’s intoxication. It was an interesting respond from congress when some researchers found no impairment or psychological problem from the large majority of children that where sexually abuse as a child. I like to see the studies done, and see what the conclutions of those studies.

  6. Rosemary Tisch | October 8, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Another program, Celebrating Families! developed for families in early recovery and listed on the National Registry of Eveidence Based Programs and Practices. It is used by many Dependency Drug Courts, treatment centers, and community based organizations. The program developers also support the neeed for more research on the impact of parent’s recovery on children’s future risks.

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