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Being a Father in Recovery

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Addiction is often called a family disease. Not only can addiction be traced to dysfunctional family problems in many cases, but it can also deeply impact families, not just individuals. Fathers face some significant challenges when they develop a substance use disorder. Fatherhood brings some unique barriers to getting treatment, it raises the stakes of your physical and psychological health, and it can complicate the recovery process. However, your family and their need for you as a father can also serve as a strength in recovery. 

Addressing a substance use disorder while you deal with the responsibilities you have as a father is a challenge, but ignoring it can have devastating consequences. Plus, addiction can be treated, and recovery can lead to a stronger family. Learn more about being a father in recovery and the importance of addressing a substance use disorder as a father.

Addressing Addiction in Fatherhood

Fathers have a significant influence on their families. Their presence or lack of it can have a deep impact on the health of their families, especially if the family is still growing. Young children often model their fathers, and a dad that is struggling with a substance use disorder may be impressing more on his kids than he even realizes. The Handbook of Fathers and Child Development says, “substance use by men represents a substantial threat to the development of infants, toddlers, and preschool children.” Men that start families during active addiction may contribute to home environmental factors that can lead to social, family, and psychological problems. 

A father’s substance use issue might lead to substance use problems among their kids. Environmental factors can also contribute to substance use in adolescents and later substance use disorders. According to the National Institute on Substance Abuse (NIDA), parents can have an impact on a home environment that provides protective or risk factors for addiction. For instance, parental supervision and anti-drug use policies can serve as protective factors against addiction in adolescents. 

Addiction also has a genetic component, and your children may have some of the same genetic markers that influence drug-seeking behavior that you have. It may even be possible that drugs alter DNA through epigenetic marks that increase drug-seeking behavior in ways that can be passed down. That means they may be vulnerable to addiction, but it doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to develop a substance use disorder. However, if you struggle with addiction as a father, it’s important for you to take care to safeguard your kids from substance misuse and addiction.

Fatherhood in Recovery

Since addiction is a disease that can affect your family and genetic factors may make some kids more vulnerable to addiction in the future, addressing the issue is important. Father’s in recovery may feel like modeling healthy behaviors for their family is hypocritical or that they’ve already failed their family members. However, fathers in recovery have a unique opportunity to show their children what it looks like to address your own shortcomings. Dealing with issues with mental, physical, and behavioral health can model that form of responsibility to your children. 

It’s important to start by addressing your own addiction. After recovery, or as part of the recovery process, it’s important to repair relationships that may have been damaged during active addiction. Making amends is a significant part of 12-step programs, and some addiction treatment programs involve family therapy sessions, which can begin that healing process. You may not realize how much your addiction affected your family, especially if you feel like you’ve been able to hide it. However, children are often aware of more than expected. It’s important to listen and understand your family to learn how they may have been affected. 

Once you’ve reestablished your relationship and continue to work to maintain your sobriety, it’s important to continue your fatherly role. Shame and guilt may make you feel like you can’t step back into your role as a father, but it’s important to realize you are needed, and addiction can’t make you any less a father. 

It may be a complicated process, but working on your recovery and continuing to develop your parenting skills can help strengthen your family. 

Barriers to Fathers in Seeking Treatment

There are many barriers to addiction treatment that may cause people to remain in active addiction longer, allowing their condition to worsen over time. Fathers may face some unique barriers that get in the way of their recovery. One of the most common is the stigma that comes with admitting the need for addiction treatment. Stigma can involve fear that admitting an addiction or seeking treatment could have social consequences. You may be perceived as weak or morally bankrupt for substance use habits. A study found that women tend to struggle with stigma as a barrier to treatment more than men, but that difference seems to break down when it comes to parents. 

For fathers, stigma may involve the fear of being separated from their kids because of their addiction. Many mothers go through similar experiences, especially pregnant mothers that are afraid to seek treatment. Other barriers fathers may face is the feeling that they can’t step away from their responsibilities to seek treatment. Fathers that seek to support their families by working and through their presence may be worried about stepping away for treatment.

However, active addiction can slowly take over multiple aspects of your life, leading to strained relationships, health problems, increased healthcare costs, financial instability, and difficulty maintaining employment. Ignoring a growing substance use issue because you’re afraid to lose something like a relationship or a career may threaten those things anyway. Instead, dealing with a substance use problem can help avoid or address some of the most severe consequences of addiction. Achieving sobriety and maintaining your recovery is the best way to safeguard your relationships, career, and finances. 

Treating Substance Use Issues

Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the reward center of the brain and creates powerful compulsions to continue drug use. As a father, it’s important to address these issues as quickly as possible. Addiction is progressive, which means it can get worse over time if it’s left untreated. Severe substance use disorders can cause long term health issues and other problems that may get in the way of your life for years to come. However, it can be treated with the right level of care and therapy for your needs.

Addiction treatment is a process that’s tailored to your individual needs. When you first enter a treatment program, you’ll go through an intake and assessment process that’s designed to help determine the right level of care for your needs. You’ll also meet with a therapist that helps identify therapies that might be beneficial to you and they’ll help you create a customized treatment plan. This plan is reassessed each week and altered if it’s not working for your needs. 

Through the different levels of addiction treatment, you may go through medically managed detox, inpatient treatment, and outpatient treatment, depending on the level of your needs and how you progress. You may also go through a wide variety of therapy options, including individual, group, and family therapy. You may also go through several behavioral therapy options. 

Sources

American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

Kristi L. Stringer, E. (2015, April). Stigma as a Barrier to Substance Abuse Treatment Among Those With Unmet Need: An Analysis of Parenthood and Marital Status – Kristi L. Stringer, Elizabeth H. Baker, 2018 from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0192513X15581659?journalCode=jfia

McMahon, T. (1970, January 01). Fatherhood, Substance Use, and Early Child Development. from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-51027-5_36

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, May 25). What are risk factors and protective factors? from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/preventing-drug-use-among-children-adolescents/chapter-1-risk-factors-protective-factors/what-are-risk-factors

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 16). Genetics and Epigenetics of Addiction DrugFacts. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/genetics-epigenetics-addiction

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