My parents were addicted to drugs

Graphic shows a young person and their parents looking sad with a raincloud above them, representing parents who struggle with addiction

T/W This article includes references to substance use, overdosing and abuse. If you are struggling with this, or if someone you know is, contact our Crisis Messenger 24 hours a day, join our online community or speak to our team, who are there to support you with whatever you’re going through. We are With You specialise in supporting people who are facing challenges with drugs and alcohol and Release offer free and confidential advice and information about drugs.

This open letter was written by Penelope about her experience of growing up with parents who were addicted to drugs. She has written it to raise awareness of the gaps in support for young people who are experiencing the same thing, and to ask society to do better.

Dear Society,

I feel failed. I feel angry and I feel there was more that could have been done to help me. I was a child in need, as was my sister; as are many children around the world right now. I am not in immediate danger anymore. I have a home, clothes on my back and access to education, so compared to some, I am lucky.

We’ve all seen the documentaries. We’ve all seen the films where someone behaves a certain way and the penny drops when they reveal what a terrible childhood they had.

It’s really difficult to sit here and say my mum and my step dad didn’t have difficult lives; their drug taking and abuse has come from certain reasons in their lives. But I need to stop this cycle. I don’t want to pass down my generational trauma because of what’s happened to me. I don’t want to be addicted to drugs, just because my parents were. So – I ask you; what do you think we could do to stop the abused becoming an abuser?

I am one of a few trying to break the cycle, but this is due to our strength, not because of governmental support. I want to share with you what I wish you would have done, and maybe you can stop this experience happening to another child.

When my stepdad would overdose in the bathroom, there were numerous times that the ambulance team would come and reverse the overdose. I would sit on the edge of my bed with the door ajar and I’d watch them. I knew they saw me, but they never said or did anything. I understand they are so overworked, but I do wonder what would have happened if one of them had reported that there were young girls at that address.

As a child at school, I misbehaved. Don’t get me wrong. I do feel for some of my teachers. Navigating teenage years is tricky for any child, but I don’t think I realised how much my home situation affected me. I remember one teacher said to me once, “you act like you’ve been raised by wolves”. If only they had dug harder.

I told a teacher and showed them the bruises my stepdad had laid upon me. They called my mum in, and they believed her lies of my attention-seeking ways. It takes so much courage for a child, or anyone in fact, to come forward and talk about their home situation and abuse. One of the main reasons I was not believed is due to my mother’s appearance and full-time job.

A lot of people say to me, “but it made you stronger, look at you now”. I didn’t need to be strong; I was a child.

Heroin seems to be a taboo, as if we were in Harry Potter and heroin is, ‘he who shall not be named’. When I would come home from school I would Google, ‘child of an addict’, and the information was so sparse. At school we were signposted to the Talk To Frank website, which is a government-funded platform. There are three options there, and they are for people who are worried about: a friend, the pressure of taking drugs, or their child. I felt I must be the only child with a parent addicted to heroin, because I couldn’t find anything. The stories on heroin only seem to concentrate on the homeless and unemployed who get mixed up in petty crime, but my mum didn’t fit in that bracket, so I had no support or guidance. Society almost acts as if you can’t be high functioning and addicted to heroin.

Please. Do. Better.

Please can everybody agree that we ALL have a duty to safeguard. Please can everybody agree to stop writing troubled kids off without looking into what happened to them – not what’s wrong with them. I still have my struggles, but I now know I am not alone in what I faced. Since openly talking about my experience throughout my childhood (within the safety of Instagram and without my family knowing), I have had so many messages, including somebody saying they can sleep better knowing they are not alone in what they have been through. Any child of an addicted parent needs to be seen and heard.

I wish I knew more about the likes of charities like The Mix, because there IS help available, and people do care. I want to make it my mission to help and spread education to try and get children of addicted parents the help they need.

Yours truly,

Penelope Red

Next Steps

By Holly Turner

Updated on 29-Mar-2023

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