Addictive Tendencies: Early Signs to Signal Your Child Needs Your Help

Discovering that your child has a drug or alcohol addiction is every parent's worst nightmare, and many parents are now extra vigilant when looking for signs that their child has experimented with illicit substances. New research suggest that a child's predisposition towards addiction can become evident from as early as 3 years of age, and there are certain behaviours that could mean they are at greater risk of developing an addiction in later life.

Risky Behaviour

If children display dangerous behaviour from a very young age, this could be a warning sign that they will develop some form of substance abuse problem later on. Children who are perceived as 'daredevils' and enjoy the rush that comes from climbing the tallest tree or racing their bike at breakneck speeds usually get hooked on the adrenalin rush early on, and they may try to recreate this feeling with drugs once they enter their teens.

Early Experimentation

Children who begin experimenting with cigarettes and alcohol from a young age have a much greater chance of moving onto harder drugs as an adult, and those who experiment between the ages of 9 and 12 are most at risk. Introducing chemical substances into children's brains will have hugely damaging effects on their growth and development, and it may even pave the way for a future addiction problem that requires treatment such as a stay in a rehabilitation centre or a biophysical detox programme.

Genetic Influence

If a parent or grandparent has a substance abuse problem, this will have a huge effect on the probability of their children following in their footsteps. Children of addicts are 8 times more likely to develop an addiction and need extra care and support to avoid falling into the trap.

Early Childhood Abuse or Trauma

Children who have been abused will often carry feelings of guilt and shame into their adult life, and they may try to suppress these feelings with drugs or alcohol. Early childhood trauma such as the death of a loved one or being abandoned by a parent can also lead to children developing emotional disorders that prevent them from learning how to cope with stress later on in life.

Economic Situation

Children born into poverty are far more likely to engage in substance abuse and many do so before entering puberty. A decade long study that followed the lives of over 200 children that were born with cocaine in their system found that poverty had a much more damaging effect on the children than their parent's substance abuse problems, and many of the children studied suffered from depression, anxiety, and a range of emotional disorders in adulthood.

In order to reduce the chances of children developing an addiction, it is vital to teach them effective coping skills as early as possible. Encouraging them to talk and express their fears and insecurities is essential for their emotional health, and any anger issues must be addressed early on to avoid them internalising their feelings. Childhood therapists are an excellent option for children that need a little extra help with their emotional development, and professional guidance from a young age can ensure that substance abuse problems are avoided altogether.

Albert Stayton is a family counselor. He often writes about family dynamics in reference to addictive behavior and how to respond to it.