When Child Abuse Leads to Drug or Alcohol Addiction

The Bible is clear that children are to honor their parents and obey them. But the Bible is also very clear that parents are intended to love, care for, provide for, and teach their children in love. As Ephesians 6:4 instructs, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Jesus demonstrated how adults should take care of children:

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:2-6

But we live in a fallen world. Sin pervades even the most natural of relationships-the relationship between parent and child. Stress, abuse, anger and/or personality disorders, and addiction turn nurturers into nemeses. If you were the victim of abuse, please know that you did not deserve your treatment. God is not using your parents’ actions as a rod of judgment against you. He weeps with you in your weeping. What happened was not right.

The Terrible Effects of Abuse

But abuse has lifelong detrimental effects on a child. Some of the byproducts of childhood abuse may manifest until adulthood. Sadly addiction is often the result of a life of abuse.

Why is this? Addictive substances such as food, drugs, or alcohol promise the thing that an abused child wants most: escape. If the victim was not able to escape or find comfort as a child, he may continue to seek something to numb the pain as an adult. The desire for escape and peace mutates into an insatiable craving. Alcohol and drugs promise to fill the void left by a loveless childhood, they promise to replace the parents that weren’t there, and to give the kind of belonging and acceptance we all need.

To the non-addict, it may seem silly that anyone would seek such things in a substance. But the addict, when she is being honest with herself, will admit that she has sought alcohol or drugs for release from a past (and even a present) she cannot control or change. That sense of futility and the constant demons of abuse leave a victim feeling she has very few options for managing such an unmanageable life.

For children of abusive or addict parents, for the orphan, or the neglected child, God offers the best parent. He offers himself. In the words of Psalm 10:14:

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;
you consider it to take it in hand.
The victim commits himself to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless.

The Road to Healing

Children of abuse or neglect are not sentenced to a life of addiction or other maladaptive, destructive behaviors. You are not destroyed, ruined, or tainted. Though your past was nothing but pain, God has a world of promises in store for you. Addiction, however, places your trust in a substance-something that can never truly fulfill your deepest needs and longings. True fulfillment is possible. Healing is a reality.

Your road ahead is difficult, but you need not be dismayed. Realize that before you can be healed of your childhood pain, you must be sober. Start by identifying your areas of weakness or addiction. Addictions are symptoms of the real problem, but they must be handled first. Speak with your pastor about support groups or twelve-step programs. Doing this through the help of a Christian rehab facility is recommended.

Once the drugs and alcohol are out of your system you will be in a place to welcome Christ into your heart as healer and restorer. He has come to right the wrongs and heal your deepest hurts. There is no mess that cannot be made clean. You may feel the guilt of your own misdeeds. But remember: Christ died for each of your sins. You need only have the faith to affirm this truth and his healing and redemptive power will be yours.

Don’t be afraid to ask friends and fellow believers to pray for you. God will place people in your life to give you the love and support your parents couldn’t give. And remember, God’s heart is tender to the fatherless. He longs to embrace you in his great, powerful arms and give you Himself. That’s a promise no drug could ever fulfill.