I Grew Up With Addicted Parents, And Even The Smallest Things Can Trigger My PTSD

Addiction doesn't just affect the addicted.

sad woman traumatized from childhood Deletelog / Shutterstock

The other day, I pulled out a piece of tin foil to cover a dish of food in the kitchen, and my hands started to shake.

But shaky hands weren’t the only reaction I had. My heart rate increased, my stomach twisted into knots, and I began to sweat. Why did this happen?

A few days prior, I popped in to bring my dad some groceries and was sickened to see pieces of tin foil that had been used for drug use on his kitchen counter — evident by the black smudges on the tin foil, a lighter, and a pill cutter full of pills sitting next to it.


This physical reaction is just one example of many of how my parents’ addiction has affected me.    

RELATED: To My Mother, Who Blames Herself For My Addiction

Both my parents have both had bouts of sobriety, but the majority of their lives — and my childhood — have been tainted by addiction. My sister and I have dealt with the anxiety, uncertainty, and nervousness that come with living with parents who are addicts throughout our childhoods and adulthoods.  

Our family was lucky enough that the addiction never robbed us of stable housing, and we never had to deal with food insecurity.


Throughout most of our childhood, our parents had jobs and we had vital resources like food and health insurance. 

When I was young, I didn’t really realize the severity of my parents’ addiction because they were there every day and we never seemed to go without anything. 

It wasn’t until high school and early adulthood that I realized that my parents were dealing with serious addictions. 

My parents divorced when I was 15 and things seemed to go downhill from there.

They both became addicted to opioids. The addiction grew and grew. The drastic consequences of this long-time addiction include car crashes, DUIs, lost jobs, arrests and citations, ended relationships, and court-ordered rehab.  


When rock bottom finally came, they both transitioned to a methadone clinic and treatment. While I wasn’t wild about them being on methadone, I had to realize the benefits. They were receiving their drugs from an establishment rather than the streets. Their doses were being managed. A requirement of the treatment included weekly counseling sessions.  

RELATED: The Hidden Truth About Addiction That Mental Health Professionals Won't Tell You

Things were better...safer. They were stable and the dreaded uncertainty of what would happen next was pleasantly absent. Heartbreakingly, a few years after this transition, we unexpectedly lost my mom. Although my parents were divorced, they remained best friends and companions until the very end. They lived separately, but my mom did nearly everything for my dad. When she passed, my sister and I took on those duties.  

My sister and I currently share the responsibility of taking Dad to his doctor’s appointments, prescription pickups, grocery drop-offs, budgeting, and scheduling. This has been going well and steadily until recently.


My dad quit the methadone clinic and I found evidence that he’s been using even more dangerous drugs.

The tin foil, a cut straw for snorting drugs and pills I’ve never seen, all littered his kitchen counter when I went over there weeks ago. I learned that he’s been smoking fentanyl. I also learned that he overdosed weeks ago and was given CPR and Narcan by his drug dealer. He hid it from me until I learned about it weeks later. It seems he’s hit rock bottom again.  

The Post-Traumstic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms I acquired by being a child of addicted parents have been evident in my youth and now in my adulthood. I have dealt with depression and anxiety through periods of my parents’ biggest bouts with intoxication, as has my sister.

The worrying was (and is) the worst part of it all.


I worried every time my parents drove while on drugs. I worried when my parents would try to go to work while on drugs. I worried when they wouldn’t go to work. I worried when they didn’t come home when they said they would. I worried when people associated with their drug use would call or show up.

I worried when I would find drugs I had never seen before. I worried when they came to social functions with family, friends, or professionals because I never knew what version of them we’d be getting. I worried about them damaging their personal and professional relationships by being unreliable. 

RELATED: 7 Devastating Truths About Loving An Addict

Now, years later, I am feeling that dreaded worry again.


My dad added me to his bank account so that I can help him budget. I can’t tell you the worry I feel every day when I open the Bank of America app while praying that he hasn’t blown hundreds of dollars in one day.

I worry when he doesn’t answer the phone. I worry when he isn’t home. I worry when I hear him on the phone with anyone who isn’t me or my sister. I worry when he’s acting differently.  

My PTSD symptoms aren’t just evident when I’m with family, it has affected my personal relationships.

I have been tough on friends who experimented with drugs when we were teenagers because I was reminded of the breadth of my parents’ addiction and didn’t want them to turn out the same. I have ended relationships with people who had signs of addiction because I couldn’t bear to see them go downhill.


I have battled partners and friends to quit substances because I don’t want them to end up in the same boat as my folks.

I have a hard time trusting others and relying on others because of my parents’ inability to “quit” when they said they would. I have a hard time with anticipation and uncertainty because of the many nights I wondered when my parents would be home, or when and if they’d use again. 

I’ve been triggered by watching shows about addiction, rehab, or even the hospital because of our family's past with addiction.  


An interesting and heartbreaking thing I’ve learned is, if someone dealt with addicted parents as a child, it can still affect them as an adult. PTSD traits of a child with addicted parents include shock, shame, lack of hope, and grief.

As for my dad and his current struggles, we’re going day by day. I hope that one day, we won’t have to deal with addiction any more. I would love to never hear the word again. As exhausting and uncertain as this road is for him right now, I’d never let him walk it alone.

RELATED: 35 Addiction Recovery Quotes To Give You The Mental Strength To Continue Moving Forward

If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, there are resources to get help.


The process of recovery is not linear, but the first step to getting better is asking for help. For more information, referrals to local treatment facilities and support groups, and relevant links, visit SAMHSA’s website. If you’d like to join a recovery support group, you can locate the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings near you. Or you can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-799-7233, which is a free 24/7 confidential information service in both English and Spanish. For TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, call 1-800-487-4889.

Stephanie McCoy's work focuses on motherhood, education, and other lifestyle topics.