It’s estimated that there are about 30 million adult children of alcoholics in the US, and that today, one in four school children (or 13.5 million children ages 5 – 17) lives in a home where there is alcoholism or drug addiction. If you add in addictions to food, spending, the Internet, sex, codependency, and what I call “Toxic Intensity,” or the addiction to self-generated angst, it is likely that a far greater percentage of children — and adults — are living with the effects of addiction.

You see, addiction of any type has a negative impact on every member of the family, not just the addict. While the statistics below are about children of alcoholics, as revered pollster George Gallup, Jr., points out, “any type of addiction makes parents unavailable to their children and is damaging to them in other ways as well. The resulting neglectful and abusive behaviors are most often unintentionally passed on from generation to generation, perpetuating cycles of addiction and abuse.” The stress and insanity of living with addiction attacks the immune system of every member of the family.

I can speak to this damage on two levels, first, as an advocate for children and children of alcoholics. According to the National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACOA), “children of alcoholics experience greater physical and mental health problems and higher health care costs than children from non-alcoholic families.” NACoA reports that for children of alcoholics:

Inpatient admission rates for substance abuse are triple that of other children.
Inpatient admission rates for mental disorders are almost double that of other children.
Injuries are more than one-and-one-half times greater than those of other children.
The rate of total health care costs for children of alcoholics is 32 percent greater than children from non-alcoholic families. Speaking on this from the second level, as an adult child of an alcoholic (ACOA) myself, I concur. I spent a lot of time in the doctor’s office as a child, and have had, over the years, some of the typical health and depression issues detailed in the groundbreaking report: The Health and Social Impact of Growing Up With Adverse Childhood Experiences, The Human and Economic Costs of the Status Quo by Dr. Robert Anda, MD, MS.I know that my immune system requires extra help in the form of supplements and self-care. And, I must be mindful of my addictions to toxic intensity and sugar.

Addictions succeed when they are making their addicts, and those around them, sicker. My addictions want to compromise my immune system by having me yield to rushing, over-committing, eating sugar, worrying, not being in the present. The result can be a bad cold, a bout of bronchitis, a sinus infection, or saying and doing things I will regret.

The greatest defense against my immune-busting addictions is my own spiritual immune system – my internal Jiminy Cricket conscience/judgment – that tells me when I am headed Carey- Addictions and the Immune System 1away from healthy actions and toward unhealthy actions such as rushing, over-promising, and that urge to please people at almost any cost. My strongest weapons are two words: THANK YOU and NO.

When I am at my best, the thank you comes the first thing in the morning – thanking God for rest and the hope of a new day. Then I make a gratitude list for the blessings in my life. This is an immune booster of the highest order, generating joy, helping me plan my day, and helping to keep negativity away. (Negativity is another addiction that wants us dead. If you are a child of chaos, you’re familiar with negativity, and know how seductive it is. To steer clear of negativity, it’s best to limit exposure to negative people and stay in gratitude.)

Gratitude helps me plan my day so I can use the NO to stay away from the unimportant but urgent time wasters and stress makers that can push me/my immune system toward overload, and away from health.

These are important lessons for this adult child of chaos, who is grateful, today, to continue moving away from chaos and disease, and toward life and health.

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