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Parents with Substance Abuse Problems: Effects on Children

Table of Contents

Drug addiction doesn’t just affect individuals; it affects the entire family unit. Children can experience a variety of impairments as a result of their parent’s addiction, some of which can last for a lifetime.

Getting these children back on a track of normal development often requires a multi-disciplined approach to their welfare. Parents who are well-established on the road to recovery can help these children to overcome issues related to the substance abuse and return to a normal development pattern.

Financial Deficits
Children of individuals with drug addiction often live in circumstances of want that makes it difficult for them to interact with their peer group on normal terms. In many cases, parents have used the family money to purchase drugs, leaving children without sufficient food, clothing, healthcare, or other necessities (1).

These needs must be adequately met before the child can feel sufficiently cared for to continue with other aspects of their development. The lack of adequate food, clothing, and shelter affects the children’s sense of security, as well as their feelings of self-esteem, as their peer group begins to notice the inadequacies that are a feature of their daily lives.
Emotional Deficits
Children living in a home with addicted parents may face a number of emotional challenges. They might not understand the depth of the substance abuse problem, but the disruption can lead to profound feelings of dread, shame and insecurity. Young children may experience a constant state of stress that can lead to disruptions of eating, sleeping and interacting with others.

The constant state of uncertainty can make teenage children unwilling to put their trust in other people, with a feeling of hopelessness about the future. Children of addicted parents often require separate counseling to undo the damage of living under such unstable conditions.
Academic Deficits
Children of addicted individuals often have difficulties on the academic front, as well. When family stability is shaken, children may have problems completing school projects, finding quiet study spaces and engaging parents in discussing and understanding academic concepts.
Psychological Problems
The children of parents with substance abuse problems often experience significant psychological problems themselves, routinely struggling with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other issues.

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However, these issues appear to be a result of the presence of underlying psychological issues in the parents that contributed to their drug addiction, and not from the addiction itself (2). Children often model their behavior on parents, and when issues such as depression and anxiety are ongoing problems, they may take on the behaviors exhibited by the adults in the home. Children of all ages who are living with addicted parents may require professional diagnosis and treatment of their own mental health conditions to continue their normal emotional development.
Social Issues
Young children whose parents have an addiction often suffer from social isolation, unable to interact fully with their peer group because of financial instability, poor self-image and lack of parental support. Teenagers may fall into social groups of other children with problematic home lives and, as a result, may fall into drug or alcohol use themselves, illegal activities or other antisocial behavior.

The children of individuals who struggle with drug addiction often have multi-faceted problems that must be addressed in order for them to maintain parity with other children. When parents are in recovery, children have a greater ability to overcome these issues and are often highly motivated to return to the stability of a restored family after treatment.

References: impact of parental substance use on children

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