Parental Drug Addiction and Its Destructive Impact on Children
Drug addiction affects the entire family, from the addict’s oldest grandma to youngest baby. In fact, it’s the child of an addict who may be most vulnerable to an adult’s addiction to prescription or illegal substances. Whether you’re an addict yourself or the family member of one, protecting the babies, children, and teens you love is a priority.
Parental addiction’s impact
A parent’s drug addiction isn’t just a problem that’s showcased on a popular celebrity substance abuse rehab show. More than 8 million children live with at least one parent who’s addicted to alcohol or drugs. This number includes 14% of children younger than 2, 12% aged 6 to 11 years old, and 10% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 . As startling as those statistics sound, the real-life toll of parental drug abuse is measured in even more unsettling figures. Consider the following:
Child abuse and neglect: Experts estimate that between one-third and two-thirds of all child maltreatment cases involve some level of alcohol abuse or drug addiction . The difference in rates of abuse and neglect in homes with an addicted parent and those without is astounding. Children with parents who abuse substances are 3 times more likely to be abused, and more than 4 times as likely to be neglected, than those who grow up without an addicted parent .
Developmental & mental health issues: A child exposed to a parent’s drug use may be more likely to exhibit behavioral problems at home and school. These issues can make it difficult for parents, teachers, and other caregivers to manage the child. Kids with addicted parents are also at higher risk for developing a mental illness, such as anxiety or depression.
Foster care or other placement: Studies reveal that the children of addicts are more likely to live with a non-parent caregiver or in foster care . This situation can be even more challenging if the child exhibits behavioral issues rooted in parental drug addiction. Hard-to-manage kids stand the risk of being bounced from caregiver to caregiver. This has especially detrimental to their sense of stability and security.
Next-generation substance abuse: Researchers consistently find links between a parent’s substance abuse and a child’s likelihood of developing alcohol and drug problems later in life . This renders parental addiction a long-term problem that could impact the child’s ability to complete school, get a job, and live a healthy life.
Unstable environment: Children need a safe, predictable environment for healthy development. Parental addiction creates an atmosphere that is anything but stable. When a parent struggles with drug addiction a child’s life becomes centered on the parent’s substance abuse. The all-consuming disorder dictates every facet of family life, from what activities a child can participate in to whether they have a parent to help them with homework. In addition, households with addicted parents often lack the supervision kids need to learn appropriate behaviors and stay safe. For example, a parent who’s high or hung-over is much less likely to make sure a teenager comes home at a reasonable hour or a child isn’t engaging in a dangerous activity.
How to Help
- Seek treatment for addiction. If you suspect you have a problem, the single best thing you can do for the safety and well-being of your children is to seek treatment from a qualified drug rehab center.
- Never hesitate to get help for a child in danger. If you ever fear for the safety of a child, do not hesitate to call emergency services. It doesn’t matter if you’re married to the addict or you’re worried about the safety of your grandchildren, the child’s safety always comes first.
- Show respect toward the addicted parent. Substance abuse creates contentious situations, especially when children are involved. While it’s okay to be truthful with a child about an addicted parent’s problem, it’s not appropriate to speak or act disrespectfully toward that parent. Making derogatory statements such as, "He’s a druggie and a loser" is inappropriate. It can damage the child’s self-esteem as well as their relationship with that parent. In may also cause the child to resent you for speaking disrespectfully about a parent they still love.
- Develop and maintain positive family rituals. Routines help kids feel safe enough to grow emotionally and psychologically. Set up regular rituals to help children develop a sense of safety and stability. For example, designate one night each week as that child’s special "night." Let them choose the evening menu or indulge in an activity they enjoy.
- Follow professionals’ recommendations for reunification. If a child has already been placed in foster care or with another non-parental adult, it’s critical to work with social workers, addiction specialists, and others working with your family. For instance, if you’re an addicted parent, you may be asked to attend parenting classes before the child is returned. Don’t look at such requests as hoops to jump through; instead view them as opportunities to build your parental toolkit so you can help your child develop socially, emotionally, and psychologically.
- Find professional help for the child. A child may not fully understand everything that’s happening, especially if a parent needs to enter in-patient drug addiction treatment. Talk with a mental health professional about strategies that will help the child manage this difficult time. Therapy with a psychologist who’s skilled in treating children of addicts may be recommended. Some treatment facilities may offer educational support programs designed especially for kids. These programs may include activities like puppet play, crafts, and games that give children an understanding of addiction and how it affects them and other family members.
- Be alert for signs the child is abusing substances. Environmental and genetic risk factors make it essential for all caregivers to be on alert for signs of substance abuse in an addict’s child.
- Get healthy. Whether you’re the spouse of an addicted parent or an addict yourself, safeguard a child’s health and well-being by maintaining your own. Use anxiety-relieving strategies, such as journaling, yoga, or deep breathing, to manage and reduce your stress. Regular exercise is another way to alleviate the stress related to addiction while boosting self-esteem and self-confidence.
Parental drug addiction has long-term effects on children that are measured in factors like abuse and neglect. Don’t wait to help the child of an addict. Every kid deserves to grow up in a home that is free from the anxiety and instability caused by substance abuse and addiction.