Every child deserves a safe space and for many children that space is home. Whether cared for by one parent or two, a grandparent, or another guardian, at home they know they will be fed, protected, and cared for. This sense of security is crucial for their development. Yet many children are denied a safe space at home due to parental substance abuse.
Parental substance abuse is a critical issue that affects families across the United States. Substance abuse can lead to various negative consequences, including child neglect, which can have long-term effects on children’s physical and mental health. In this article, we will explore the meaning of parental substance abuse, the prevalence of this problem, and cannabis use disorder (CUD) as a form of parental substance abuse.
Parental substance abuse refers to a situation where one or both parents use drugs or alcohol in a way that impacts their ability to care for their children. This can include neglecting their children’s basic needs, such as providing food, clothing, and shelter, as well as emotional neglect, such as failing to provide emotional support or guidance. Parental substance abuse can also lead beyond neglect to physical and emotional abuse of children.
Parental substance abuse is more common than many people realize. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 8.7 million children in the United States live with at least one parent who has a substance use disorder (SUD). However, this number is likely an underestimate since many cases of parental substance abuse go unreported.
Cannabis use disorder (CUD) is a problematic pattern of cannabis use that leads to significant impairment or distress. CUD is diagnosed when someone meets specific criteria for cannabis use disorder, such as continuing to use cannabis despite experiencing negative consequences in their life.
CUD is relatively common in the United States, particularly among young people. According to the NSDUH, an estimated 4 million people aged 12 and older met the criteria for CUD in the past year. This number has increased in recent years due to the legalization of cannabis in several states and the increasing potency of cannabis products.
Yes, CUD can be a form of parental substance abuse. If a parent has a CUD, they may neglect their children or be unable to provide adequate care due to their substance use. In some cases, parents may use cannabis around their children, which can put them at risk of exposure to second-hand smoke. Additionally, if a pregnant woman uses cannabis, it can have negative consequences for her unborn child, such as low birth weight or developmental delays.
Parental substance abuse, including CUD, is a widespread problem that can have devastating effects on children’s physical and emotional well-being. If you suspect that a child is at risk of harm due to parental substance abuse, it is essential to take action and report your concerns to the appropriate authorities. Early intervention can make a significant difference in improving outcomes for children and families. You can find resources to help parents struggling with substance use disorders at the end of this guide.
Substance abuse can have a profound impact on children who live in households where a parent or caregiver is struggling with addiction. The effects of parental substance abuse on youth in their homes can vary depending on the severity and duration of the addiction, as well as the child’s age, gender, and individual circumstances.
Children who live in a household with substance abuse are at an increased risk of experiencing emotional neglect and abuse, as parents may be unable to provide their children with emotional support and stability. This can manifest in a range of symptoms; they may lack self-esteem, feel ashamed, powerless, or guilty, and have difficulty developing healthy relationships with peers and adults.
Parents may prioritize their drug use over their children's basic needs, such as food, shelter, and medical care. Children may experience hunger, malnutrition, and illness as a result, and may miss school or other important activities. Additionally, a parent who is under the influence of drugs may be more likely to engage in physical and sexual abuse towards their child.
Children who live in a household with substance abuse are at an increased risk of developing substance use disorders themselves later in life. According to the American Addiction Centers, the use of alcohol and drugs can become a normalized part of daily life for these children, leading to a higher likelihood of addiction in adulthood.
Children who live with drug-addicted parents may experience psychological trauma, which can have lasting effects on their mental health and well-being. Children may develop conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Substance use can interfere with a child's normal development, particularly when it comes to sexuality. A parent's drug use interferes with their ability to nurture and educate their child about sexuality. According to the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, substance abuse can disrupt a child's normal sexual development, leading to further emotional distress.
SUD in its most severe form is drug addiction. The daily experiences of children who live with drug-addicted parents can vary widely depending on individual circumstances, but some common experiences include:
Children who live with drug-addicted parents may have unpredictable schedules, with meals, bedtime, and other routines disrupted by the parent's substance use. Parents may be awake and active during the night, or may sleep for long periods during the day, making it difficult for children to establish healthy routines.
Parents who are struggling with addiction may be absent or unable to provide adequate supervision for their children. This can lead to safety concerns, such as children being left alone for long periods of time or exposed to dangerous environments or individuals.
Parents may be unpredictable or explosive in their behavior, leading to feelings of fear, anxiety, or confusion for children. Parents may also be emotionally distant or unresponsive, leaving children feeling neglected or uncared for.
Parents who are struggling with addiction may have inconsistent or unpredictable discipline styles, leading to confusion or frustration for children. Children may not know what to expect from innocent mistakes and potentially dangerous behavior might go on unchecked.
Here are some potential scenarios in a typical day of a child living with a drug-addicted parent:
It’s important to note that not all children living with drug-addicted parents will experience these scenarios, and each child’s experience will be unique.
In the following webinar, you’ll learn from Michelle Fingerman, Larel Jacobs and Dr. Laura Schwab-Reese about their work creating evidence-based conversation strategies for the National Child Abuse Hotline. They’ll summarize their research on what kids say is helpful and what is harmful. They’ll also share a general framework for these conversations, including several strategies that work well for any conversation about maltreatment.
Addiction is often referred to as a “family disease” because it affects not only the person struggling with addiction but also their family members. Here are some of the ways addiction can affect the entire family:
Substance abuse and domestic violence are closely linked; studies have shown that substance abuse can increase the risk of domestic violence. Here are some ways substance abuse can lead to domestic violence:
It is essential to note that substance abuse does not cause domestic violence, but it can be a contributing factor. It is crucial to seek help if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence or struggling with addiction.
Substance use and abuse can have far-reaching effects on both the family and the community. Here are some of the ways substance abuse can impact the wider community:
Support from family and friends can be a crucial component of recovery. Be sure to educate yourself on the signs of addiction. Find out about local resources and maintain healthy boundaries as you attempt to help a friend, loved one, or community member struggling with SUD.
Families affected by parental substance use can be challenging to identify, but early recognition is essential for ensuring that they receive the help and support they need. Substance use can impact a family in many ways, from financial struggles to legal troubles and strained relationships.
If you are concerned that a family you know may be struggling with substance abuse, here are some warning signs to look out for:
If you are concerned that a family you know may be struggling with substance abuse, it is essential to approach the situation with care and empathy. Substance abuse is a complex issue, and there may be underlying factors that have contributed to the problem.
Child Welfare Information Gateway provides an overview of how to assess parents for drug and alcohol abuse and offers guidance on observing, gathering, and examining evidence to support an emergency response investigation.
The National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare provides resources and strategies to reduce stigma and improve outcomes for families affected by substance use and mental disorders.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides resources and compassionate care for individuals experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis.
Substance abuse can take many different forms and can affect individuals of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. However, there are several warning signs that may indicate that someone is struggling with a substance abuse problem. Here are three of the most common warning signs to look out for:
Children of addicted parents may exhibit changes in their behavior due to the stress and trauma caused by their parent's addiction. They may become more withdrawn, anxious, and moody, or they may act out in disruptive or aggressive ways.
Children with addicted parents may struggle with academic performance due to the lack of stability at home. They may also have difficulty focusing or retaining information, which can lead to poor grades or even dropping out of school.
Parental drug use can also have an impact on children's physical health. Children may suffer from neglect or abuse due to their parent's addiction, leading to malnutrition, poor hygiene, and chronic illnesses.
Children of addicted parents may struggle with self-esteem and feelings of shame or guilt. They may also suffer from other mental health issues like depression anxiety due to the stress and trauma of their home life.
Children with addicted parents may become socially isolated due to the stigma surrounding addiction. They may be embarrassed to invite friends over or participate in activities, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Drug addiction can be a devastating problem for families, and it can be especially challenging for children whose parents are struggling with addiction. If you’re a concerned co-parent, guardian, or caregiver, you might be wondering how to help children cope with the challenges that come with having a drug-addicted parent.
Here are some suggestions on how to respond:
The first thing you can do to help children with drug-addicted parents is to be caring and consistent. Children need to feel loved and supported, even when their parents are struggling with addiction. Try to maintain a stable routine as much as possible, and be sure to show the child that you care about them.
It's also essential to respect a child's boundaries and not pry too much. In families struggling with addiction, there are often "three unspoken rules": "Don't talk. Don't share. Don't feel." If a child isn't ready to talk about their feelings or their parent's addiction, try to be patient and understanding. Let the child know that you're there for them and that you're ready to listen whenever they want to talk.
There are many support services and resources available for children with drug-addicted parents. Learning about these resources and how to use them can make a big difference in your child's life.
Support groups like Alateen and Alatot are 12-step programs that provide support for loved ones of alcoholics. They can be an excellent resource for children who are struggling to cope with a parent's addiction.
D.A.R.E. (Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education) is a resource that can be found in many schools, which can help children learn how to resist peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol.
Other resources include counseling and therapy services, family support groups like those offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and addiction treatment programs.
If you suspect that a child's parent has a drug addiction problem, it's important to confirm the problem and seek professional help. Talk to the child and pay close attention to any signs of parental drug abuse.
Schedule a check-up with a medical doctor or physician. They can evaluate a child on a physical and psychological basis and run tests to determine whether a child has been suffering abuse at home.
If you confirm that the parent has a drug addiction problem, there are a few concrete steps you can take. Depending on the situation, this may include planning and hosting an addiction intervention, helping the addicted person research treatment options, and offering to pay for a portion of the treatment expenses.
Having a parent who is struggling with addiction can be incredibly stressful and emotionally draining for children as well as the parent’s own support network. It's essential to practice self-care as a co-parent or caregiver to maintain your mental and emotional well-being.
Self-care is the act of making your needs a priority and is a valuable tool for anyone close to a drug-addicted person. Some self-care tips include:
SAMHSA is a government agency that provides a range of resources for substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery. They offer a treatment locator tool, a national helpline, and educational materials for parents and families.
NIDA is a government agency that supports scientific research on drug abuse and addiction. They offer resources for parents and families, including educational materials and treatment resources.
The Partnership to End Addiction is a nonprofit organization that provides resources for families dealing with substance abuse. They offer a helpline, a parent support network, and educational materials.
AA is a 12-step program for individuals dealing with alcohol addiction. They offer support groups, literature, and resources for families and loved ones.
NA is a 12-step program for individuals dealing with drug addiction. They offer support groups, literature, and resources for families and loved ones.
Smart Recovery is a self-help program for individuals dealing with addiction. They offer online meetings, educational materials, and resources for families and loved ones.
Shatterproof is a nonprofit organization that provides resources and support for individuals and families dealing with addiction. They offer educational materials, a helpline, and a treatment navigator tool.
It can be difficult to recognize the signs of child abuse, as they can vary depending on the type of abuse and the child’s age and personality. However, there are some common signs that may indicate that a child is being abused. These include:
Childhelp is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child abuse. They provide a 24/7 hotline for reporting abuse and offer resources and support for families and children.
The National Child Abuse Hotline is a 24/7 hotline for reporting abuse and getting help for children in need. They also offer resources and support for families and children.
Darkness to Light is an organization dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse. They offer training, resources, and support for parents, caregivers, and professionals
Prevent Child Abuse America is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect. They offer resources and support for families, professionals, and communities.
The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) is an organization that provides support and resources for survivors of sexual abuse and assault. They also offer resources for families and children.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a 24/7 hotline for reporting domestic violence and getting help for survivors and their children. They also offer resources and support for families and children.
The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children is an organization dedicated to improving the identification, treatment, and prevention of child abuse and neglect. They offer resources and support for professionals and families.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway is a resource for professionals and families involved in child welfare. They offer resources and information on child abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is an organization that provides resources and support for families and professionals in cases of missing and exploited children.
The National Children’s Alliance is an organization that provides support and resources for child advocacy centers and professionals involved in the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases.