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The Effects of Parental Substance Abuse on Children

Substance abuse disorders ruin lives by the impacts the addiction has on families. Parental substance abuse on children can impact their emotional and physical well-being. Their addiction can make it difficult for parents to effectively care for their children and provide them with essential needs like food, clothing, and shelter. 

Recent statistics show that one out of every five children in the U.S. lives in a home where at least one parent struggles with substance abuse. In some cases, both parents are addicted, which can be worse for the child. 

Parental Substance Abuse Affects Development

How does addiction and alcoholism affect the family? Neglecting children go hand-in-hand with parental substance abuse, which affects childhood development from an early age. They can have problems with speech development, cognitive development, and educational development. Sadly, these children can fall further and further behind their peers, making them feel isolated and alone. 

As such, psychological and physiological side effects can develop. These can manifest in emotional outbursts because the child is seeking attention. They may throw temper tantrums, become aggressive or angry. Some children may start to withdraw emotionally, which can lead to detachment issues and depression. 

In many cases, children have difficulty articulating what is wrong because they do not know how to form healthy attachments to others or what an actual normal family is like. 

Risks of Child Abuse Increased

Children in homes where one or both parents struggle with addiction are three times more likely to be abused emotionally, physically, or sexually. Sometimes the parents are the abusers. Other times, the abuse could come from others their parents associate with, like so-called friends that are also struggling with addiction. 

There are even situations where the parents will “farm out” their children to others for sex in exchange for cash or drugs to support their addiction. Even though the parents know this is inappropriate behavior, their addiction has become the primary focus in their lives, so they do what they can just to get their next fix without regard for their children’s well-being and safety.

Children Can Become Addicts

Besides the physical and emotional parental substance abuse effects on children, their addiction could easily turn their children into addicts as well. Children start to develop views of what they believe is to be normal at an early age. When they see mom and dad using drugs and drinking, they assume that this is normal behavior.

They are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol when it is readily available in the household. Once they start down the path of experimenting, it is only a matter of time before they find themselves struggling with substance abuse. 

However, this is not to say that all children will become addicts. Numerous children have grown up in homes where substance abuse was present and have never become an addict. 

How Children View Their Parents’ Substance Abuse

From a child’s perspective, their parent’s substance abuse directly affects their health and well-being. They can have hygiene issues, experience malnutrition, and feel neglected. Their views of what a normal family is, are also affected because children begin to view substance abuse as the norm. 

In homes with children of different ages, older children tend to take on parental roles. They have already learned their parents are too preoccupied with their addiction, so they will not get the care they need unless they care for themselves.

Since the family’s needs are not a priority for their parents, they help ensure their younger siblings are bathed, clothed, fed, and provide other essential needs to the best of their abilities. Teenagers may even go so far as to drop out of high school to work a job to buy food and pay bills just to support their younger siblings. 

As such, it is not uncommon for the roles of parents and children to be reversed in homes where parents suffer from substance abuse. Initially, the children will look to their parents to be role models since they are the most important adults in their lives.

However, their parents’ addiction impacts them profoundly to the point it affects how they view the world around them and their perceptions, thoughts, and feelings about themselves. Unfortunately, in homes affected by addiction, children quickly realize that their parents are not going to care for them and keep them safe because they would rather put their addiction first. 

Parental Substance Abuse Treatment in Atlanta

When parents let their addiction take control, the entire family loses. Fortunately, help is available when parents are ready to seek it. Families can help from addiction and rebuild healthy parent and child bonds. 

Parental substance abuse effects on children are destructive. Yet, parents do not have to let their addiction destroy their children when recovery and healing are options. When you are ready to address your substance abuse problem, Buckhead Behavioral Health is here to provide the help and support with family therapy in Atlanta.

Please feel free to call us at 908-489-5564 for further information about our substance abuse treatment and family programs today. 

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