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Parents And Drugs

Effects of Parental Substance Abuse on Children and Families

Children often feel a great impact from parents who abuse drugs and alcohol.  Some times the parent may not even be living with the child because of separation, divorce, abandonment, incarceration or death.  The parent does not have to be still actively drinking or using for the child to continue to feel the impact of the abuse.

In families where alcohol or other drugs are being abused, behaviour is frequently unpredictable and communication is unclear.  Family life is characterized by chaos and unpredictability.  Behaviour can range from loving to withdrawn to crazy. Structure and rules may be either nonexistent or inconsistent.

Children, who may not understand that their parent’s behavior and mood is determined by the amount of alcohol or other drugs in their bloodstream, can feel confused and insecure. They love their parents and worry about them, and yet feel angry and hurt that their parents do not love them enough to stop using.

Despite the suffering these children endure, many blame themselves for their parent’s substance abuse. They believe it when their parents scream that they wouldn’t drink so much or use other drugs if the children didn’t fight, or rooms were kept clean or grades were better.

Some children try to control the drinking or drug use by getting all A’s, or keeping the house spic and span, or getting along perfectly with their siblings. Others withdraw, hoping not to create any disturbance that might cause a parent to drink or use. Few realize that children cannot cause a parent to drink or use drugs, nor can they cure a parent’s substance problem.


Many times, children of substance abusers are frightened. They may be the victims of physical violence or incest. They may also witness violence – frequently alcohol and other drug abuse goes hand in hand with domestic violence. As a result, these youngsters may suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, with the same kinds of sleep disturbances, flashbacks, anxiety, and depression that are associated with victims of war crimes. These children are not only frightened for their own well-being – they also harbour the all-too-real concern that their parent may get sick or die as a result of the drinking or drug use. They know that their parent may drive intoxicated, or get into fights on the street.

Despite the fact that friends can be a buffer for the problems at home, some of these children have a limited social life. They may avoid bringing home friends, or going out in public with their parents. They may even shy away from making friends, because they lack basic social skills or out of a profound fear that someone will find out the truth.

They may also find it difficult to make friends because other parents have warned their children to stay away from these youngsters from troubled families. On the other hand, some young people use friends as buffers, relying on their leadership skills to take on key positions in school and extracurricular activities. These young people are often among the most difficult to identify as children of Parents substance abusers, because their achievements make them seem so "well-adjusted."

Not every family is affected identically. Research has shown that families that maintain certain "rituals," such as holiday traditions or a Friday night pizza and movie can help mediate the chaos of addiction.

Sober parents who are able to provide stability, support and nurturing also help minimize confusion and strengthen children. Sometimes family life is less damaging because children rely on "adaptive distancing," a technique in which the child separates from the "centrifugal pull" of family problems in order to maintain pursuits and seek fulfillment in life, school and friendships.

Why People Take Drugs

There are many reasons for trying or starting to use illegal drugs, but not one reason can justify the damage that these substances can do to your body.

Many times people take drugs because someone tried to convince them that drugs would make them feel good. They are led to believe that they will gain some level of pleasure from taking drugs.

Some children, especially teenagers try illegal drugs to fit in with their friends and to be recognised as one of the popular students.  Many times they have no real knowledge about the effects of drugs.   Some teenagers are curious and figure one try won't hurt.


Many teens use drugs because they're depressed or think drugs will help them escape their problems. The truth is, drugs don't solve problems.  Drugs create bigger problems that can affect their health, social life and education.

Parents who use drugs

When parents are taking illegal drugs it can mean risks to the health and well-being of their children. Each child is affected differently, some do well in spite of problems, while others develop more problems.


Just because someone is on drugs does not mean he or she will be a bad parent, but if parents are heavily intoxicated or under the influence of drugs it affects their ability to parent. Some parents who use drugs heavily may be less aware of what is going on around them and less capable of providing appropriate care.


Children react to parents on drugs in different ways.  They may:


  • try to be very good to please the parent


  • try to work extra hard at school to avoid the problems at home


  • try to avoid going home, perhaps spending a lot of time with friends


  • have behavioural problems so that attention goes to the child and not the parents' problem


  • try to harm themselves or act in ways that might harm them (be careless with their own safety)


  • become withdrawn and perhaps get overlooked


  • act as a clown to draw attention from the parent.

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