No matter what adjectives you use to describe drug addiction, its effects on family, friends and others are often devastating and heartbreaking to witness. The physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions of addiction give the addict a sort of tunnel vision, and they will spare no expense in keeping their substance abuse going–even if it means putting those they love the most on the back burner.
The tremendous impacts of substance abuse is especially profound in children of parents who are in the grips of drug and alcohol addiction. For these children, they can experience minor neglect up to full-blown physical, mental and even sexual abuse. Children obviously look to their parents as role models. For parents who are struggling with substance abuse, it can cause immense trauma and a child’s emotional and psychological development can be impact to a degree that can be beyond repair.
This article will examine the devastating effects of parental drug addiction on children in the physical sense, as well as the mental and emotional sense.
Facts Concerning the Effects of Parental Substance Abuse on Children
In order to frame the scope of the effects of parental drug addiction on children, the Parental Substance Abuse and the Child Welfare System info sheet provided by the Child Welfare Information Gateway provides insight into this major issue:
- An estimated 12 percent of children in this country live with a parent who is dependent on or abuses alcohol or other drugs.
- 8.3 million children under 18 years of age lived with at least one substance dependent or substance-abusing parent. Of these children, approximately 7.3 million lived with a parent who was dependent on or abused alcohol, and about 2.2 million lived with a parent who was dependent on or abused illicit drugs.
- 400,000 infants each year are born exposed to substances prenatally.
- According to data from both the 2011 and 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 5.9 percent of pregnant women aged 15 to 44 were current illicit drug users. Younger pregnant women generally reported the greatest substance use, with rates approaching 18.3 percent among 15- to 17-year-olds. Among pregnant women aged 15 to 44 years old, about 8.5 percent reported current alcohol use, 2.7 percent reported binge drinking, and .3 percent reported heavy drinking.
The Effects of Parental Drug Addiction on Children
As stated earlier in this article, the effects of parental drug addiction on children can be seen in their physical, mental and emotional development. The following details the specific areas within these three crucial areas of development where children can be severely impacted.
For children of addicted parents, the physical effects often begin before they are born. An obvious example is if the mother is using substances while pregnant. The effects of drug use during pregnancy are obvious:
- resulting in physical defects
- stunted growth
- the malformation of vital organs
- mental, attachment or attention disorders
If parents are unable to care for their while under the influence, children can develop a variety of physical and mental illnesses. Children can also develop anxiety-based illnesses due to their parent’s addiction, such as asthma, or migraines. Additionally, parents can lose their sense of morality while under the influence of substances and can cause verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. Children of addicted parents can feel intense loneliness and isolation as a result of a parent or both parents focusing their energy on continuing their substance use. As a result, children can develop deep depression and it can lead to self-harming behaviors such as cutting or suicide attempts.
Children that have parents who are addicted to drugs and alcohol have a home environment which is ruled by chaos and insecurity. In these situations, children tend to do poorly in school and even if they do achieve academic and social success in a school setting, they can slip through the cracks due to the lack of encouragement and support from parents. Because addicted parents are absent from their children’s lives in regards to discipline, children may believe that there is no reason to respect authority, and they act out and rebel in order to get any sort of attention.
Unfortunately, children raised in an environment where parents are abusing substances are likely to develop their own addiction issues. If they don’t end up developing a substance abuse problem, they may date or marry someone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Much like the physical effects of addiction on children, the emotional effects of addiction can be felt by children at birth. The bond between parent and child is absolutely crucial so the children can feel deeply connected, centered and loved. If addicted parents continue their pattern of detachment, their children eventually can develop deep trust issues and can become disconnected from the world around them. Children of addicted parents can also display limited abilities to show remorse or empathy towards others.
As children become teenagers, they can feel great emotional conflicts in regards to their parents’ substance use. On one hand, they may feel they need to take care of their parents and they also feel great guilt and shame because they feel they were the cause of their parents’ substance abuse issues. Assuming this role can be very stressful and can cause a lot of anxiety for a teenager who believes the world is on their shoulders is keeping the family running.