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children suffering from their parents drug abuse

Drug Abuse and Families

Did you know one in five children live in a home with parental substance abuse?1 As a result, many of these children suffer psychologically, physically, and emotionally for years.

Drug abuse interferes with a parent’s ability to care for their children and provide a safe, nurturing environment in which they can thrive. As a result, children of drug-abusing parents are at high risk of developing physical and emotional issues, as well as suffering from addiction later in life.

If left untreated, substance abuse has the potential to destroy a family, disrupt communication, create financial problems, fuel physical altercations, and disturb healthy family roles.

Negative Effects of Parental Drug Abuse on Children

The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress provides several reasons why parental drug abuse is harmful to children in the household.2

  • It creates a chaotic home life. Homes in which substance abuse is prevalent are often unpredictable and chaotic. Inappropriate family roles are often assumed, such as children taking care of siblings like parents or assuming financial responsibilities of the household. Additionally, communication among leadership in the household is often unclear or nonexistent, leaving children in a living environment that lacks structure.
  • It breeds violence. Substance abuse and domestic violence are closely tied. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 40 to 60 percent of domestic violence incidents co-occur with substance abuse.3 Child abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect are also common within families where substance abuse is rampant, and many children suffer from symptoms of PTSD as a result of the trauma.
  • It contributes to mental health problems. Parents who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to deal with things like financial problems, divorce, physical abuse, unemployment, and legal problems, which can all cause stress at home. Children of alcoholics have a higher prevalence of suicide attempts, eating disorders, anxiety, and depression when compared with their peers.
  • It contributes to physical health problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that almost a quarter of children of mothers with identified substance use disorders do not receive routine child health maintenance services in their first two years of life.4 Additionally, children of substance abusers may suffer from stress-related health issues such as migraines or gastrointestinal problems as a result of their parents alcohol and drug abuse. Used needles and other drug paraphernalia may also create an unsanitary living environment that is full of health hazards.
  • It creates difficulties at school. Children whose parents abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to be distracted at school due to emotional and psychological stress, lack of sleep, and worries or fears about things going on at home. They may also be reluctant to develop friendships with other kids at school because they are embarrassed by their home situation.
  • It fuels emotional issues. Children of drug-abusing parents may harbor negative emotions such as shame, fear, insecurity, or mistrust as a result of their parents’ substance abuse. It may also create a lack of respect or trust for authority figures such as teachers.
  • It increases their own risk of drug addiction. Children of substance abusing parents are more than twice as likely to have a drug and alcohol use disorder by young adulthood as compared to their peers.5
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Family Therapy for Drug Addiction

To begin the healing process for families affected by drug addiction, the drug abuser must first seek help for his or her addiction. Medically assisted drug detox programs and long-term drug rehab programs can help individuals overcome their addiction by providing life skills, behavioral therapy, relapse prevention strategies, and peer support.

Even still, addiction treatment for one person is not enough to initiate healing for all individuals in the family unit. Since addiction is a family disease, it must also be treated as such. Family therapy can help repair damaged relationships, teach healthy communication, and improve the home environment in a way that promotes long-term abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

During family therapy, children spouses of a loved one in treatment will also begin setting healthy boundaries and modifying enabling behaviors as their loved one learns how to manage stressful life situations and cope without the use of drugs and alcohol.

Nova Recovery Center offers individualized drug and alcohol rehab programs for men and women who are recovering from addiction. We understand the importance of involving the entire family in this process and we even provide a three-day intensive family program to address the issues many families face when dealing with addiction.

You and your loved ones are not alone in this struggle. Call Nova Recovery Center today to learn more about our Family Program or to enroll in our long-term drug rehab program.



  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201607/harvard-study-pegs-how-parental-substance-abuse-impacts-kids
  2. http://www.aaets.org/article230.htm
  3. https://www.asam.org/resources/publications/magazine/read/article/2014/10/06/intimate-partner-violence-and-co-occurring-substance-abuse-addiction
  4. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/07/14/peds.2016-1575
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3676900/
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