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Parental Drug Abuse Effects on Children

by Anna Green, studioD

Parents who abuse drugs are often unable to create nurturing relationships and a stable home environment, which the Child Welfare Information Gateway explains are crucial factors in a child’s development. Furthermore, parents who abuse drugs often have children who are at increased risk of abusing drugs themselves, both because they view drug use as a normal activity or because they might think they need to turn to substances to deal with emotional or social problems.


Although parents who are addicted to drugs might make an effort to provide a stable home for their children, the financial cost of drug use could prevent them from providing adequate food, housing and clothing for their children. Furthermore, when a parent is under the influence of drugs, he might be unable to respond to the child’s emotional and physical needs adequately. This can lead to poor parent-child bonds. In turn, these poor bonds might lead to behavioral problems in school and other social settings.

Increased Substance Abuse Risk

When children grow up in homes with parents who abuse drugs, they are at a higher risk of becoming addicts themselves, according to the National Center on Addictions and Substance Abuse. This increased risk of substance abuse comes from the environmental stress associated with living with a parent who is an addict. For example, adolescents might use alcohol or other drugs to alleviate the anxiety of an unstable home environment or absentee parent. Additionally, drug addiction has a genetic component, which means that some children of addict parents are born predisposed to drug and alcohol addiction.

Unstable Family Systems

When a parent is addicted to drugs, she might struggle to maintain routine and structure. In particular, in addict families, children might be asked to assume adult roles such as cleaning, cooking and caring for younger siblings when the drug addicted parent is under the influence of substances. Furthermore, the effects of drugs can lead to inconsistent parenting. For example, a parent who is addicted to drugs might have difficulty maintaining a regular system of rules and consequences for breaking those rules. This can lead to behavioral difficulties.

Separation from Parents

In families with severe substance abuse issues, child protection agencies might remove the children from the addict parents and place them in foster care or the care of a stable relative. This can cause significant trauma for the child, even if she was at risk while in the care of her parents. Furthermore, even if the state does not remove the child from the home voluntarily, the substance-abusing parent might be arrested or incarcerated, which further strains the parent-child relationship and makes bonding difficult.

About the Author

Anna Green has been published in the "Journal of Counselor Education and Supervision" and has been featured regularly in "Counseling News and Notes," Keys Weekly newspapers, "Travel Host Magazine" and "Travel South." After earning degrees in political science and English, she attended law school, then earned her master's of science in mental health counseling. She is the founder of a nonprofit mental health group and personal coaching service.

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