Parental substance abuse can have a devastating impact on children’s lives. Data obtained from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health show that 1 in 8 children 17 or under live at home with at least one parent how has a substance use disorder. Children living in these conditions are subject to high levels of emotional stress and are at a significant risk of developing mental and physical health problems.
The Impact on Children
Almost every aspect of their life is affected, in particular children will struggle at school, and will have an increased risk of developing a drug addiction themselves. According to The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress,they are more than twice as likely than their peers to develop a drug and alcohol use disorder. It is therefore absolutely essential to make sure that measures are taken and crucial support is in place to lessen the harmful impact that parental substance abuse can have on them, as well as improve their future prospect and outlook.
Held Back by Fear
Many children may be scared of speaking up because they are being intimidated and manipulated by their parents to keep quiet, some parents may even become angry or abusive as a result. If that wasn’t enough, children who have grown up in these conditions are even less likely to speak out because of damaged self-esteem, causing them to feel helpless and powerless.
The Importance of Speaking Out
It is of crucial importance however that children do reach out and seek help in order to break the cycle. Children are encouraged to confide in at least one adult in their community that they feel they can trust, such as a teacher, coach, neighbour or a relative such as an Aunt or Uncle.
How Children can Look After Themselves
In the meantime, children are encouraged to express their feelings and emotions through keeping a journal, which may help them to remember certain incidences that they wish to share with the person they confide in. Children should also aim to participate in activities that makes them feel good about themselves, and if possible, affords a social aspect so they feel more connected such as group sports, art or games clubs, listening to music, or playing an instrument.
Securing External Support
The ideal scenario is being able to gain intervention and support from a family support worker, who is able to offer long term support to both parents and the child to remedy the situation, and monitor the whole family in the process. This will help a child to feel much more safe and secure, as well as provide them with the opportunity to express their feelings. At the same time, parents can receive intensive parenting support in addition to the support and help that they need to overcome their addictions.
Ensuring That Children Are in Safe Hands
If the problem persists however, and the child is continually being put at risk, once this support has been put in place it is much easier for a child to be mobilized into care if it becomes clear that this is necessary. Taking children into care is always a last resort, and it will only happen if it is decided that a child’s development will be seriously impaired if they stay in their home environment. If you are a parent or a child that needs help, you can call the National Association for Children of Addiction (NACoA) or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).