Effect of Parent Addiction on Children

06 Apr 2018

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  • Antonio Latham

Children of Parents with Addiction

Drug and alcohol addiction is prevalent in America. Within the U.S., there has been an increasing emphasis and mounting research on how parental addiction impacts the lives of children (Barnard & McKeganey, 2004). This alarm is being powered in part by the escalation of disturbing incidents involving extreme neglect and abuse that children of drug or alcohol addicted parented subject them to (Barnard & McKeganey, 2004). Studies now show that children who reside with parents who suffer from any substance addiction are likely to be unstable, demonstrate severe emotional and behavioral issues (Barnard & McKeganey, 2004). Moreover, this present great challenges for children matriculating through school (Barnard & McKeganey, 2004). These children are frequently exposed to one or both substance dependent parents that are unstable and chaotic places where drugs and criminal activity occur regularly (Barnard & McKeganey, 2004). For U.S. citizens working with such families and children, it is important to recognize substance abuse early and confront the difficult needs of parents with substance addiction and those of their children (Barnard & McKeganey, 2004).

Over the last several years, researchers and advocates of child’s rights have developed advanced strategies and programs that have facilitated innovative guidelines for a more efficient, cooperative, and holistic approach to helping the parent and child (Barnard & McKeganey, 2004). This paper will analyze the behavioral, academic, and development problems associated with growing up in a household where a parent suffers from drug or alcohol addiction. Additionally, this paper will provide information on the connection between substance addiction and child neglect. It will also explore explains approaches for prevention, intervention, and treatment that including examples of effective programs and practices.

Behavioral, Academic, & Development Impact

When mothers or fathers abuse substances, this greatly impact the behavioral, academic, and development growth of the children. Studies show that these children are more likely to suffer signs of depression and anxiety, experience mental instability and display conduct problems (McKeganey, Barnard, & McIntosh, 2002). All of these issues have both long-term and short-term effects; in which will determine the life trajectory these children will follow. Academically, these children often score lower on school academic exams and exhibit various signs of struggles in school such continued conflict with peers (McKeganey, Barnard, & McIntosh, 2002).

Children of parents with addiction may demonstrate behaviors that are difficult for their addicted parents to effectively handle (McKeganey, Barnard, & McIntosh, 2002). This can produce unreliable parenting and the likelihood the child will be removed from their parental homes. Studies on children’s behavioral issues reveal that children of drug abusers exhibit some of the following characteristic: lack of compassion for other individuals; reduced social interaction and interpersonal engagement; low self-confidence; and defiance against authority (McKeganey, Barnard, & McIntosh, 2002).

For proper development, children need positive social and emotional reinforcement, especially from their parents. Children are more capable of reaching their optimal potential if they experience steady, certain, enhanced, and motivating relations with their family and other relationships (McKeganey, Barnard, & McIntosh, 2002). A lack of this has been generally linked to developmental problems for the child. For instance, when a child suffers repeated instance of neglect from the parent, especially during the young developmental stages, activation of the stress response systems is severally damaged (McKeganey, Barnard, & McIntosh, 2002). The often result in the child responding to normal situations in a threatening or alarm manner (McKeganey, Barnard, & McIntosh, 2002).

Long-term Impact for Children

Children of substance-addicted parents will often have lingering effects long into adulthood that will impact their maturity (Haggerty, Skinner, Fleming, Gainey, & Catalano, 2008). Although it is important to note that not all children will experience long-term consequence, however, they may have an increased vulnerability. Parental substance addiction can have a plethora of long-term effects on their physical well-being (Haggerty et al, 2008). These include poor brain development and increased chances of obesity and malnutrition (Haggerty et al, 2008).

The more instantaneous emotional effects of parental substance addiction produce feelings of loneliness, depression anxiety, and an unwillingness to trust (Haggerty et al, 2008). These can translate into permanent mental consequences in adulthood, including low self-worth, insecurity, and relationship problems (Haggerty et al, 2008). Research steadily reveals an increased probability that children who have lived with substance addicted parents will eventually take on negative habits such as smoking, abusing alcohol, or engaging in illegal drugs (Haggerty et al, 2008).

Prevention & Intervention Strategies

To end the cycle of destruction and decrease the possibility of lasting effects, researchers agree that there must be continued development and implementation of methods to prevent substance addiction from occurring and dangerously effecting children (Fraser, McIntyre, & Manby, 2009). While experts concede that the causes of substance addiction and its effects on children are complex, it is probable to formulate prevention strategies that tackle recognized risk factors (Fraser, McIntyre, & Manby, 2009). Prevention initiatives are best to thwart the onslaught of the mental and physical effects children are likely to have when growing up in a home where a parent is addicted to drugs or alcohol.

The best prevention method is identifying children who live within these homes and provide support for both child and parent. Researchers encourage inspiring intellectual, emotional, societal, and physical experiences for children through various outlets (Fraser, McIntyre, & Manby, 2009). According to Fraser, McIntyre, and Manby (2009), prevention methods should first involve understanding important principles of healthy growth and development for children that will help to identify sensitive or possible threatening issues in homes and within the child. Academic institutions play a crucial role in prevention as well as intervention (Fraser, McIntyre, & Manby, 2009). Schools should be adequately informed on application and testing of educational and prevention programs as well bringing additional awareness to the issue (Fraser, McIntyre, & Manby, 2009).

Once the issue has occurred, the next best course of action is intervention. Fraser, McIntyre, and Manby (2009) explains that because of the greater risks associated with parental substance addiction, it is especially significant for schools and child services personnel to thoroughly assess thoroughly the needs of the children to effectuate the most beneficial change. Intervention revolves around providing a home environment that is safe, predictable, and nurturing for the children (Fraser, McIntyre, & Manby, 2009). Moreover, intervention should entail family-centered treatment programs that provide care for parents in facilities where children are allowed and are able to aid in the healing of parent and child (Fraser, McIntyre, & Manby, 2009). Ultimately, proper intervention will use other family members without addiction issues to help restore balance and harmony within the child.


The body of research on children with addiction continues to grow and highlight many alarming issues, such as child abuse and neglect. This type of environment affects the child in many ways including behaviorally, academically, and developmentally (Fraser, McIntyre, & Manby, 2009). Though the effects may vary contingent on many variables, the potential for destruction create enough social panic for proper prevention and intervention strategies. Researchers are encouraging appropriate recognition and responses to this epidemic in a way that effect national policies (Fraser, McIntyre, & Manby, 2009). It is vital for this nation to allocate as much resources as possible to the development and implementation of prevention and intervention tactics and services.


Barnard, M., & McKeganey, N. (2004). The impact of parental problem drug use on children:

what is the problem and what can be done to help?. Addiction, 99(5), 552-559.

Fraser, C., McIntyre, A., & Manby, M. (2009). Exploring the impact of parental drug/alcohol

problems on children and parents in a midlands county in 2005/06. British Journal of

Social Work, 39(5), 846-866.

Haggerty, K. P., Skinner, M., Fleming, C. B., Gainey, R. R., & Catalano, R. F. (2008). Longâ€Â

term effects of the Focus on Families project on substance use disorders among children

of parents in methadone treatment. Addiction, 103(12), 2008-2016.

McKeganey, N., Barnard, M., & McIntosh, J. (2002). Paying the price for their parents'

addiction: meeting the needs of the children of drug-using parents. Drugs: education,

prevention and policy, 9(3), 233-246.

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