Substance abuse in families is fairly common. About one in eight children under 17 in the U.S are estimated to live in a household with at least one parent with drug or alcohol use disorder.
Parental substance use disorder, also known as addiction, can have profound effects on children, particularly in instances where there is also child maltreatment or neglect.
Having a drug or alcohol issue doesn’t automatically make a parent abusive, or a bad person.
But it can be helpful to understand the connection between child neglect, substance abuse, and how children of addicted parents can begin to find healing.
What Is Child Neglect?
Child neglect is a form of maltreatment. It essentially involves depriving children of access to their basic needs, or failing to act in such a way that results in the harm or death of a child.
Definitions for child neglect, however, can vary according to state and federal laws.
Child neglect may be identified by an inability to provide:
- adequate food
- medical care
Child neglect also commonly goes in hand with child abuse, which can be physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual in nature.
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How Common Is The Link Between Child Neglect And Substance Abuse?
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 8.7 million children in the U.S. live with at least one parent with substance use disorder.
Moreover, SAMHSA reports that children of parents with a drug or alcohol problem are at increased risk for neglect and abuse—although, this isn’t the case with all families.
Risk factors for child neglect include:
- parental history of trauma
- mental illness
- family crisis
- using harsh disciplinary measures
- economic stress
- family violence
Parental drug or alcohol abuse is a common reason for why a child welfare agency will remove children from their homes, with the highest rates occurring in states like Texas, Indiana, and Utah.
In 2019, for instance, about 38.9 percent of total child removal cases listed parental substance abuse as a condition for removal. In Texas, it was involved in over 60 percent.
What’s The Connection Between Substance Abuse And Child Neglect?
Substance abuse shares common risk factors with instances of child neglect, including socioeconomic risk factors, history of mental illness, low income, and trauma.
The link between the two can be complex. Substance abuse doesn’t always cause a parent to be willfully neglectful. But the effects of drugs can potentially put a child at risk for neglect.
For example, drug abuse can often have cognitive effects, such as effects on judgment, memory, rational thinking, as well as physical effects that can affect a parent’s ability to be an effective caregiver.
What Are The Effects Of Child Neglect And Substance Abuse In Families?
Child neglect can have immediate and lasting effects on a child’s wellbeing. This can affect a child’s development, as well as their attachment to their parents and children’s emotional health.
Studies show that children who experience neglect are at increased risk for:
- mental health disorders (e.g. depression)
- early substance use
- behavioral problems
- difficulties in school
- being placed in foster care
- self-harm behaviors
- future relationship problems
- physical health problems
Young children in particular can internalize a parent’s neglect or abuse in lasting ways.
Growing up with a parent who abuses drugs or alcohol can affect a child’s own relationship to substances, and influence how they interact with others, including other authority figures and peers.
Effects Of Substance Abuse On Parents
Having a drug or alcohol problem doesn’t make someone a bad person. This extends to parents.
However, it can make it more difficult to parent and can affect a parent’s ability to care not only for themselves but for other vulnerable populations like children and the elderly.
Over time, substance abuse can put parents at risk for a whole host of consequences, including serious health problems, financial difficulty, trouble with the law, as well as depression, and thoughts of suicide.
Increased Risk For Substance Abuse In Children Of Addicted Parents
According to SAMHSA, children with a drug- or alcohol-addicted parent are at higher risk for developing their own substance use problems at some point in their lifetime.
Reasons for this may include:
- access to drugs or alcohol
- using drugs or alcohol to cope
- familiarity with substances
- modeling the behavior of parents
- other mutual risk factors
For this reason, there are many families that struggle with an intergenerational cycle of addiction, in which generations of people within a family struggle with some form of substance use.
Breaking free from the cycle of addiction in families is possible. For children of addicted parents, this may involve seeking help for trauma.
Finding treatment options for drug or alcohol abuse may also be necessary in order for a parent or child with substance use disorder to begin healing.
Finding Treatment For Alcohol Or Drug Addiction
If you are the child or loved one of a person with drug or alcohol addiction, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans, teens and adults alike, are in a similar boat.
Call us today to learn more about addiction treatment options and how to find a drug treatment program for a loved one near you.
Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — Risk and Protective Factors | Child Abuse and Neglect
- Child Welfare Information Gateway — Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Children Living with Parents Who Have a Substance Use Disorder
- U.S. National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare — Child Welfare and Alcohol and Drug Use Statistics