Dysfunctional familyDrug addiction does not only affect the individual, it can also affect the family. A study done by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has found that if one or both parents are addicted to drugs then the main victims are the children. Even if the parents try to keep their addiction separate from their family life, it is likely that some will spill over. The study also discovered that the main factor of whether or not children will use drugs is the family, making the family unit doubly important. Addiction can indeed be called a family disease not only for the effect on the entire family but for the almost inevitable genetic predisposition to addiction in the children of addicted parents.

Factors for Drug Use

Besides the genetic connection to alcoholism and addiction in families the shifting state of marriage in the United States appears to be at least partially responsible for drug abuse. With increased divorce rates and a prevalence of single-parent families, the family unit is in severe decline. This leads not only to a unstable household for children, but also less financial and emotional support. Added pressure on single parents to raise children can drive some people to use drugs to alleviate their problems and provided an unhealthy escape. This simply exacerbates the situation and places more stress on already tense household situations.

How Drug Use Affects the Family

Drug use and abuse have several negative consequences for the family. It puts additional stress on many areas of family life that may already be strained. One of the main risk factors for drug use is economic disadvantage. This factor creates a negative feedback loop, as the parent or parents don’t have much money to start with and are using some of the little money that they do have to buy drugs. This leaves children at a financial disadvantage when compared to children of parents who are not economically disadvantaged.

Another consequence of parental drug use is an increased rate of divorce, often due to marital dissatisfaction. If one partner uses drugs, then this often leads to the other partner filing for divorce. The stress of the divorce can then create tension in the child’s life and lead to them abusing substance as their own parent did. Even if neither parent is using drugs, it is possible that the stress of the divorce will push children into using drugs in order to escape the stress of being split between two parents.

When parents use drugs it puts both parents and children at a risk to physical injuries. These injuries are more likely because a parent using drugs might be under the influence while watching their children. The parent is then less vigilant and observant with the child and more likely to have an accident when the child is in their care. Additionally, if drug use is often associated with physical violence and can lead to parents assaulting one another in front of the child, which is another risk factor for a child using drugs.

The positive effects of parents entering recovery cannot be underestimated and the commitment of the addicted parent or parents to their recovery can alter the lives of all around them.  Wives come back, children become more secure and lives are re-built.  The best gift an addicted parent can give to their child is to find their way into recovery.  The long term effects of growing up in the care of an addict can be devastating.



AmyJanuary 18, 2013 at 8:22 pm

The effects on children can be downright ghastly, really. There’s tons of research to prove that children raised in the homes of alcoholics are many times more likely to experience a wide range of psychological disorders when they reach adulthood, and unsurprisingly of course they are far more likely to become alcoholics themselves. In adolescence, they are more likely to become delinquents and engage in risky and self destructive behavior. Definitely not a pretty picture.


AmyJanuary 18, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Every kid deserves to see their parents be happy and healthy. In my opinion, the best thing a parent can do for a kid is to show them that happiness is possible, so that they have the guts and motivation to go out and seek some kind of happiness for themselves some day. Being drunk and miserable ans ashamed of yourself really isn’t the mental image that your children should have of you, and neither is staying in a bad marriage with an alcoholic or anyone who doesn’t respect you or yourselves.


AmyJanuary 18, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Drug and alcohol abuse by parents can easily rise to a form of child abuse. As the author points out, when parents are high they cannot properly supervise children and their judgment is impaired. Substance abuse and domestic violence often seem to go hand-in-hand. When these things happen, children are at-risk and it may be appropriate for Child Protective Services to step in.


AmyJanuary 18, 2013 at 8:22 pm

It should note be noted that there is another aspect of drug use and it’s effect on the family not mentioned in the article. Sometimes the parents are sober and it’s the child(ren) who begin to abuse drugs. This can tear apart families emotionally and be financially devastating because parents often spend enormous amounts of money on legal fees, rehab etc.


AmyJanuary 18, 2013 at 8:22 pm

The article mentions “increased divorce rates” but actually most studies and statistics show the divorce rate is falling in the USA with each decade. Experts believe it may be due to a rise of people who are willing to live together without actually tying the knot. So, this appears to be good and bad news for the family unit.


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