We Need to Help the Kids of Drug-Addicted Parents

Parents addicts, child standing with a toy.

We all know the story of addiction. If we haven’t seen this happen to ourselves or to someone else first-hand, we’ve certainly heard from a close family member or a loved what it’s like for them to watch one of their loved ones struggle with addiction. And, if not experienced first-hand, the phenomena of drug addiction and alcoholism are certainly well-represented enough in pop culture.

But a story we have not heard all that much is the story of the children of drug addicts. Here’s a bitter, cruel story, when a child has to grow up with a drug addict or an alcoholic for a parent.

What it Means to be the Son or Daughter of an Addict

We can all agree that one’s childhood and adolescence are significant in impacting how one will turn out as an adult. These are known as the “formative years.” When our sons and daughters are growing up, they require much of us, and they really don’t stop requiring the support, love, tutelage, help, counsel, and stability until they are well into adulthood.

When parents don’t give this support to their kids, they rob their kids of the nurturing environment that kids need in order to grow up to be healthy, happy, and prepared adults. This is not to say that kids who had a poor upbringing can’t make it for themselves as adults, but the cards are certainly stacked against them.

Addiction is a life-encompassing problem. Although drug users and alcoholics may attempt to convince themselves otherwise, when they are using drugs or drinking, their substance of choice is the most important thing in their lives. How can a parent be a great parent for their kids when drugs and alcohol are more important to them than their own kids are? Kids who are raised by addict-parents are being cheated, short-changed out of the upbringing that they should be getting.

Unfortunately, substance abuse among mothers and fathers is far more prominent than it used to be.

Statistics on the Children of Addicts

Sad kids sitting on balcony.

According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, more than twenty-eight million Americans are the sons and daughters of alcoholics, eleven million of which are currently under the age of eighteen. And millions more are the sons and daughters of parents who use psychoactive drugs. Research indicates that about one in ten American kids now has to grow up in a household with at least one parent who is using drugs or alcohol.

As one can imagine, there is a long list of negative influences that drug-using or alcohol-misusing parents are having on their childdren. For one thing, it has been statistically proven that the sons and daughters of addicts are more likely to develop drug habits of their own than kids who are raised by sober parents. In fact, the NACOA estimates that children of addicts rank in the highest risk groupfor substance abuse later on in life.

Another factor in this mess is that, when a parent uses drugs or alcohol, that habit often seems to be a defining factor in how that father or mother parents their kids. According to the NACOA, families with drug use or alcoholism in one of the parents will be families that manifest:

  • Increased family conflict.
  • A common display of emotional or physical violence around or directed at the kids.
  • Decreased family cohesion.
  • A notable decrease in family organization.
  • An increase in family isolation, often causing splintering and trust issues.
  • An increase in overall family stress among each family member.
  • Increased work problems.
  • Increased illness, both physical and mental.
  • Increased marital strain between father and mother.
  • Increased financial problems teetering on financial collapse.
  • Increased frequency of family relocation to different towns and cities.

Family units that have one parent who uses drugs and alcohol are also going to be families that are more exposed to domestic abuse, verbal abuse, physical confrontations, etc. According to the NACOA, four out of seven child welfare cases trace back to substance abuse as being a relevant factor among at least one of the parents involved in the case.

The above information still only touches the surface of the kinds of struggles that sons and daughters of addicts face. Such kids: perform more poorly on school tests; they have a harder time in social situations; they often have behavioral problems; they are more likely to be placed by Child Protective Services outside the home; they are more likely to be physically or mentally abused; they are more likely to develop difficulties in social skills and interpersonal relations, etc. The list goes on.

Love and Help Children

Father taking kids to school.

At any given time, eleven million children are being raised by a parent who is misusing drugs and alcohol. That’s a lot of young persons who are being harmed, even if indirectly, by Mom’s or Dad’s substance abuse habit. That is a very wrong way to raise a child.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to prevent this adverse condition from ever coming about. And there are plenty of resources available to families if a parent does succumb to a substance abuse habit regardless. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families has a full document on how to recognize substance abuse amongst parents, and what families can do about that.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published a document for children of addicted parents that has information on what they can do to improve their condition. And the Stanford Children’s Health Hospital penned a brief blog on how other adults can intervene and help teens of addicted parents. Adults, teens, and children alike can get together and work on interventions with addicted parents. They can discuss the problem openly and brainstorm how to get the addict-parent into rehab. They can work on removing the children from the environment, at least temporarily, so no harm comes to them.

At the end of the day, even with all of the research information and tabulated study results, we cannot deny that it is nothing more than common sense that would tell us not to use drugs and alcohol when trying to raise healthy, happy, and well-cared for children. When we step into parenthood, we take on a responsibility that is more important than our own lives, more important than our own issues, concerns, problems, struggles, hardships, etc. When we are parents, we are responsible for our children. We need to love and help children, not expose them to the hardship of substance abuse. It’s just the right thing to do.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.