Risks Faced by Children When Parents Abuse Substances

According to experts, substance use disorders rank among the most common psychiatric disorders beginning in young adulthood posting a significant public health concern. Some people are genetically predisposed to be more susceptible to addiction to alcohol and drugs. Despite the assumption that addiction is a choice, decades of research show that drug addiction runs in families.

Unfortunately, for children born into families where parents have a history of drug or alcohol addiction the odds are stacked against them.

In studies of community samples, children of parents with addiction problems are more than twice as likely to have an alcohol and/or drug use disorder themselves compared to their peers.

Additionally, children of addicted parents are at risk for a wide variety of other negative issues, including emotional, social, and behavioral adjustment problems as well as challenges in cognitive and school performance.

Risk for poor emotional and behavioral outcomes are reported in children as young as 2 to 3 years age who live with one or both parents with an addiction problem.

The risk factors that children of parents who suffer from drug addiction face fall into two categories: genetic and environmental.

In a scientific review, researchers considered the potential service needs of children of substance abusing parents based on available information about the risk outcomes faced by these children.

The review considered the complex inter-related risk factors that often co-occur with risks connected with substance abuse of parents.

Prenatal alcohol exposure is considered to cause deficiencies in the central nervous system of the fetus that can include intellectual delays and learning disabilities in children. Though children with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome may have problems with acquiring and learning new information, it is fortunate that their ability to remember learned information may not be as deficient as previously assumed.

The review summarized that parental substance abuse is generally associated with poorer academic and cognitive functioning. The extent of risk could depend on family situation, child age, recovery status of the parent, and the timing and type of drug abused.

Findings from the study are expected to help public programs understand the potential service needs of children of substance abusing parents based on what we know about the risk outcomes faced by these children and the parenting deficits often present in these families. It is also important to recognize that some children, despite all obstacles in their path, overcome the odds and live a life free of addiction.

Reference: Understanding the Diverse Needs of Children whose Parents Abuse Substances (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3676900/)