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Impact Of Substance Use Disorders On Families And Children

by Landmark Recovery

April 25, 2019
Impact Of Substance Use Disorders On Families And Children

A substance use disorder is not something that just affects the person using, but, family and loved ones as well. Family is the primary source of attachment, nurturing, and socialization for humans in our society, because of this, it is easy to understand the problematic impacts that substance abuse can have on the family as a whole and individual family members, especially children. One study shows that there are a number of effects such as “unmet developmental needs, impaired attachment, economic hardship, legal problems, economic hardship, legal problems, emotional distress, and sometimes violence”.

Substance use disorders, SUDs, are associated with a number of medical, psychiatric, psychological, economic, social, family, and legal problems. These issues can cause a significant burden and rupture on the family structure and social welfare of the family members and loved ones of the person with the SUD.

Substance abuse in the family system is a very nuanced issue and, depending on the circumstances, can have disastrous effects on many members of the family. Parental substance abuse can lead to a social and economic disruption among the family and hold major negative consequences for the children. Meanwhile, adolescent SUD can cause many health problems and issues in school, all while impacting the child-parent relationship. Despite the issues that SUD presents in the family system, treatment is always available to those who commit to it.


Adverse Effects on Family System

Adverse Effects of Substance Use on Families

Substance abuse by a family member, most notably a parent, can lead to a number of effects that can impact the family and disrupt the family system. One obvious example of this is the emotional burden that addiction can have on the family members. Many members of the family can feel anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, depression, shame, even guilt, and more from a member’s substance use.

Like many would think, substance abuse in a family can lead to family instability and separation. This can be a result of abuse or violence or a family breakup due to separation or divorce, or even removal of children from a home by Children and Youth Services.

It should also be noted that substance abuse can lead to economic issues. This can be caused by family members spending money on substances or even money problems due to loss of jobs or other problem.

In a study published in the Social Work in Public Health journal, looked into the effects of parental SUD.

There are a number of negative impacts that parental SUDs on the family include “disruption of attachment, rituals, roles, routines, communication, social life, and finances. Families in which there is a parental SUD are characterized by an environment of secrecy, loss, conflict, violence or abuse, emotional chaos, role reversal, and fear.”

One of the most horrific aspects of parental SUD, is not the effect it has on the parent but, rather, the effect that it can have on the children.


Parental SUD and Adverse Effects on Children

“The risks and impacts of substance use, misuse and abuse, and the presence of hazardous materials in living spaces, have serious implications for the safety and developmental needs of children, the personal and social functioning of parents, as well as on the social functioning of their families,” one research paper said about the effects of parental substance abuse on children.

It is estimated that more than eight million children younger than the age of 18 live with at least one adult that has an SUD, that equates to a rate of more than one in 10 children. Reports show that the majority of these children are younger than the age of five. Studies have shown that families with SUDs reveal patterns that influence child development and the likelihood that a child will struggle with physical, emotional, behavioral, or substance abuse problems.

These problems can come in many forms. There’s evidence that these children are at increased risk for abuse or neglect, physical problems, poor impulse control, poor emotional regulation, poor academic performance, psychiatric problems like depression or anxiety. And, as mentioned earlier, there is a much higher risk of substance abuse among the children of parents with SUD.

The increased risk of SUD is one of the most prevalent. In fact, some studies estimate that as many as half of these children will develop some type of SUD by young childhood.

There are many other problems that can occur from parental SUD. One of the most obvious is overdoses that can result in death. The death of a parent is a traumatic experience for anyone and can be especially troubling for children of substance using parents.

Along with the increased risk of SUD, and other many behavioral and emotional issues that can occur from parental substance abuse, there are also a number of health risks that parents can directly give their child from using while pregnant.


Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

One of the most common problems associated with the children of substances abusers is neonatal abstinence syndrome. Neonatal abstinence syndrome is a term that refers to a group of problems a baby will experience from withdrawing from exposure to narcotics or other substances. NAS is caused when babies are exposed prenatally to opiates or other substances that causes withdrawal symptoms associated the related substance.


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASDs, are a group of conditions that occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Some of the effects of these include physical issues and problems with behavior or learning. As the name suggests, FASDs are caused by alcohol use during pregnancy. Alcohol in the mother’s blood is passed on to the baby through the umbilical cord. A baby with FASD can deal with a number of symptoms including abnormal facial features, small head size, poor memory, intellectual disability or low IQ, problems with hearts, kidneys, and more.

Overall, the children are one the most at-risk populations when it comes to substance abuse. Even though they are not the ones physically using the drugs or alcohol, they are one of the most affected groups as parental SUD can lead to instability in the family and cause children to experience behavioral and emotional issues.


Adolescent Substance Use

Adolescent Substance Use Disorder

Substance abuse problems lead to many health and social issues for everyone, but one subgroup that it can have more disastrous consequences on is teenagers and the youth. Because the brain doesn’t stop developing until about the age of 25, anything that disrupts this process such as drug or alcohol use, can change how the brain develops.

The biological effects of substance use can lead to a number of long-term issues that will affect people with SUD even after achieving sobriety.

While most teens do not escalate from trying drugs to developing an addiction, if a teen does develop a pattern of repeated use, it can cause serious social and health risks, including:

  • Impaired memory
  • Problems with family and other relationships
  • Risk of overdose
  • Mental health problems and more

One of the biggest effects of adolescent substance use is how it can affect grades. One study found that nearly one-third of school dropouts indicated that their use of alcohol or other drugs was an important contributor in their decision to leave school.


Effects on Parents

One of the many effects that substance use disorder has on parents is guilt. Many parents will feel that it is their fault that a child is struggling with substance abuse. Substance use is a disorder and while their may have been contributing factors within the family system, nobody is to blame. What is most important thing now is being sure that the children get the treatment that they need and deserve to get healthy.



In general, adolescents are less likely than adults to feel they need help or to seek treatment on their own. This is, in part, because adolescents tend have more difficulty than adults in seeing their own behavior patterns with enough detachment. Treatment is not a “one size fits all” model, it is important to look at each individual case and determine what needs to be done. With that said, when a child is dealing with some sort of substance abuse issue, getting them into treatment is priority number one.


Treatment for Social and Family Problems

Help for their substance abuse disorders

While families are affected by substance abuse, treatment can also sometimes begin with the family. Family interventions can help the family influence a member who has substance abuse problems enter into a treatment center to get help and address the impact hat SUD has had on the family system and members.

Many individual and group treatments for SUD can help to address social recovery issues in recovery. In fact there is evidence that for women with children in substance abuse treatment programs, there are a number of component that can improve results. This includes involving the children in the treatment program in some way, specializing in health and mental services, home visitation, and more. Studies suggest that women who are allowed to reside in a residential treatment center with their children experience greater treatment retention and completion than those not residing with children.

Many treatment centers in general will examine and consider the family when it comes to treating an SUD. Rehabilitation facilities will sometimes have family members come in for group family therapy sessions so that not only can the person affected by the SUD learn more about addiction and the underlying issues, but other family members as well. During many of these sessions, members will learn ways that they can help their family member without enabling the person. They will likely learn about relapse warning signs and how to intervene early in the relapse process.

“Families can help their loved one in several ways: facilitate their involvement in treatment; attend sessions together to address the SUD and recovery needs; engage in ongoing discussions about recovery, and what can and cannot be done to help the member with the SUD; point out early warning signs of relapse that their loved one may ignore; and help them stabilize from a relapse should one occur,” one study published in the Journal of Food and Drug Analysis said.


Focus on Children

As mentioned before, parental SUD can have a profound impact on the children in a family system. In general, if a parent is dealing with SUD the child will be more at risk for a number of behavioral, social, and other problems, and will be more likely to end up using substances themselves. It is important for parents to understand how their SUD can affect their children and for parents with SUDs to talk with their children about the impact they’ve had on the family. Maintaining an open dialogue to be honest and address feelings of concern and questions is one way to help kids learn more about SUDs, treatment, and recovery. Establishing routines and taking an active interest in a child’s life can be instrumental in helping a child avoid serious substance abuse problems.


In Conclusion

Substance abuse is a scourge that doesn’t just affect the user. There is a ripple effect when it comes to drug and alcohol issues. Substance use disorder leads can lead to a number of social, emotional, and even economic impacts on family and loved ones. In fact, children of parents with substance use disorder, are more likely to develop some sort of substance abuse problem themselves. Furthermore, SUD can impact a child before he or she is even born from the mother using while the child is in the womb. Overall, substance abuse can lead to detrimental effects in the family unit, fortunately, there are ways that the family can intervene and help someone get the treatment they need.

At Landmark Recovery of Indianapolis, we offer patients detoxification before inpatient services like group therapy and individual counseling begins. One program that Landmark utilizes is family therapy, when necessary, to promote long term sobriety and clean living. If you would like more information about a personalized treatment path for your loved one, please visit our website and reach out to our admissions staff today.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.