The recent overdose of an 11-month-old boy, who allegedly ingested heroin under the care of his grandmother, serves as a shocking example of the far reaching impacts drug addiction can have. Police say the toddler got into his grandmother’s personal stash of heroin and later became unresponsive before being taken to a hospital and put on life support. The child tested positive for opioids, but made a successful recovery after being treated.
The child’s grandmother and another caretaker are under investigation by the Las Vegas Metro police department, according to a recent local 8 News Now KLAS report. Both women face child endangerment charges stemming from the May 2022 incident. Police said the grandmother was a consistent opioid user. They also claim the child suffered physical abuse from his biological father in 2021 that resulted in multiple fractures and brain bleeds. Further investigation into the incident is ongoing and more charges are pending.
How Common Is Addiction Among Children of Substance Using Parents?
About one-in-eight children live with a parent suffering from substance use disorder (SUD), according to a 2017 study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) on children of those with SUDs. The effects of being a child in a household where substance use is common are far-reaching and can directly impact their future. The study says that “although many children living in households with a substance-using parent will not experience abuse or neglect, they are at increased risk for child maltreatment and child welfare involvement compared with other children.”
The study also suggests that targeted intervention measures designed for teaching children about the importance of avoiding substance use throughout their childhood and beyond may be beneficial in lowering rates of addiction as they age. A 1998 study by Harolyn Belcher and Harold Shinitzky on substance abuse risk factors in children concluded much the same, suggesting that many of the factors behind substance abuse could be remediated through intervention programs.
How Childhood Trauma Affects Addiction Rates
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can be a major contributor to addiction later in life. “Adverse childhood experience” is a term that describes a traumatic experience or some form of abuse that may be physical, sexual, or emotional in nature. ACEs are scored through a questionnaire that assesses patients for treatable trauma. If the patient has a sufficiently high enough score, then therapists may conclude that they likely suffer from trauma that occurred in their childhood. The questionnaire covers multiple categories that cover different types of trauma: abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual), neglect (physically or emotionally), and household disruption, such as loss of a parent due to incarceration, drug addiction, or divorce.
The Kaiser-ACE Study, which is the largest study on ACEs to date, found that childhood trauma directly impacts brain functions beginning in childhood and lasting into adulthood. This study revealed a correlation between high ACE scores and a higher chance to develop substance use disorders and other risky behaviors in adulthood.
A 2016 study by Hannah Carliner of the Mailman School of Public Health that was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry further confirms that childhood trauma can be linked to drug use as an adult. Here’s how researchers summarized their findings:
“Potentially traumatic events in childhood are associated with risk for illicit drug use among US adolescents. These findings add to the literature by illustrating a potentially modifiable health behavior that may be a target for intervention. The results also highlight that adolescents with a trauma history are a high-risk group for illicit drug use and may benefit from trauma-focused prevention efforts that specifically address traumatic memories and coping strategies for dealing with stressful life events.”
Preventing Early Exposure to Drugs Through Treatment
To solve the issues of generational substance use disorders, we must first treat those with children who suffer from an SUD. We know that exposure to alcohol and illicit drugs during childhood is associated with poor outcomes in adulthood. A 2008 study conducted by Candice Odgers and published in Psychological Science concluded:
“After propensity-score matching, early-exposed adolescents remained at an increased risk for a number of poor outcomes. Approximately 50% of adolescents exposed to alcohol and illicit drugs prior to age 15 had no conduct-problem history yet were still at an increased risk for adult substance dependence, herpes infection, early pregnancy, and crime. Efforts to reduce or delay early substance exposure may prevent a wide range of adult health problems and should not be restricted to adolescents who are already at risk.”
Why Treating Parents Is So Important
Preventing physical abuse of any kind is tantamount in protecting children from both harm and negative outcomes later in life. Studies have shown that children exposed to substance abuse early on in life have much higher chances of developing SUDs as an adult. The Las Vegas overdose story is yet another example of traumatic experiences that children living with parents experiencing substance use disorders go through every day, and why treating substance abuse in parents is so important.
There are many other examples of parents suffering from a SUD that impacts the child in some way, and many more where a child tragically overdoses from an opioid or some other drug. We must protect the vulnerable through the treatment and prevention of addiction. This is where Landmark Recovery comes in with safe and effective substance use disorder treatment in the Las Vegas area.
To learn how Landmark Recovery of Las Vegas can help parents with children achieve recovery, give us a call at 888-448-0302 today. Our dedicated admissions consultants are ready to help you get the treatment you need to get to a full and lasting recovery. We’re the only treatment center in Las Vegas that treats all patients from detox to alumni services under the same roof.