When a Family Member is Addicted

How are Children Affected by Parents’ Addiction to Drugs?

A child with parents who have an addiction to drugs is affected in several long-lasting ways. It’s not easy living in a household with the shadow of addiction. Growing up in that environment may feel like the consequences of addiction are somehow the child’s fault. Feelings of isolation, anxiety, and anger can cause a lot of childhood issues. It’s essential to understand the many consequences of parental addiction.

Increased Risk of Child Abuse

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, children with parents who are addicted to drugs experience child abuse at higher rates.​​​1 One study found that children in homes with addiction are more likely to enter foster care or be otherwise removed from their parents. Abuse can occur whether the parent is high or temporarily sober. Once child abuse happens, it has a significant chance of occurring again.

Poorer Academic Achievement

Children thrive on encouragement. A lot of the required validation comes from a healthy household. Without this, a child may lack the motivation to meet school expectations. In many cases, this directly affects the life-time earnings and career choices later in life.2

Emotional Problems

Children learn how to cope with and express emotions from their parental figures. However, addiction causes unstable emotions and violent outbursts and scenarios that can warp how a child views emotional challenge. These experiences can affect how relationships are built later in life. This is one of the main reasons children who grow up in these homes are more likely to develop a substance use disorder later in life.

Behavioral Problems

Behavior problems stem directly from the unstable or negligent home. These experiences can cause stress, anxiety, or anger that a child may not realize they have or cannot process. This can be made worse if the home environment is violent. These behavioral problems can create a cycle of punishment that may follow well into adulthood.

Increased Risks of Addiction

A child from a home where addiction is present is more likely to develop an addiction themselves.3 This is due to prolonged exposure to the substance, environmental factors like access to drugs, and even encouragement from the parent. The side effects of drugs are worsened when applied to a developing brain. A child exposed to drugs has a higher chance of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

Other Risks

There are numerous risks from exposing a child to drug addiction. There is an increased chance of physical injury, long-term injury, crime, and the general pitfalls of addiction.

The best environment for any child is stable, drug-free, and nurturing. If the parent cannot provide this, then it’s in the child’s best interest to be placed in safer, more structured care.

Who Can Children Turn to for Help?

Especially younger children can be defenseless against the effects of long-term drug abuse. However, there are options for support.

Other Parent

The other parent has a better chance of getting through to the child’s mother or father. In an ideal situation, a child can bring up their concerns regarding substance abuse to the other parent’s attention in a private, safe setting. The parents may be able to work through the issue together, even if they aren’t together anymore. Consulting the other parent isn’t a good idea if they also have or supply the substance use issues.

Older Siblings

If possible, talking to an older sibling for help is a good option. The older sibling may be able to better explain the situation to a medical professional or soothe the younger child’s worries.

Family Members

Family members outside of the household are a great resource for support. Generally, they’re able to view the situation more clearly than the inhabitants and with more resources. They may also be able to care for the child while the parent is in recovery.


Even if they can’t directly help, friends can be a good way for the situation to be talked about and processed. Being able to communicate about issues can do wonders for mental health.

Teachers and Staff at School

Most school districts train their teachers and staff on what to do if a child experiences any form of abuse. They’re often the first to notice the signs of abuse. Because of this, they are likely to be the most capable resource immediately available.

Church Leaders

Church leaders are often community leaders. As such, they can be a vast social resource. This means that even if they are incapable of helping for some reason, they can point in the right direction.

How are Parents Affected by a Child Using Drugs?

Watching a child go through drug addiction can be one of the most challenging moments in being a parent. Parents are affected in the following ways:


Watching someone go through addiction, especially someone you thought you knew, can be rough. Addiction changes who people are and what they want. It’s important to remember that addiction isn’t a choice, and it’s not as easy as just quitting.


It’s common for parents to fear that their child will overdose, be arrested, or simply never seek recovery. Though partially valid, help is available. Fear can stop action, and recovery takes momentum.


A parent may feel angry at their child, the world, or even themselves because of addiction. This is normal. However, expressing that anger to someone with an addiction isn’t necessarily helpful. In some cases, it can cause them to reject help and spiral further into drug abuse.


Self-Blame can take many forms. A parent may wonder where they failed. They may also think something along the lines of, “If we hadn’t divorced,” or “If I had done X, then they wouldn’t be in this situation.” However, this isn’t necessarily true. Not all people with substance use disorder come from broken homes or traumatic environments.

Financial Losses

Drug addiction is expensive. Financial losses are invariably the primary cause of homelessness and illness. As a parent, you may feel obligated to support your child financially. However, you can ensure the money is being used where you intend. You can pay the bills directly instead of giving cash or offer to split the cost for certain requirements. This is to ensure bills are getting paid and prevent bad credit.

Strained Relationships

Addiction makes it difficult to maintain or create a relationship. These relationships can be with:


The parent-child dynamic is disrupted once addiction starts. The child may begin to use the parent as a bank account or satisfy base food or laundry requirements. This can lead to emotional pleas and guilt trips from the parent that push the child away and further into addiction.


Addiction lowers the libido, causes irritability, and draws attention away from a spouse. Addiction causes divorce, domestic violence, and trust issues, to name a few.

Friends and Family

Addiction can make a person unable or unwilling to follow through on social events. This creates distance between family members. A family member may also choose to cut a person with addiction out of their life entirely.

How is One Spouse Affected by the Other Spouse Using Drugs?

Addiction changes the nature of relationships. It can lead to a broken home, poor views of love, and more. Here are the most common effects of drug use in a relationship:

Strained Marriage

When a spouse develops a drug addiction, then the other partner must pick up the slack. This includes paying more bills, doing more chores, and providing emotional support. Eventually, this all becomes too much. Especially as addiction worsens and the person becomes less and less who their spouse married.

Loss of Intimacy

Substance use lowers the libido. Additionally, a person with substance use disorder may become undesirable to their partner.

Financial Problems

In the later stages of addiction, obtaining drugs becomes a higher priority than other expenses. This can result in bankruptcy, foreclosure, repossession, and a general failure to purchase basic necessities. Let alone couples’ dates night, vacation, and gifts.


The culmination of all this is more stress. This stress can cause depression, anxiety, and even physical changes like high blood pressure. Eventually, stress can become overwhelming.


Addiction can cause divorces, and divorce can worsen addiction. Sometimes, it’s best to leave a marriage to preserve mental health and the child’s health.

Other Effects of Substance Abuse in a Relationship

Substance abuse can undo years of relationship-building in a relatively short amount of time. It can also cause a negative self-image, trust issues, and even addiction in the other spouse. It’s important to seek help for your partner when they need it but know when you need to draw a line in the sand.

What Sort of Help is Available?

Addiction treatment is becoming more and more widely available. Here are the most common options.

Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment has two primary forms. Inpatient allows for 24/7 monitoring in a medical environment. Inpatient treatments include recovery programs or prolonged hospital stays.

Outpatient allows you to still live a relatively normal life. This program requests return visits to the hospital for routine monitoring or medication.


Therapy is a vital component of drug recovery. It teaches healthy ways to handle and express emotion. Therapy can also help uncover the reason behind the addiction.

12-Step Groups

12-Step Groups offer a community support system and a highly structured lifestyle for those that need it. 12-step groups are typically free and welcoming.

Other Treatment Options

Some treatment options are entirely localized to a town or city. Reach out to your local hospital for more information.

Remember to use resources as needed. There’s no shame in asking for help, especially when family is on the line. Be patient and understanding. Recovery isn’t easy but it is achievable.