How Substance Abuse Affects Children

Addiction is known as a family illness because it affects more than just the individual in question. This destructive illness can tear families apart, with siblings, parents and spouses all affected when one family member develops an addiction. Sadly, one group that tends to be the forgotten victims when a family member has an addiction is children.

Children are often deemed too young to understand and, therefore, are left to wonder why the affected family member is acting the way he or she is. Addiction can be frightening for a child, especially when the person with the illness is a parent on whom they depend.

Effect on Children

Children who live with an addict may be exposed to neglect, financial hardship, abuse, or violence. In some instances, children will be physically or emotionally abused by the addicted parent, and if the non-addicted parent struggles to cope with his or her partner’s illness, the children may be neglected.

Even if the non-addicted parent is able to care for the children, family life will be affected negatively. It may be that money is spent on the addiction, leaving the family without necessities. Children may have to witness their addicted parent becoming aggressive or violent with the non-addicted parent, and often this causes irreparable damage to the family unit. It is not uncommon for families where substance abuse is present to break down and for parents to eventually divorce. This can have a lasting effect on children and can shape them for the future.

Children of addicts often make poor life choices as they get older, and many will develop addictions themselves. Far from being abhorred at the idea of alcohol or drugs after witnessing the devastating effect these substances had on their own family, they may find it familiar and comforting when they are unable to cope with life.

Unpredictable Behaviour

Those who are addicted to substances such as alcohol or drugs may behave irrationally and unpredictably. This can be very confusing for a child, especially if he or she has no comprehension of addiction and how it affects the individual.

Children who live with a parent with an addiction may be subjected to extreme mood swings, bouts of aggression, or violence, coupled with periods of depression. Children are unable to understand why their parent is behaving in this way and may begin to blame themselves. Unfortunately, many addicted parents will look to blame others for their actions as well, and may be guilty of telling the children that it is their fault that they drink or take drugs. They may say things like ‘I wouldn’t need to drink if you behaved better’. This can have a devastating effect on kids.

Lasting Damage

Sadly, children will adapt to cope with the actions of their parent and may become depressed, anxious, fearful, or violent, even from a very young age. As they get older, they may become secretive and lie to their friends in order to hide their addicted parent’s illness. This can result in isolation and being withdrawn as they attempt to stop friends from visiting their home for fear of the secret of their parent’s addiction coming to light. This can lead to lasting damage and can affect their ability to form relationships as they grow older.

Children of addicted parents may also suffer at school. Their chaotic lifestyle means that they may not do well at school, which can lead to problems in the future. If school work is affected, the child will be unable to get good grades and secure a good job.

Neglected children could also become targets for bullies at school because they are unkempt and unwashed. This will result in further isolation and poor social skills, and it might have a devastating impact on the child’s prospects going forward.