Children of Addicted Parents

Understanding your parent’s addiction

Addiction is often called a “family illness” because it affects the person who is addicted and all their loved ones too. This can be very hard for all family members but particularly difficult if you are a child whose mother or father has an addiction. Sadly, there are around three million children who find themselves living with a parent who struggles with drinking. If you include other addictions, the size of the problem becomes clear. Remember that even if your parents are struggling with addiction, you are not alone. Recovery Lighthouse is here to help you and your parents every step of the way.

Alcoholic parent

Why do parents develop addictions?

We know that trying to understand your parent’s addiction can be difficult, but the first thing to remember is that it’s not your fault nor your responsibility to fix it. Parents can become addicted to drugs or alcohol for lots of different reasons, including stress, trouble at work, relationship issues or problems with their mental health.

If your parent uses these substances to cope with their problems, they can develop a ‘tolerance’, which means they need to drink more alcohol or take more drugs to feel the same effects. This can lead to ‘dependency’ where they feel like they need the substances to function or feel normal. In the end, this causes addiction which is a serious brain illness and can completely change the way your parent thinks, behaves and feels.

The effects parents’ addiction has on their children

We know that a parent’s addiction can cause a lot of hurt and worry for children. If your parent has an addiction, you may experience the following:

Fear and nervousness…

Living with addiction can make your own home a scary, unpredictable place, leading to feelings of fear and anxiety. If you find yourself in this situation, speak to an adult you trust and share your experiences and feelings. It could be another relative, a teacher or a coach but don’t keep it to yourself.


It is common to experience many changes and a lack of structure due to your parents’ addiction and their unpredictable behaviour. Try to balance this by focusing on things you can control, including your daily routine, your schoolwork or pursuing a hobby that you enjoy.

Financial difficulties…

Addiction often results in financial problems, which can affect your family. We know that some children may not have enough to eat every day or are lacking in the things they need for school. If you’re worried about money or you’re not getting enough food or other necessary things, discuss it with an adult you trust. They can offer support, help find a solution and get you the things you need.

Academic issues…

The stress from home might affect your concentration in school or prevent you from doing homework. Make sure you talk to your teachers about your situation so they can give you extra time and support. Remember that you don’t have to tell them anything you don’t want to; just share as much as you feel comfortable with so that you can work with your teacher to manage your schoolwork better.

Children of addicted parents - student at school

Health issues…

Physical and mental health issues are also sadly common for children living with addicted parents. These can come from stress, neglect and sometimes even physical harm. Living in an addicted household can also sometimes also expose children to harmful substances or unsanitary conditions, which can lead to serious dangers.

Some children get headaches, stomachaches or other symptoms because of stress or not enough food, while others have trouble sleeping or have nightmares. If you are experiencing any of these, it’s important to reach out to a trusted adult like a school nurse, a teacher or a relative. If necessary, they can help you get the right medical attention and take steps to protect you.

Emotional impact…

Feelings of shame, guilt, loneliness and confusion are also common for children with addicted parents, and they are nothing to be embarrassed about. Try to express your emotions through writing, art or speaking to friends or family to help manage these feelings. You can also seek professional help like therapy or counselling if you feel like that could help you.

The dangers in stats

In addition to the above impacts, the NACOA also found that children living with alcohol-addicted parents are:

  • Six times more likely to experience or witness domestic violence
  • Five times more likely to develop eating disorders
  • Three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts
  • Two times more likely to have issues at school
  • Two times more likely to develop addictions themselves
  • Two times more likely to get in trouble with the police

These risks are present with every type of addiction, not just alcohol and underline the extreme issues children with addicted parents face.

Actions you can take if your parent has an addiction

We understand how difficult it can be to live with a parent who has an addiction, and Recovery Lighthouse is here to help you in any way we can. Here is some advice that we hope can help make the situation easier:

Look after yourself…

Your well-being must be your priority. If you are ever in a situation where you may be in danger, take immediate action to ensure your safety. This may mean confiding in a trusted adult who can help you, going to a friend or relative’s house or, if you are scared, calling the police.

Learn more about addiction…

Learning more about addiction can help you to feel in control and truly understand what your parent is going through. You can learn about addiction online, read our help guides and even get in touch with our team for answers to any questions you have.

This can also help with feelings of judgement or resentment you have towards your parents. However, it’s okay to experience mixed feelings about your parent’s struggle. You may feel upset, sad or angry, and that’s entirely normal.

Try to talk to your parent…

Talking to your parents about your worries and feelings can be a scary but important step. If a face-to-face conversation is too scary, try writing a letter so that you can express your thoughts clearly.

Children of addicted parents - child supporting parent

Seek support…

Trusted adults such as teachers or relatives can provide advice, support you in getting professional help or just be a friendly person too. Joining support groups for children of addicted parents can also be useful. This will give you a chance to meet others who are experiencing similar challenges so you can support each other and give each other advice.

How can rehab help your parent?

Rehab programmes like those provided at Recovery Lighthouse can help your parent overcome their addiction. In rehab, your parent will learn more about what addiction is, explore the reasons behind their addiction and teach them new skills to manage their problems without drinking or taking drugs.

The benefits of your parent attending rehab can be huge. It can help create a safer, more stable home, help make your parents healthier and happier and offer an opportunity to rebuild your relationship with them.

What are your next steps?

When your parent makes the brave decision to come to Recovery Lighthouse for rehab treatment, we will be there to support them every step of the way. As we guide them towards their goal of becoming healthier and happier, we can positively impact both their life and yours.

If you are nervous about reaching out, ask a trusted adult to assist you, as they can help you through the process. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey, and Recovery Lighthouse will be by your side.