Amarah's Corner: Effects of parental substance abuse on children and families, Part 2

Jesus said in Matthew 25:40 (KJV), “Whatever you’ve done unto the least of these (kids),  you’ve done it unto me.”

Kids like me are kids and adults of all ages whose parents are, or were, drug addicts, and alcoholics; kids who have suffered, or who are suffering, abuse and neglect on multiple levels; and kids who are victims of bullying.

Effects of Parental Substance Abuse on Children and Families, Part 2


Medical problems

health care utilization: Studies of children of alcoholics (COAs) document increased rates of several physical illnesses believed to be stress-related. A 1990 study of hospital admissions (…) revealed admissions for injuries and poisonings, substance abuse, mental disorders, and diseases of the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems were greater for COAs. COA mothers had more admissions and greater lengths of stays for birth defects.

child abuse and neglect: Child abuse, neglect, and incest have been linked to parental alcohol abuse which effects physical and emotional trauma.

birth defects: Alcohol intake by the mother during pregnancy has been linked to multiple birth defects; the most serious is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS consists of a combination of facial dysmorphia, severe and persistent growth deficiency, central nervous system dysfunction with mental retardation, and other defects. Lesser degrees of alcohol-related birth defects are referred to as Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE). Both FAS and FAE are persistent, lifelong dysfunctions requiring specific rehabilitation.

alcoholism and other drug dependence: COAs are at approximately 3 to 4 times greater risk for developing alcoholism compared to children of non-alcoholic parents and are at increased risk for drug dependence.

Psychiatric disorders

childhood disorders: Mental retardation and other mental dysfunctions have been linked to maternal drinking during pregnancy. ADHD has been linked to parental alcoholism, as have other anxiety, childhood depressive disorders, and conduct disorders in childhood.

eating disorders: Recent studies have shown that a disproportionate number of patients suffering from bulimia nervosa are COAs.

anxiety and depressive disorders: Anxiety and depressive disorders have been reported to be more common in adolescent and adult COAs than in the general population, particularly among females.

pathological gambling: Adult alcoholics and addicts who had alcoholic fathers show an increased risk of pathological gambling.

sociopathy: The relationship between antisocial personality disorder (ASP) and parental alcoholism is well-established, as is the strong association between ASP and adult alcoholism and drug dependence.


Children from substance abusing families are more likely to have learning disabilities; repeat more grades; attend multiple schools (Alamosa Elementary was my 16th school).

Children whose parents drink too much or use drugs may:

* be preoccupied or tired because of trouble at home and unable to concentrate in school (viewed by teachers as, “…not trying”)

* work below their potential because their energy is focused on the substance abuser;

* be reluctant to bring friends home due to embarrassment about the addicted parent’s behavior;

* witness physical or emotional abuse between family members, and/or experience it themselves;

* be unable to focus on homework because of fighting, tension or worry at home;

* take on developmentally inappropriate responsibility for household, siblings or parents (the word is parentified; I was parentified).



Parents with alcohol or drug problems exhibit unpredictable behavior which can lead to mistrust of parents (and other adults).

When the parent stops drinking alcohol and/or using drugs there is hope that the problem has been “solved.” However, if the parent relapses, the disappointment is intense and leads children to distrust authority figures and/or adults in general.


Children and family members may blame each other for “setting off” a drinking/using episode. Examples of this include: “If I made better grades, my mother wouldn’t drink” or “If I didn’t make my Dad angry, he would stop using drugs.”


COAs or children of substance abusers (COSA) are often ashamed of the “family secret” and avoid friendships.


A child may observe his mother drinking and passing out on the floor but is told by his father that she is “sick” or “tired.” A parent may have alcoholic blackouts and make promises they don’t remember.


Strong positive and negative feelings toward the parent may co-exist in the child. For example, a girl/boy may long for approval and love from the substance abusing parent, while simultaneously feeling anger and resentment.


Some COSAs fear that their anger toward the parent could cause the parent to die.


Low self-esteem, tension, anxiety, depressed feelings, and acting out behavior are often reflections of insecurity due to a difficult home environment.

Conflicts about sexuality

The child may be exposed inappropriately to sexual behavior, including in some cases, sexual abuse (by the parent and/or their addict ‘friends’).

Reference. The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress (2014). Effects of parental substance abuse on children and families. Retrieved from

I hope this information will help people understand more about the effects of addict parents on their children.

Until next time, remember, Jesus Loves You, and JESUS IS LORD!