A parent who struggles with addiction risks being a toxic influence in their child’s life. Neglect, depressive or angry behavior, and unintentionally encouraging drug use are all risks associated with using drugs while raising a child.
Raising a child when you struggle with addiction is not easy. With someone relying on you, the additional stress in your life may make it harder, not easier, to quit. This is despite most parents knowing, in some way, their drug abuse is going to hurt their child.
It is estimated that one in four children will be exposed to alcohol abuse or dependence of some kind or another in their family. This does not even take into account households where children may see other types of drug abuse or dependence.
Drug use in the home is called an adverse childhood event (ACE). In simpler terms, it is an experience that has a negative impact on a child’s development.
As discussed by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and corroborated by numerous other sources, the environment plays a big part in a child’s various risk factors for things like mental illness, diseases, and more. Of every aspect of the environment a child grows up in, home life might be the most impactful.
Five main environmental factors that affect a child’s early development:
While certainly, drug abuse can affect one’s access to good nutrition and a positive learning environment, this article will focus on the first three, where the impact of addiction is most apparent.
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When you are high, you are not yourself. Ignoring any health impact your drugs might also be having, the nature of drugs means they are changing your mental and emotional state in some way. You also rely on and crave them regularly, potentially to the detriment of obligations to your family.
Drugs may affect your ability to act mature and ethically, leading to you becoming a poor role model for your children. In the case of some drugs like LSD, they may even cause you to break almost entirely from reality, seeming detached from their issues and their lives.
Absenteeism is a common problem for parents who are addicted to drugs. Even if physically present, they may be too emotionally distant to provide the support children crave. This can lead to long-term effects similar to if they were not there at all.
While in many ways linked to finances, drug abuse can cause one’s home environment to deteriorate. It may be difficult to clean, and there may not be any food. Certain types of people who abuse drugs may even have drug paraphernalia lying around or regularly invite other drug users into their homes.
Growing up in such a home, especially if drugs are openly used, can teach a child that drug abuse is a viable method for dealing with problems.
The ways drug use impacts a child’s environment come in both subtle and overt forms.
Many people who are addicted to drugs spend large amounts of money feeding their addiction while simultaneously struggling to hold down jobs that can better make ends meet. Sometimes drug abuse can even lead to losing a job or extremely expensive health issues.
Families with wealth are shown to raise less stressed children. This is not to say children from lower socioeconomic classes are unhappy nor that rich families always produce happy children.
The fact remains that wealth allows a parent to generally support a child better with good education, food, luxuries, and more. The expense of drug use is something that should be acknowledged, especially if it gets out of control.
It would be inaccurate and unfair to say the worst-case scenarios of all the above will come into play with every case of a parent who is addicted to drugs. Some parents may hide at least the worst of their addiction from their kids and make a genuine effort to try and lessen the damage their addiction does.
As a parent, you have an ethical obligation to give your kids the best chance at happiness and success you can. If you ever think you have become a real danger to your family, especially if you use physical or emotional violence against them, it is time to seek immediate professional help or leave that environment.
If you are going to use drugs, do not let your child see it. Never leave your paraphernalia out in the open, and keep drugs locked away in a safe location that your child cannot access.
You need to understand that you cannot trust your decision-making while high on drugs. You put your family at risk physically and emotionally when you abuse drugs.
Ultimately, for the sake of your children and yourself, you need help. Substance abuse treatment programs are available and can help you overcome your addiction, teaching you a variety of coping skills and healthy outlets for your problems. The only way to ensure your addiction does not have a negative impact on your child is to seek professional help.
(November 2014) Surviving the Secret Childhood Trauma of a Parent’s Drug Addiction. Pacific Standard. Retrieved April 2019 from https://psmag.com/social-justice/surviving-secret-childhood-trauma-parents-drug-addiction-94354
(February 2012) Helping Children of Addicted Parents Find Help. National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens (NIDA for Teens). Retrieved April 2019 from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/helping-children-addicted-parents-find-help
Children of Addicted Parents: Important Facts. National Association for Children of Alcoholics. Retrieved April 2019 from http://www.nacoa.net/pdfs/addicted.pdf
(November 2011) Commentary: The Most at Risk: The Most Ignored. Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Retrieved April 2019 from https://drugfree.org/learn/drug-and-alcohol-news/commentary-the-most-at-risk-the-most-ignored/
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study: Child Abuse and Public Health. Prevent Child Abuse. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.preventchildabuse.org/images/docs/anda_wht_ppr.pdf
(August 2018) 5 Environmental Factors Influencing Early Childhood Development. Parenting.FirstCry.com. Retrieved April 2019 from https://parenting.firstcry.com/articles/5-environmental-factors-influencing-early-childhood-development/
(September 2015) Rich Kid, Poor Kid: How Your Family’s Income May Affect Your Children. The Orange County Register (OCR). Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.ocregister.com/2015/09/21/rich-kid-poor-kid-how-your-familys-income-may-affect-your-children/
(May 2012) Father Absence, Father Deficit, Father Hunger. Psychology Today. Retrieved April 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/co-parenting-after-divorce/201205/father-absence-father-deficit-father-hunger