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Drug and alcohol addiction is a family disease. While the main focus is typically on the addict themselves, the effects of substance abuse can have the most profound impact on immediate family members. An addict’s family, and especially children of drug addicted parents, can be affected most by substance abuse, first as a result of experience a parent’s addiction and later through the development of their own issues with substances.

Children of addicts often feel as though they are trapped and powerless to control what can often be a chaotic environment. The chaos experienced as a result of substance abuse can have staying effects that manifest into issues much later in life. If childhood trauma and challenging life experiences are not processed and dealt with healthily, mental health, and substance abuse disorders can result in adulthood. This perpetual cycle creates an environment that can affect families for generations to come.

Impact of Substance Use Disorder on Children

When a parent develops substance abuse disorders, the foundation of the family structure is upended and can create disfunction in the entire family unit. Parents addicted to drugs and alcohol can display imbalanced moods and behavior, and may behave erratically and even violent, which can immensely damage the developing psyche of children.

When this occurs, parents can be unreliable and unpredictable, which creates a sense of instability and feelings of insecurity. Additionally, parents who are intoxicated can place children in a dangerous situation that can put children at risk of physical harm.

The effects of addiction on spouses

For the sober parent, dealing with their partner’s addiction can limit their abilities to focus their attention on caretaking. Because their focus is on their partner, the children feel neglected. Additionally, a spouse’s issues with substance abuse can make their partner irritable and can lead to confrontations that can result in violence. To make matters worse, children of addicts may resent the sober parent for not protecting them from abuse or other behavior brought on by the alcohol parent.

When children of addicts feel neglected in this manner, they will feel alone and guilty. They won’t invite friends over and become isolated. They will live in continual fear and will be overly sensitive to any signs of danger or instability. Sadly, they learn to contain or deny their emotions—or may become numb to their feelings.

These feelings can last well into adulthood, and children of addicts can develop PTSD. Reliving past experiences can create a continued sense of emotional conflict. As a result, grown children of addicts may resort to numbing themselves with substances as a coping mechanism for unresolved conflict. Even if childhood traumas don’t manifest into substance abuse in adult life, children of addicts can find themselves engaging in unhealthy behaviors that can affect their own families and children.

Healing as a Family

To help break the generational cycle of addiction, entire families must participate in some form of professional treatment when problems begin to emerge.

As stated in the introduction, addiction is a family disease.  Families affected by substance abuse must undergo the process of correcting dysfunction as a whole. During the treatment process, the children of addicts must know their feelings are valid and get a sense that their voice is heard. Additionally, they must feel safe to share their opinions openly without fear of negative repercussions.

In addition to treatment, children of addicts have other resources at their disposal. Support groups such as Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics can be valuable in the healing process. In these groups, children of addicts receive the support and encouragement of others who share their situation. Additionally, other options, such as continued family therapy can help stabilize and strengthen the entire family.

Children of Drug Addicted Parents Support Group: There is Help for Families

Having an addict in the family creates pain and heartbreak for all. If you don’t seek professional help immediately, the effect addiction will have on your family—and especially your children—can last for a lifetime.

Nuview treatment center offers family-centric treatment options that can help families heal as a together as a whole. Through comprehensive treatment approaches, we can create a treatment program that specifically addresses your family’s needs. Contact us for more information regarding family treatment options.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside


Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson


Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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