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The Effects of Parental Addiction on Children

Living with substance abuse or addiction makes it nearly impossible to be a healthy parent. Understanding the dangers of substance abuse and how parental addiction affects children is essential to any parent with addiction or child of an addicted parent. 

If you have children and live with substance abuse, you must seek the treatment necessary to help you overcome the condition to be the healthy parent your child deserves. Reach out to the Mandala Healing Center staff today for information on getting comprehensive, compassionate substance abuse treatment. 

Substance Abuse and Children: An Overview

Substance abuse is a serious problem in the United States. Millions of people live with untreated substance use disorders or addiction to drugs and alcohol. The effects of addiction are present in our communities, including schools and healthcare settings.

Public health officials and medical professionals are interested in how addiction affects children, beginning in pregnancy. According to research performed by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2011 and 2012, about 8.5% of pregnant people reported using alcohol during pregnancy. About 2.7% admitted to binge drinking, and less than a percent said they drank heavily during pregnancy. In total, 400,000 babies are born after prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol.[1]

About 12% of all children in the United States live with a parent who is addicted to substances during their childhood. Approximately 7.3 million children have one parent addicted to alcohol, and 2.2 million live in a home with a parent addicted to illicit drugs.[2]

How Addiction Affects Children by Age

Children of different ages may experience different effects of their parent’s substance abuse. 


Prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol can have significant lifelong risks. Babies who are exposed to substances prenatally are at risk of:

  • Delayed growth
  • Congenital disabilities
  • Poor attachment to parents or caregivers
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome

Babies may be born with deformed internal organs, which sometimes require intensive medical treatment or reduce the quality or length of their life. 


Living in a chaotic environment with an addicted parent can overwhelm a young child’s coping ability. Children of addicted parents may develop stress-related health conditions like asthma and migraines and have behavioral issues in school. Generally, they are more prone to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Trauma
  • Isolation
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • Abuse or neglect

Children whose parents abuse substances are three times more likely to experience neglect and sexual or physical abuse.


Teenaged children of addicted parents may experience significant mental health and interpersonal challenges related to their parents’ substance abuse. They may feel:

  • Angry at their parent
  • Embarrassed by their parent’s behavior
  • Worried about their own health and safety
  • Unsafe in the home
  • Frustrated by their parent’s behaviors
  • Lonely or isolated
  • Disappointed in their parent’s inability to change

Teens may struggle in school or take on the burden of caring for their addicted parents or siblings. Living with an addicted parent makes it more likely that a teen will experiment with drugs or alcohol at an earlier age. This can raise their risk of developing a substance use disorder later in life. 

Adult children

Adult children of parents with addiction may adopt destructive roles to help them cope with the stress of their situation. They may work hard to keep the peace within the family, attempt to get their parent to seek help, or distance themselves from the family altogether. While support and treatment are available for some issues, many adult children live with the lingering effects of their parents’ addiction for the rest of their life.

How Addiction Affects Children: Emotions and Behaviors

Children do not often have the emotional capacity to cope with the neglect, chaos, and uncertainty common in homes with an addicted parent. They are unlikely to have their basic needs met and often struggle with attachment to their caregivers. Many children of addicted parents develop significant mental health challenges that require comprehensive, compassionate treatment. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Lack of empathy toward others
  • Anger and violent outbursts

Living in a home with an addicted parent can be intensely stressful and cause lifelong damage to a child’s mental health. The child may have trouble in school, find it difficult to make friends or maintain healthy relationships, and experiment with substance use at an early age.

How Addiction Affects Children: Physical Health

Babies born after prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol may suffer from various health conditions. But even without prenatal exposure, the effects of a parent’s addiction can damage the child’s health as they grow up. 

Children of addicted parents are more likely to experience:

  • Impaired cognitive ability
  • Malnutrition
  • Sexual or physical abuse
  • Speech delays

Some of the physical harm done by a parent’s addiction can be severe and lifelong. Without professional interventions, a child with an addicted parent is more likely to develop an addiction and cause harm to their own children later in life. 

Get Help Now

Addiction hurts more than just the person abusing drugs and alcohol–it can also have far-reaching effects on family, friends, and loved ones. More importantly, the way children are raised shapes the rest of their lives, and no child deserves to grow up in a home affected by addiction.

If you or someone you love are struggling with addiction, getting help means a better life for you and your family. Reach out to the caring Mandala Healing Center admissions specialists for information about starting substance abuse treatment today.