Parents are supposed to nurture their children with all good habits and guide them to be good members of society. But when parents themselves become physically and emotionally dysfunctional due to substance abuse, it results in profound negative effects on children impacting their social, physical and emotional well-being.
Today, there is an increasing concern about the negative effects parental substance abuse on children as there are many parents who abuse alcohol or other illicit drugs in US. According to a report by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), more than 8.3 million children (more than 1 in 10) live with at least one parent who is a substance abuser.
Effects on children
Because of parental drug abuse, one can observe severe implications on children's lives. Parental substance abuse affects the young ones' relationships with both parents and other family members. As per a research by SAMHSA, children of parents who abuse illicit drugs are more at risk than their peers for depression, delinquency, poor school performance, and drug and alcohol use. Some of the other effects of parental abuse on their children are:
Impairs child's growth
Parental substance abuse creates considerable problems including the interruption of normal development of the child. Kids of substance abusing parents will be at higher risk for emotional, physical and mental health issues. They generally suffer from low self-esteem, a disruptive attitude, anxiety, behavioral problems, depression etc. Unable to get consistent practical or emotional care from their parents, they separate themselves from their parents and peers. Parental substance abuse causes a lot of social stigma because of which, they may have difficulty in connecting with others during social interactions.
Parents, who abuse drugs, loose their ability to parent effectively as they are more likely to be involved with domestic violence, divorce, unemployment and mental illnesses. Children of these parents will suffer from stress related health problems like depression, anxiety, improper social behavior, delinquency, gastrointestinal disorders, migraines, headaches, asthma etc. Children may also suffer from maltreatment and malnourishment.
Loose interest in academics
Parental substance abusers will have disturbing consequences on their children's academics. Because of continuous unhealthy and stressful atmosphere in their home, these children will have poor academic performance and learning disabilities. They are more likely to repeat grades, truant and drop out of the school. Due to lack of peace at home, children will not be able to concentrate on their studies and homework.
Children may imitate their parents
Children see their parents and try to experiment with the substances that their parents abuse. Some may try these harmful drugs to deviate their minds from stress at their home. They start feeling that substance abuse is the only solution for their problems. According to SAMHSA, children with parents who are addicted to alcohol or other illegal drugs are four times more likely to get addicted if they try alcohol or other illegal drugs.
How to keep the children safe
As discussed above, there are many negative effects on children due to parental substance abuse. They can develop anxiety, which includes over-achievement, constant need to please others, fear of harm etc. They may experience depression, which includes symptoms like fatigue and lack of interest. They suffer from many behavioral disorders such as temper tantrums, emotional outbursts, no control of behavior, aggression, lying, stealing etc. So, it is very important to keep them safe from the harmful effects of the drug abuse. Some of the ways to keep children safe are:
Maintain open communication with children
It is very crucial for the parent to maintain open communication with their children. It is like building trust and an atmosphere of love. The parent has to be honest, clear and also be aware of the influence of words. The parent should communicate about the issues related to substance abuse with their children.
Stick to the facts
Parents have most control over the kids. To keep them safe, parents should intervene at the right time and talk to them. One of the important things they should remember while talking to their kids is that they should stick to the facts. If the parent wants to talk about the actual impact of the substance, it is better to express the truth than covering up. Children these days are smart enough to identify whether the parent is leaving something out or exaggerating. If the parent tries to lie or if the child finds that the parent has lied, he/she will feel betrayed and resentful.
Practice what you speak
Many of the children name their parents as their major role models in their lives, even if they are most rebellious children. Substance abusing parents are a major means of influence of substance abuse for their children. If parents don't want that their children to abuse illicit substances, they should first quit substance abuse. Remember the old saying, "Do as I say, not as I do," doesn't work with kids as they often see and figure out more than we realize.
Be clear and simple
The parent should be clear, simple and straightforward. The best thing is to establish clear 'no-use rules' for children about substance abuse. The parent should not express to their children that a particular substance is better than the other or it is fine to use in certain situations. This will just appear like the parent is approving it to use. Parent should also not give the examples which might be confusing and hard to understand.
Examine family choices
It is very important for parents to make sure that others in the family are also free from substance abuse. In order to make sure that their children grow in a healthy and drug free environment, all the family members should be drug free. If the family is good, the children will pick up the healthy behaviors from them.
As discussed above, parental substance abuse has a significant impact upon the welfare, development, and happiness of the children. Awareness is the best solution for children, communities and individuals themselves to stop misusing drugs or alcohol.