The Risk for Children When Parents Abuse Substances
Ideally, every child would be born into a family with two loving and healthy parents. In less than ideal cases children are born into homes where one or both parents are abusing substances, which means these kids are at greater risk for being abused, neglected or otherwise impaired.
For children to thrive and succeed a stable home with caring parent figures is all-important. Without those things children suffer physically, socially, emotionally and academically. When substance abuse is part of the home environment the home is often unstable, even chaotic. Neglect occurs because parents are preoccupied with obtaining and using their preferred substance.
Problems for children related to substance abuse can begin even before a child is born. Women who abuse drugs or alcohol find it difficult to quit just because they become pregnant. In fact, the discomfort and stress of pregnancy may intensify their substance use. As a result, these mothers are far less likely to seek prenatal care.
Mothers who drink or use drugs tend to have babies with lower birth weights, and complications including premature birth. When the mother is drinking heavily a condition known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is possible. Children with FAS are born with smaller heads and eyes, central nervous system impairment, lower IQs or malformed limbs.
Babies of moms who use drugs also tend to be smaller, premature or at greater risk for miscarriage. These children grow up to have trouble learning and managing emotions.
When mom and dad are distracted with their substance habit, children get neglected. Neglected kids lack trust and therefore find it hard to obey adult-imposed rules. And because these children often fail to form normal adult-child attachments early on, a host of social issues then ensue. These kids have poor social cueing, have more trouble empathizing, are more apt to be depressed, struggle more with self-control and wind up feeling cut off from society.
It should not be surprising then to learn that children of substance abusing parents frequently wind up abusing themselves. This is partly due to parental modeling. Kids who witness drug or alcohol use tend to repeat the behaviors they see modeled. This is also partly due to coping. These children have unstable environments and unstable emotional lives, and substances provide a quick and easy remedy to momentary pain. This is particularly true for children who are physically or sexually abused while a parent is out-of-control due to a substance.