It’s No Secret – My Parents Use

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More than just “risk taking behavior”

There is increasing concern about the negative effects on children when parents or other members of their households abuse alcohol or drugs or even engage in other illegal drug-related activity, such as manufacturing of methamphetamines in home based laboratories.

Abuse of drugs or alcohol by parents and other caregivers can have negative effects on the health, safety, and well-being of children.

Approximately 47 States, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S Virgin Islands have laws within their child protection statutes that address the issue of substance abuse by parents.

Two areas of concern are the harm caused by prenatal drug exposure and the harm caused to children of any age by exposure to illegal drug activity in their homes or environment.

What happens when a parent uses?

Did you know that in the U.S. one out of four people under age 18 is exposed to alcoholism and drug dependence in their very own family (American Journal of Public Health)?  The most important thing to remember is that it’s not the child’s fault if a parent abuses drugs or alcohol.

Why would a parent or caregiver who is responsible for the well being of a child keep drinking excessively or partaking in drug and substance abuse?

Well, it is true adults have trouble dealing with their problems too.  But if you’re worried about your parent’s drinking or drug use, he or she might have a disease, drug addiction or alcoholism.

The disease of any drug or substance addiction can cause a loss of control and serious emotional and mental complications that require professional help and counseling.

Thing is, it’s incredibly hard for people to admit they have a problem.  Sometimes they don’t realize how much control drugs have over their lives.  Or, they might be terrified of asking for help or dealing with real life without drugs or alcohol.

Parents, as adults, make their own choices.  It’s not the fault of the kid if they drink or use drugs.  They didn’t cause the disease and they are not the problem.  Unfortunately, the adolescent can’t make them stop.  You can’t control what your parent does about his or her problem.

Even more frightening is addiction to alcohol, drugs and substance abuse tends to run in families, so an offspring of a user could face a greater risk.  However, it’s still a tricky road.

Just as you aren’t doomed to suffer the same problems as your parents based simply on genetics, people with no family history of addiction also develop substance abuse problems.

Environment and other influences have a strong impact, so one of the most important things an adolescent can do to is to keep healthy and find healthy ways of coping with stress and other problems.

The clear and present dangers

Sadly, the cost of drug use in this country from lost productivity, healthcare and criminal justice is nearly $600 billion.  What’s more, future generations could inherit drug and alcohol use adding to an already existing epidemic.

Parents who use substances like alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs have higher frequencies of children who pick up their habits.

Alcohol use, for example, continues to increase throughout adolescence and young adulthood, and then remains relatively steady over the lifetime.

When compared to parents who did not use these substances, parents who used alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs were significantly more likely to have children who used those same drugs.


  • The odds of children’s alcohol use were five times higher if their parents used alcohol
  • The odds of children’s marijuana use were two times higher if their parents used marijuana
  • And the odds of children’s other drug use were two times higher if their parent used other drugs

Age and other demographic factors also were important predictors of drug and substance use.

The effect itself is not as strong as one might believe but when measured by developmental stage, it can provide important information on its impact in adolescence and early adulthood.