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Effects of addiction on children

Effects of addiction on children

Each year, more than 9,000 babies abandoned at birth are drug-exposed.

In 2004 alone, roughly 1.84 million parents of minors were admitted to public treatment systems. There were likely a percentage of families involved in private substance abuse treatment and even more who don’t get treatment at all.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, as of the early 2000s, more than 8.3 million minors lived with at least one parent who was addicted to alcohol, drugs or both.

The number of children influenced by substance abuse is far-reaching, and its impact is pervasive.

Researched consequences:

  • More frequent depressive or anxious episodes and disorders
  • Higher risk of psychosocial dysfunction
  • A sample of kids hospitalized for psychiatric disorders showed more than 50 percent were children of addicted parents
  • Birth defects and drug-induced developmental problems, or babies born addicted to the mother’s drug of choice
  • Heightened stress-related illnesses like enteritis, colitis and asthma
  • Proclivity toward maladaptive behaviors
  • Disproportionate numbers of people with bulimia nervosa are children of addicts (COAs)
  • Greater instance of gambling problems
  • Concentrated emotional detachment issues like apathy, mistrust, guilt and shame

According to the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic stress, as it relates to education, COAs might also:

  • Be preoccupied, tired or unable to concentrate in school or other activities 
  • Work below their potential because of draining codependency 
  • Be reluctant to bring friends home due to embarrassment about the addicted parent’s behavior
  • Witness or experience physical or emotional abuse in the family
  • Undertake developmentally inappropriate responsibility for household, siblings or parents

Genetics vs. epigenetics

As mentioned in part three of this series on the effects of addiction, much like being influenced by a sibling’s addiction, drug abuse of parents will either sway children to follow their lead or swing to the polar opposite.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “Twin studies have revealed that there are common, heritable genetic components that predispose an individual to drug addiction, and that these genetic factors contribute approximately 20–50 percent to the variance of developing a drug addiction, with the remaining contribution due to [environmental] factors. Recent studies have elucidated the interrelated nature of these determinants, clarifying the idea that individual biological factors and broader biosocial influences interact.”

Whereas genetic components predispose, epigenetics has a hand in if the switch turns on or not. Epigenetics is most simply a cataloging of changes in the expression of inherited genes. One can carry an inclination toward addiction, but epigenetics would explain a body’s dormancy in manifesting such addiction disease. This regulation occurs without changes to DNA sequences. It’s more like an override mechanism.

Looking outside the nest

Lastly, addicted parents’ drama often forces children to look outside the nest for guidance. Sometimes they place their vulnerability in equally unstable hands. Sometimes not.

Thankfully, “Research shows that even if your parents are addicted, having someone in your life – a coach, a neighbor – anybody who’s a loving person and who’s a reliable presence makes a huge difference.”

The Sovereign Health Group’s nationwide facilities treat the underlying causes of drug addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy and solution-focused brief therapyNatural assisted detox and adjunct options to therapy like yoga, art, equine and gym activities all envelop our clients in a spectrum of treatment for lasting recovery. For yours or the sake of your loved one, call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a Sovereign Health writer and her intriguing storytelling has been featured with Sovereign Health, KPBS TV/FM, FOX5 News in San Diego and NPR. Her illustrative and relatable approach to digital and broadcast news bridges businesses and consumers, news and community. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at