Understanding the Effects of Addicted Parents on Children

Children of alcoholic or drug-addicted parents are 4 times more likely than other children to develop a drug or alcohol addiction themselves, and at a younger age than other substance abusers. Alcohol and drug-addicted parents are 3 times more likely to abuse and 4 times more likely to neglect their children. Almost 1/3 of all foster children were removed from their homes due to parental drug or alcohol abuse.

Your drug or alcohol addiction is affecting your children. Right now, they are more prone to:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance Abuse
  • Dysfunctional Relationships

Keep reading to see you exactly how your children are being affected and what you can do to change their future.

Learn About Outpatient Treatment

Drug Cycle in a Family Dynamic

It's not just you anymore. Your whole family bears the consequences of your addiction, especially your children.

Your children learn what normal life looks like from you. They will see your drug use, mood swings and destructive behavior as "normal." This unpredictable home life will often cause children to develop anxiety disorders.

They also learn that family and relationships are stressful, even dangerous. They will have a hard time trusting people and struggle with relationships throughout their life. They may even be drawn into dysfunctional relationships in the future in order to feel "normal" again.

What's worse is that children automatically trust their parents as authorities. They don't understand what you're going through. They'll think your unpredictable or destructive behavior is their fault.

Children of addicted parents are often left alone for long periods of time while their parent is using or passed out. They'll wonder why you leave them so often and think your neglect is a punishment for something they did. They are more likely to struggle with low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness and are less likely to excel in school and life.

But their problems can even start before birth. Here are the different ways children of addicted parents are affected.

During Pregnancy

It's widely known that drug or alcohol abuse during pregnancy has a high chance of causing:

Additionally, drug or alcohol abuse can often lead to malnutrition in pregnant mothers, which can also hinder the physical or mental development of the baby.

Genetic Predisposition

Another prenatal way children of substance-addicted parents are affected is by genetics. Even if both parents completely overcome their substance addiction before pregnancy, studies have shown that children are still more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol simply due to genetics.

Overall, children of alcoholics or drug-addicted parents are 40-60% more likely to inherit substance abuse addiction. Children of alcoholics are 50-60% more likely to abuse alcohol later in life and children of illicit drug addicts are 45-79% more likely to abuse illicit drugs.

At Birth

After birth, children may become negatively impacted by their parent's substance abuse problem as early as the day they are born.

Infants need a strong connection with their parents to develop correctly. Drug or alcohol abuse can make parents seem uninterested or disconnected. A lack of parental connection can cause brain functions such as reward and attachment systems to develop improperly, or lead to eventual trust issues or even SIDS.

Early Childhood

Children of addicted parents live in a broken home. This chaotic environment spawns many factors that increase the child's chances of developing their own substance addiction, including:

Ease of Access

Children of addicted parents can learn from watching how to use drugs and where they are stored. A drunk or high parent may not be careful to hide their habit from their child or might even purposely share drugs with their children.

Unhealthy Parental View of Substance Abuse

Seeing that their parents like drugs will make an addict's children want to try it. Addicted parents sometimes speak openly about their approval of drug or alcohol abuse. Children in this situation learn to see drugs as favorable or normal and will eventually want to try them.

Absent Parents

When addicted parents are using or incapacitated by their substance abuse, their children are left unsupervised for lengthy periods of time. This will usually lead them to believe their behavior doesn't matter to their parents and they learn no reason to respect authority, which leads to delinquent behavior later in life.

This lack of supervision also usually occurs in a home filled with the parent's drugs and alcohol strewn around. It doesn't take much for the bored, neglected child to take that first step toward addiction given the environment.

Child Abuse

An addicted parent's detachment or impaired judgment can (and does) more often lead to child abuse. Because addict's children are more often neglected or abused, the pain built up in their life will push them to cope with it the only way they've seen how: substance abuse.

All these hallmarks of an addicted parent's child-raising habits will make it far more likely for the children to become addicts at a young age.

The Effect of Parent's Addiction on Children

In addition to being more likely to abuse substances, a child of addicted parents is also more prone to:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Other mental or emotional disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Asthma
  • Migraines
  • Poor success in school or work

They will also develop unhealthy views of family and relationships. They may have trust and people-pleasing issues that may compel them to seek out other dysfunctional relationships to feel normal. This is why children of substance-abusing parents often date or marry substance abusers.

How Can Addicted Parents Break the Cycle of Addiction?

Get help.

The most important thing you can do is get started right now on the road to recovery

Also, talk to your family.

Don't be afraid of what they'll say when you tell them. Be afraid of what will happen to them if you don't.

Explain your situation to your family the best you can. Click here for tips on talking to your family about your addiction. Our blog and resources combined with your firsthand knowledge can help you educate your family.


There is hope for you and your children.

You can stop the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse in your family today. Click here to start now.

Learn About Outpatient Treatment


  1. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_3223/ShortReport-3223.html
  2. https://americanspcc.org/child-abuse-statistics/
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/16/opinion/young-victims-of-the-opioid-epidemic.html?_r=0
  4. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-substance-abuse-prevention-early-childhood/chapter-1-why-early-childhood-important-to-substance-abuse-prevention
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3661209/
  6. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/AA76/AA76.htm
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3676900/

Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on March 31st, 2018.