Futures Recovery Healthcare

How Substance Abuse Impacts Children and Families


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Substance abuse continues to grow in the United States. Whether it’s an addiction to alcohol or another substance, substance use disorders (SUD) are on the rise–and it’s impacting more children and families than ever before. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one in eight children under the age of 17 years lives in a household with at least one parent or guardian who has a SUD. In addition, about one in ten children in this same age group live in a household with at least one parent who has an alcohol use disorder or AUD. This equates to more than 16 million children in the United States living in a household with addiction issues

Not only do children who live with one or more parents who have an addiction issue face a greater chance of experiencing neglect, these children also have an increased risk of developing an AUD or SUD themselves. In fact, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children who grow up in a household with alcoholism have a four times greater chance of also developing an AUD. 

SAMHSA reports that in 2019, 20.4 million Americans over the age of 12 years had some type of substance abuse issue. This includes alcohol as well as prescription and illicit drugs. And while some of the rates are declining, for example, Americans over the age of 12 years with an AUD went from 7.7% in 2005 to 5.3% in 2019, there is still a great need for treatment for millions of people–and their families. 

What is a SUD? 

It’s important to understand what defines a SUD as well as an AUD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Edition 5 (DSM-V) lists the following criteria when determining the presence of a SUD or AUD: 

  1. Taking the substance in greater quantities or for longer amounts of time than intended
  2. Attempting to cut down or stop or wanting to do so and being unable
  3. Spending significant amounts of time recovering from the effects of substance use or trying to get it or using it
  4. Experiencing cravings for the substance
  5. Neglecting school, home, or work because of using the substance
  6. Experiencing problems in relationships because of use and continuing to use
  7. Giving up social, work, or recreational activities so you can use the substance
  8. Using the substance repeatedly even when it puts you in danger
  9. Continuing use despite having a physical or psychological issue that worsens from use
  10. Developing tolerance and needing more of the substance to get the desired effect 
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not taking the substance

Anyone who suspects that they or someone they love may have a SUD should ask themselves these questions. The DSM-V groups both SUD and AUD by the degree of severity; mild, moderate, and severe. The more criteria a person experiences, the greater the degree of severity. These 11 criteria are the same for AUD with alcohol as the substance. 

Addiction and Families 

Today, only about 11% of the estimated 21 million Americans with an AUD or SUD get the treatment they need. What’s more, about one in five Americans struggling with addiction report that they don’t know where to turn for help. As an individual’s addiction continues, it worsens and the impact on the children in these families also gets worse. 

According to the National Association for Children of Addiction (NACoA), the following are facts about addiction and children: 

  • 78% of infants who have been abandoned have been exposed to drugs
  • Every second, of every hour, of every day two babies are born to addicted parents
  • 32 billion dollars is spent annually on nonfatal maltreatment associated with parental SUD or AUD

The need for increased awareness about how addiction impacts children and families is great. Many people mistakenly think that addiction only impacts the person with the problem. Sadly, this is far from true. Anyone who has grown up in a household with alcoholism or addiction knows this all too well. In addition, AUD and SUD also impact adult loved ones and families. Parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and close friends are also impacted by the ongoing addiction of a loved one. 

Not only are these individuals impacted, they too, need help in recovering from their sometimes harrowing experiences to heal and find peace of mind. In addition, education and prevention may help to decrease the chances of children of those with an AUD or SUD developing the same or a similar problem. When it comes to recovery, the family is a big part of the process. 

It’s important that any treatment also include the family of the person with the issue in some way. Family intervention is key to healing for not just the person with the AUD or SUD but the entire family unit. 

When it comes to addiction, there are certain factors that increase someone’s risk of developing an AUD or SUD. The ACE or Adverse Childhood Experiences Score is a widely used scale to determine or theorize what potentially troubling experiences adults may have to navigate. Experts report that the impact of having a high ACE score is similar to those individuals who grew up with a parent with an AUD or SUD. 

Some of these include: 

  • Increased risk of developing an AUD or SUD 
  • Increased chance of having first drink at an earlier age
  • Increased risk of engaging in risky behaviors
  • Increased risk of having mental health disorders 
  • Increased risk of having problems at school including grades and attendance
  • Increased risk of relationship problems as kids and adults
  • Increased risk of parenting problems of their own
  • Increased chance of experiencing neglect
  • Increased rates of emergency room visits
  • Increased risk of being sexually abused
  • Increased chance of having legal issues or problems with the law
  • Increased chances of suicide or suicidal ideation 
  • Increased chance of being removed from the home as a child

As these points illustrate, growing up and living with a parent who has an AUD or SUD can impact children, not just when they are growing up but far into adulthood too. This is just another reason why getting the right treatment for an alcohol or drug problem is so important. 

How to Get Help

When someone has an issue with alcohol or another substance, anyone close to them sufferers in one way or another. Just as the disease of addiction gets progressively worse, so too does the impact on family, particularly children.

As mentioned when it comes to getting treatment for addiction, not only should the person with the issue get treatment, but the family should also be involved in family and/or individual therapy. This is one reason that choosing a rehab that actively engages the family of the patient from the start is so crucial. 

Not only does the entire family need to recover and heal, when family members are armed with the right information, strategies, support, and tools, they can provide a support system for the person in recovery that is healthy for all involved. Typically, families who have a member struggling with any type of addiction issue fall into patterns that may not only be unhealthy for them but may also unintentionally hurt the person in recovery and enable them. 

This is another reason why it’s vital for entire family units to get help for AUD or SUD. Studies show that when an individual in recovery has a strong support system outside of clinical treatment, they are more likely to stay sober for the long haul. And, that’s the goal. Sobriety and recovery should be lifelong journeys, not just 30 days at a treatment center. 

And this is true too for the children of alcoholics or addicts as well. It is said that addiction is a family disease. That means that not only does the individual need to heal, as mentioned, but the entire family also needs to heal. This may be ongoing for family members and children too. Many times individuals mistakenly think that once the person stops drinking or using drugs everything will be fine. 

Sadly, this overlooks the fact that healing the body, mind, and spirit takes time, commitment, and the willingness to work at it. This is true for children too. Whether family members realize it or not, they too have suffered from their loved one’s addiction issue. However, the good news is that today, there are multiple programs that support children and family members to get the help and support they too need. This should never be overlooked or viewed as less important than the healing of the person who has the addiction issue. 

At Futures Recovery Healthcare, we involve the family from the first contact with our team. We know, firsthand, how vital healing the entire family unit is–from the start. We also understand that there isn’t a one size fits all for treatment for individuals or the family unit. Our compassionate, experienced team members treat each situation as unique and create a treatment plan that is tailored to meet each person and family’s needs. 

In addition to family programs in addiction treatment centers, there are also a number of support groups that can offer help and support to the children of alcoholics or addicts and the entire family unit. 

The 12-Step program Al-anon is for anyone who has a person with an AUD or SUD in their life. Whether they are in recovery or not, Al-Anon offers strength and hope for those who are impacted by the addiction of a family member, loved one, or friend. This group has provided countless amounts of support for many over the years since it began in 1951. 

Another 12-Step program is Alateen. This group is geared towards, as the name implies, children of alcoholics and those with substance use issues who are in their adolescent years. Alateen is part of the Al-anon program and you can find Al-ateen meetings on the Al-anon resources page listed above. 

In addition to these two 12-Step groups, the program Celebrate Recovery is for not only those with an addiction problem but also family, loved ones, and friends. This is a Christ-based 12-Step program with meetings held in churches across the nation. 

There are individual and family therapists who specialize in treating families and individuals who have experienced–or are still experiencing–addiction. Often, these therapists are trauma-certified therapists. As mentioned, many times a person who has an AUD or SUD has experienced trauma as children. In addition, many children and family members of alcoholics and those with SUD have also experienced trauma. 

It’s vital to treat not just the alcohol or drug problem but also get to the root of the problem and address any past trauma or mental health issues. This helps to strengthen long-term sobriety chances. After all, many people begin using alcohol or a drug to numb the painful feelings they have from traumatic experiences. When these deeper issues are left untreated and unresolved, the chance of picking up a drink or drug again increases. For that reason, it’s vital to find a treatment center that addresses any co-occurring disorders as well. 

Addiction can be painful–whether you have the issue or someone you love does. But, many people get into treatment and find recovery. It is not just possible, it happens every day. If you’re worried about a family member or loved one with an AUD or SUD Futures is here for you. We treat adults with AUD, SUD, and co-occurring disorders like depression and anxiety. In addition, we are devoted to helping to heal the entire family unit. Contact our admissions team today to learn more about our programs or call us at 866-804-2098.


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