The Effect of Addiction on Your Children

Published by John Gillen | Last updated: 22nd February 2023 | All Sources

The Effect of Addiction on Your Children

Addiction isn’t just detrimental to your own health, it is also deeply damaging to the people around you – none more so than your children.

A 2016 survey by researchers from Harvard Medical School found that one in five children in the US is currently living with a parent with an addiction.

This is a worrying statistic when you consider how seriously living with an addict can affect a child’s long term mental and physical health.

The same study reports that children of one or more addicted parents are four times more likely to be neglected, and three times more likely to be physically, sexually or emotionally abused than others.

These children also statistically face far higher risk of medical and behavioural problems as they grow up, and addiction issues when they reach their teenage years and adulthood.


Is Parental Addiction A Form Of Child Abuse?

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act defines child abuse as:

“Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caregiver, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.”

If you are a parent suffering from addiction, there are various ways in which your addiction may cause you to behave in ways which could be defined as child abuse.


Emotional Withdrawal

It is so important for children to receive a lot of emotional care and attention, far more so than it is for adults. A child’s development depends on love and affection from their parent or guardian to build their confidence and self-esteem, and help with their emotional development.

Addicts struggle to show love to those around them as they are so fixated on the substance that they are addicted to. Whereas this manifests as narcissism and manipulation in interactions with other adults, addicts tend to withdraw entirely from their children.

This withdrawal of affection, and the unreliability of the addicted parent’s reactions and behaviours can make children feel on guard and unsafe all of the time.

Parents struggling with alcohol or drug addiction may also abuse children through:

  • Neglect. Leaving the child at home alone for long periods whilst the parent gets drunk/high, forgetting to provide meals, school equipment or uniform.
  • Violent behaviour. This doesn’t necessarily have to be physical violence. Children can be very deeply hurt by verbal abuse as well.
  • Being forced to ‘cover’ for their parent. Sometimes children will be dragged into the manipulative tactics of the parent, having to call in sick to work for them, or lie to teachers and family members about their habits.
  • Sexual abuse or behaviour that makes the child feel uncomfortable. People are not the same when they are drunk or high as they are when sober. This can lead to parents saying or doing things that are inappropriate and make their children feel unsafe.


How Does This Affect The Child?

In the short term, children of addicts are likely to fall into one of two camps.

  • Overachieving – where the child tries to be perfect in every way so as not to rock the boat, and keep the family afloat.
  • Badly behaved – where the child recognises that there is no real risk in bad behaviour as they are without a parental role model and so just do whatever they want with no fear of repercussion.

In both cases, these children find it hard to talk about their emotions, and become closed off from adults and peers alike. Dealing with the very high-stress nature of their home life without anyone to talk to can lead to further problems including an inability to process or cope with emotions, difficulties at school, depression, low self esteem and behavioural and social disorders.

In the long run, adults who grew up with addicted parents are far more likely to exhibit signs of anxiety and depression, have problems with inhibition and engage in risk-taking behaviour. Children of addicted parents have an increased risk of addiction as well.


Why Do Children Of Addicts Become Addicts Themselves?

Studies have shown that the children of addicted parents are 8 times more likely to develop an addiction in their own lifetimes. This shocking statistic is part of the cyclic nature of addiction, which tends to run through the same families and social groups, and repeat generation after generation for reasons including:


Learned behaviour

Growing up with an addict means that children learn to mimic the behaviour of the addict. People with addictions become incredibly good at manipulating, charming and lying to those around them to get what they want and their children will unconsciously pick up these traits. Children of addicts are behaviourally predisposed to have a natural talent for addictive behaviour.



If there are always drugs or alcohol in the house, and children frequently see a parent and their friends using, this creates a culture of normalisation for these behaviours during a child’s formative years. As they grow up, children are less averse to things that they are comfortable seeing and being around.


Self medication

For adults suffering with trauma from a childhood spent with an addicted parent, substances work as a form of self-medication to numb emotional pain or simply to feel good.


Genetic predisposition

It is also a scientific fact that certain people have a genetic predisposition to addiction, and the children of those with those genes are far more likely to carry the same ones.

According to Dr. Glen Hanson, Director of the University of Utah’s Addiction Center, genetics makes up around 40 to 60 percent of a person’s risk for developing an addiction in their life, with the rest coming from their environment.

He says that there are around 100 separate genes that contribute in some way to addiction, many of these also linked with mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Having any number of these genes present can make a family more likely to present with addictive traits.


How To Break The Cycle

If you are suffering from an addiction and are worried about how it is affecting your children, Cassiobury Court can help.

We offer professional treatment across a range of different therapeutic methods, including intensive family counselling sessions that allow everyone in the family to have their say.

We can offer family interventions, supported by professional counsellors who are able to make the process go smoother, and there is a helpline which gives round-the-clock support helping the families of addicted parents.

It is far easier to detox, rehabilitate and then stay sober when you attend a professional drug or alcohol rehab, as you get a dedicated aftercare plan and help during the transition back into day to day life.

At Cassiobury Court you get 12 months of aftercare included with your treatment, making sure that help is there at every stage of your recovery.

To get started on your recovery, get in touch with our centre today


John Gillen

John Gillen - Author Last updated: 22nd February 2023

John Gillen is a leading addiction treatment expert with over 15 years of experience providing evidence-based treatment methods for individuals throughout the UK. John also co-authors the book, The Secret Disease of Addiction, which delves into how the addictive mind works and what treatment techniques work best.