Growing Up With a Parent with Substance Use Disorder

Unfortunately, children of a parent who suffers from addiction are often plagued with life-long effects, whether or not the parent was living in the home with them. While in active addiction, people are doing extensive emotional damage to their children and might not even realize it. Alternatively, if they do realize it, they are using a substance to numb their emotions, furthering them down the well of addiction. It is important to realize that, as a parent, your life isn’t the only one being affected by your addiction.


One of the most common things children of people with substance use disorder can feel or experience is neglect. Parents dealing with substance use disorder tend to neglect, or even abuse, their children on a regular basis without even realizing it. They might even sometimes allow them to be abused by someone else. When a parent is in active addiction, they overlook simple things such as brushing their children’s teeth and other daily hygiene acts, as well as teaching them table manners or common courtesy. They also do not make an effort to spend time with their children, such as: playing with them, celebrating their birthdays, going to their sports games or taking an interest in their hobbies. They don’t make the effort to cultivate their talents, encourage them or tell their children they love them. All of these things can turn into the child having abandonment issues later on in life.

Poor Performance in School

Neglect from a parent, whether a person with substance use disorder or not, can lead to poor performance in school. A child will get low grades from a lack of studying, or enforcement from a parent to do their homework. They tend not to care about their children’s grades, so they don’t spend the time to sit with them and help them study. In addition, children may act out in school in order to get attention, or be a negative influence on other children. Parents also neglect taking their children to school, or making sure their children are attending school, which makes delinquency an issue for children of people with substance use disorder.

Behavioral Issues

Children thrive on having a routine and receiving positive reinforcement. When these things do not occur, many behavioral issues can arise. Children of people with substance use disorder may develop defiance towards all adults (not just their parents), aggressiveness, anger issues or antisocial behavior. Parents who are suffering from addiction do not work to correct bad behavior, which causes the child to think that they are allowed to act in such a way.

Children may also develop other mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression and ADD. Living in a negative environment can cause a large amount of stress for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for a child who relies on their parent for guidance. Children have a harder time expressing themselves and releasing their stress than adults do, which causes stress in children to develop into these mental disorders.

Repeating the Cycle

As adults, the effects of growing up with a parent suffering from addiction remain. Unfortunately, this can include the child becoming susceptible to addiction themselves. Children of people with substance use disorder are four times more likely to develop addiction than children who do not have parents suffering from addiction.

Learned Coping Skills

Substance abuse is a coping mechanism, because addiction stems from a type of trauma experienced in one’s life. A person in active addiction does not have healthy coping skills, or the tools to deal with triggering situations. Instead, they turn to substance abuse to “escape” and numb their negative thoughts or emotions. When children see these negative coping skills, they do not develop positive ones for themselves and can repeat these same negative coping skills they have learned from their parents.

Building a Wall

Children of people with substance use disorder also tend to build very high emotional walls in their adult life. This can include distrusting authority figures, since they have been left disappointed in their parents their entire childhood. Other children may constantly seek approval from others in order to validate their value and worth, since they were always put second to substance abuse, not loved enough and not prioritized in their parent’s lives. They also tend to require control in most areas of their lives, including their careers and relationships. This control can lead to difficulty in intimate relationships, and can find it hard to trust their partner.

About Pinelands Recovery Center

The effects on children from a parent’s addiction are lifelong and life altering. If you are a parent who is suffering from addiction, it is imperative you seek treatment immediately to put a stop to any further damage. We can help you every step of the way in your road to recovery, including helping repair your family and relationship with your children.

Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is widely known as one of New Jersey’s finest, most respected addiction treatment facilities. With comfortable 30-bed accommodations and a 24-hour professional staff, we can offer clients a serene, relaxing environment amid the serene forest environment. This stress-free setting with its sense of warmth and welcoming enables you to feel comfortable and confident about your clean and sober life ahead.

We will establish clear goals, both general in nature and specific to your needs. We continue to monitor those goals, to make sure that our clients are progressing and buying into their recovery plan. We thrive on assisting clients in feeling connected to the recovery community, share and demonstrate effective coping techniques, help clients to modify attitudes and patterns of behavior and everything else you will need to be happy and productive living a sober, healthy life.

We ensure that clients complete their planned concrete tasks, encourage hope, optimism and
healthy living. Our recovery program is not a revolving door treatment program; it is a recovery model designed to help clients go on to lead productive, happy lives. For more information, visit