Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands

As a parent in recovery, it is natural to worry about preventing addiction in your child. While there is no guaranteed way to prevent addiction, there are a couple of protective factors that you can implement in your child’s life to reduce risk factors of developing a substance use disorder. Risk factors, such as environmental factors or genetics, increase the likelihood of addiction. Protective factors, such as parental monitoring, a strong family bond and clear expectations can help reduce this risk. Honest and open communication with your child about drug use is always one of the most important steps.

Being a parent in recovery can present several mental and emotional challenges. You may wonder if there is anything you can do to prevent addiction from developing in your child, as you have seen the consequences of addiction firsthand in your own life. You know that as a parent, you want to do your best to keep your child safe from addiction and the harms of substance use in general.

While there is no one way to fully prevent addiction from occurring in your child’s life, it may help to know that there are things you can do to build protection around them. Just as individuals take precautions regarding specific medical conditions when mild symptoms appear, there are protective factors that we can instill in our children’s lives to actively prevent addiction from developing to the best of our ability.

Protective factors are not just important once a child or teen is exposed to drugs or alcohol; instead, they are vital well in advance of these situations. Once you are familiar with addiction’s risk and protective factors, it is essential to engage in open and honest conversation with your child to keep expectations and concerns as straightforward as possible.

Risk factors increase an individual’s chances of engaging with substances and developing an addiction.

Addiction affects everyone differently. Contrary to popular misconceptions, addiction is not caused by just one factor, such as it resulting from solely inherited substance use problems. Many factors influence an individual’s likeliness of developing a substance use disorder. These factors are known as risk factors. 

Some risk factors are fixed and do not change over time, whereas others may develop into risk factors. The two categories of risk factors include:

  • Biological factors
  • Environmental factors

Biological risk factors relate to an individual’s subjective chemical makeup.

Biological risk factors take into account an individual’s brain chemistry. The first main risk factor is genetics or having addiction “run” in the family. If a child has relatives or parents who have experienced addiction, they are at higher risk of developing it.

The other biological risk factor to consider is the presence of other mental health conditions in your child. Mental health and substance use conditions often co-occur together. This tandem may present itself because people with mental health disorders tend to use alcohol or other drugs to self-medicate. It could also be that mental health and substance use disorders affect the same brain areas.

Environmental risk factors address how setting can impact an individual’s decision to use alcohol or other drugs.

Environmental risk factors can be broken down into two categories: inside of the home and outside of the home.

Inside the home, environmental risk factors that may contribute to a child’s likeliness of using substances may include:

  • Parents or siblings that regularly use substances inside of the home
  • Favorable parental attitudes toward substance use
  • Poor parental monitoring of children
  • Family rejection
  • Child neglect, abuse or another traumatic event
  • Poor attachment with parents
  • Availability of substances within the home
  • Poverty and or homelessness

Outside of the home, it can be challenging to protect your child from risk factors out of your control. However, talking with your child about these risks can ensure that they are aware of your concerns. Environmental risk factors outside of the home include:

  • Lack of school connectedness
  • Low academic achievement
  • Poor social coping skills
  • Inappropriate classroom behaviors, such as aggression
  • Association with peer groups that use alcohol or other drugs
  • Association with peer groups that engage in risk-taking behaviors

Protective factors help to reduce your child’s potential for engaging with substance use.

Understanding risk factors can help you avoid certain behaviors and attitudes in your home environment. Understanding protective factors can help your chances of actively preventing your child from using substances and developing associated substance use disorders. Some important protective factors include:

  • A strong bond between child, parents and siblings
  • Parental involvement and monitoring of child’s life
  • Supportive parenting, such as meeting the financial, emotional and social needs of your child
  • Clear expectations, boundaries and enforcement of rules
  • Success in academics and extracurricular involvement
  • Utilization of support resources
  • Acceptance of conventional norms against drug use
  • Encouraging identity exploration for your child
  • Healthy peer groups
  • Opportunities to resolve conflict

As you work to instill these protective factors in your child’s life, it is important for you to have conversations with your child about drug use. You should provide clear expectations for your child to know the risks and concerns involved in experimentation or consumption when inevitably exposed to substances.

Ultimately, you must allow yourself to be an available resource for your child to come to when and if they need advice on how to respond to certain social situations. Honesty and open communication with your child will also serve as a protective factor in the long run.

Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is a premier drug and alcohol treatment center that offers a young adults program. We understand that addiction can affect people of all ages, which is why we create individualized treatment programs for our patients. If you are looking for support on how to be a better parent in recovery, call us today at (877) 557-5372.