Parents who misuse drugs or alcohol
There are many reasons why adults take drugs or drink alcohol. If doing so has negative consequences then it may be regarded as misuse. Some people may be at greater risk than others, but anyone can have a problem with drugs or alcohol.
To be healthy and to develop normally, children must have their basic needs met. If a parent is more concerned with funding an addiction, or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it may reduce their ability to meet their children's needs.
A disorganised lifestyle is a frequent consequence of substance misuse. Parents may fail to shop, cook, wash, clean, pay bills, attend appointments etc. This can lead to an inadequate home environment for children.
Children need conversation and play to stimulate their mental development, but substance misuse may affect a parent’s ability to engage with their child. It may also affect a parent’s ability to control their emotions. Severe mood swings and angry outbursts may confuse and frighten a child, hindering healthy development and control of their own emotions. Such parents may even become dependent on their own child for support. This can put stress on a child and mean they miss out on the experiences of a normal childhood.
Other consequences of substance misuse – lost jobs, unsafe homes (littered with half empty bottles or discarded syringes), broken marriages, severed family ties and friendships, and disruption of efforts made by a local authority to help – are also likely to negatively affect a child.
There are several signs which may indicate that someone has a problem. Adults who misuse drugs or alcohol may:
- become confused or violent
- drink alone
- drink everyday
- get ‘the shakes’ when they have not had a drink
- miss work or social activities
- neglect their own health, appearance and homes
- not be able to stop their drug taking or drinking
- try to hide or deny their problem.
The signs that may indicate that a child is being neglected – perhaps as a result of their parent’s drug or alcohol misuse – include:
- poor appearance
- delayed development
- a child who is caring for a parent.
If you are a parent with a substance misuse problem, there are several treatments which you can seek: prescription-based treatments, such as methadone prescriptions for heroin addiction; abstinence-based treatments at a residential facility; counselling; or work with a support group, like Alcoholics Anonymous. You may be able to get treatment by referring yourself, or by having your doctor refer you.
If you are concerned that someone else’s child is being neglected as a result of a substance misuse problem, you can contact the NSPCC and talk your concerns through with one of our counsellors. You can trust our counsellors to properly assess the information you give them and to take the necessary action. If you think a child is in immediate danger, call the police, or call the NSPCC, without delay.
NSPCC: Advice and support for adults concerned about a child.
Police: Emergency and non-emergency police services.
ADFAM: Help for families affected by drug and alcohol use.
DrugScope: A guide to drugs.
FRANK: Drugs advice for young people.