One such household was
George Evans' home.
He used to skip
school for days, even weeks at a time, mostly
because of his mother. "I was afraid when I'd go to
school, she'd get drunk and hurt herself, or get
behind the wheel, or crash into somebody," George
Between Kindergarten and the eighth grade, George
missed over four hundred days of school. But as
Steve Harris, licensed clinical social worker,
explains, "It's an extreme case in the degree to
which it's happening, missing 400 days of school,
it's common in the sense of the role reversal."
George's mom, Starlet
agrees, "Your child feels that they have to be there
to watch you."
In fact, according to
a study by Columbia University, half of all children
in the U.S. live with an adult who uses tobacco,
drinks heavily, or uses illegal substances.
And experts say that
instability can be harmful to kids.
"Effects such as
conduct disorders, higher rates of anxiety or
depression, certainly a higher rate of problems in
school, behavior problems," and Harris says, a
higher rate of addiction among those children.
"If it's the parent
who's using the substance, then the child is at a
greater likelihood for substance abuse, genetically
as well as environmentally," he explains.
And, he says, too
often parents don't view nicotine as a serious
addiction and forget how tobacco can harm their kids
in one other way, "It seems minor in terms of the
social acceptance of it, but I've also worked with a
lot of people whose parents have died of lung
cancer. And that's a pretty profound effect on
With a lot of help,
George's mom is no longer drinking, and George is
back in school. "It makes my job a little easier to
go to school," says George, "we both kind of needed
Information: There is an extraordinarily large
number of children at risk because of parental drug
use. A recent study by experts at the Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
focused on children under 18 years of age living
with one or both parents revealed that out of a
total study population of 75 million children, an
estimated 4 million children (6 percent) had at
least one parent who was in need of illicit drug
abuse treatment. Additional results included the
- About 3 million
children (4 percent) lived with at least one
parent who was dependent on illicit drugs, while 6
million (8 percent) lived with at least one parent
who was dependent on alcohol.
- About 11 million
children (14 percent) lived with at least one
parent who reported past-year illicit drug use,
and more than 8 million (11 percent) lived with at
least one parent who reported past-month illicit
million (50 percent) children lived in a household
where one or both parents reported past-month
- The results
indicate that a larger percentage of younger
children than older children live in a household
where one or both parents use illicit drugs.
Past-year illicit drug use by parents involves
approximately 16 percent of children younger than
age 2, compared with 12 percent of children
between the ages of 14 and 17. This finding was
most likely driven by the fact that younger
parents are more likely than older parents to use
illicit drugs, and that they also tend to have
What Parents Need
According to experts
at American Academy of Child and Adolescent
Psychology (AACAP), a child in a substance-abusing
family may have a variety of problems including:
child may see himself or herself as the main cause
of the mother's or father's drinking.
child may worry constantly about the situation at
home. He/she may fear the alcoholic parent will
become sick or injured, and may also fear fights and
violence between the parents.
Parents may give the child the message that there
is a terrible secret at home. The ashamed child does
not invite friends home and is afraid to ask anyone
for help. Inability to have close relationships
The alcoholic parent will change suddenly from being
loving to angry, regardless of the child's behavior.
A regular daily schedule, which is very important
for a child, does not exist because bedtimes and
mealtimes are constantly changing.
child feels anger at the substance-abusing parent
for using drugs, and may be angry with the non-using
parent for lack of support and protection.
The child feels lonely and helpless to change the
Although the child
tries to keep the drug use a secret, teachers,
relatives, other adults or friends may sense that
something is wrong. Child and adolescent
psychiatrists with AACAP advise that the following
behaviors may signal a substance abuse problem at
Failure in school
Lack of friends
and/or withdrawal from classmates
such as stealing or violence
complaints, such as headaches or stomachaches
Abuse of drugs or
suicidal thoughts or behavior
The following are
some suggestions from experts at the National
Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information for
actions that families or friends can take to prevent
substance abuse by teens for whom they are
enforce rules against underage drinking. Keep
alcohol, tobacco products and prescription drugs out
of the reach of children too young to adhere to such
rules. Do not use or store illegal drugs in your
home. Avoid exposing others to tobacco smoke and
acknowledge that regular smoking is unhealthy.
Be clear and
consistent in stating your expectation that underage
youth in your charge will not use alcohol, tobacco
or other drugs (ATOD). Let other parents know your
views if your children are going to be guests in
Be aware of the
connection between alcohol and other drugs and
sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
Make children aware that using alcohol and other
drugs can lead to unplanned and unprotected sex.
Many drugs, including alcohol and tobacco products,
interfere with the body's immune system.
If a family member
exhibits signs of an ATOD problem, be prepared to
connect them with appropriate help in your area.
Know what alcoholism, addiction and ATOD dependence
are, and what resources are available to you. Help
children and adolescents learn the health, safety
and legal consequences of using ATOD. Be sure they
understand that alcohol and tobacco are drugs and
are as dangerous as illegal drugs.
alcohol use and ask others in your community to do
so as well. Be a responsible host.
Be sure children have
easy access to a wide range of appealing, ATOD-free
alternative activities and safe, monitored areas
where they can gather.
Discuss alcohol and
tobacco advertising and marketing. Ask what he/she
thinks about these messages, whether he/she
understands their purpose, and whether he/she
recognizes that these messages do not teach the
possible harmful effects of using these products. Be
a positive role model. Do not engage in any illegal,
unhealthy or dangerous
Provide an example consistent with your messages to
Provide lots of love,
support and encouragement and help a child learn to
do something well.
Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug