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Parents Who Use Illegal Drugs, Abuse Alcohol & Smoke Endanger Half The Nation's Children

Tuesday March 29, 2005

- Parental Substance Abuse Increases Children's Risk of Substance Abuse and Mental and Physical Illness

NEW YORK, March 29 /PRNewswire/ -- Parents who use illegal drugs, abuse alcohol and use tobacco put half the nation's children -- more than 35 million of them -- at greater risk of substance abuse and of physical and mental illnesses, according to a new 81-page white paper, Family Matters: Substance Abuse and the American Family, released by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA*) at Columbia University.
 The CASA report finds:

    -- 13 percent of children under 18 live in a household where a parent or
       other adult uses illicit drugs.
    -- 24 percent of children live in a household where a parent or other
       adult is a binge or heavy drinker.
    -- 37 percent of children live in a household where a parent or other
       adult uses tobacco.

"Kids don't read their parents' lips, they watch their parents' actions. That's what makes the findings in the paper such a tragedy," said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA's chairman and president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare. "Too many parents set examples that increase the risk their children will smoke, use illegal drugs and abuse alcohol. Children of substance abusing parents are much likelier to become substance abusers themselves. The good news is that parents who behave responsibly -- who don't smoke, abuse alcohol or use illegal drugs -- have a positive influence on their children, steering them away from substance abuse."

The CASA white paper also finds that alcohol and drug-abusing parents are three times likelier to abuse their children and four times likelier to neglect them than parents who do not abuse these substances. Children of alcohol and drug abusers are at increased risk of accidents, injuries and academic failure. Such children are more likely to suffer conduct disorders, depression or anxiety, conditions that increase the risk children will smoke, drink and use drugs.

Children exposed to their parents' second-hand smoke are at greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, asthma and ear infections. They are likelier to have their tonsils or adenoids surgically removed. Over the long term, these children are at greater risk of cancer and heart disease.

"If substance abusing parents are not concerned about what drugs, alcohol and tobacco are doing to themselves, they should be concerned about the ill effects they have on their children," noted Califano. "This should serve as a powerful incentive for parents to seek the treatment they need."

To assist parents, the CASA white paper contains two guides: Ten Steps Parents Can Take to Prevent Teen Substance Abuse, and Signs and Symptoms of Teen Substance Abuse, which also follow below.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University is the only national organization that brings together under one roof all the professional disciplines needed to study and combat all types of substance abuse as they affect all aspects of society. CASA's missions are to: inform Americans of the economic and social costs of substance abuse and its impact on their lives; assess what works in prevention, treatment and law enforcement; encourage every individual and institution to take responsibility to combat substance abuse and addiction; provide those on the front lines with tools they need to succeed; and remove the stigma of substance abuse and replace shame and despair with hope. To become a CASA member, please visit and click "Become a Member" on the main menu or send an e-mail to for more information.


     1.  Set a good example.
     2.  Know your child's whereabouts, activities and friends.
     3.  Eat dinner together regularly.
     4.  Set fair rules and hold your child to them.
     5.  Be caring and supportive of your child.
     6.  Maintain open lines of communication.
     7.  Surround your child with positive role models.
     8.  Incorporate religion or spirituality into family life.
     9.  Learn the signs and symptoms of teen substance abuse and conditions
         that increase risk.
     10. If problems occur, get help promptly.


     Changes in Behavior:
     -- Missing school, declining grades or discipline problems
     -- Dropping old friends and getting new ones
     -- Dropping activities such as sports
     -- Increased secrecy
     -- Unusual borrowing of money
     -- Sudden mood changes, aggressiveness, irritability
     -- Restlessness, excessively talkative, rapid speech
     -- Irresponsible behavior, poor judgment
     -- Depression
     -- Forgetfulness, slurred speech or difficulty expressing thoughts
     -- Lack of coordination, poor balance

     More Direct Evidence of Substance Use:
     -- Increased use of incense, room deodorant or perfumes (to hide smoke or
        chemical odors)
     -- Increased use of eye drops (to mask bloodshot eyes or dilated pupils)
     -- New use of mouthwash or breath mints (to cover the smell of alcohol)
     -- Drug paraphernalia such as pipes, rolling papers
     -- Increased accumulation of inhalable products and accessories such as
        hairspray, nail polish, correction fluid, etc.
     -- Missing prescription drugs -- such as narcotics, stimulants and mood

Columbia University