Addiction is often called the family disease because of the way it can affect the other members of your family. Addiction can affect anyone, including parents of young children and children that have grown up. No matter how old your children are, a substance use problem with their parents can make a significant impact. When a family member is dealing with any crisis, the rest of the family often feels stress and anxiety along with them.

If you have children and you’re struggling with addiction, you likely already have feelings of guilt and shame. This article isn’t intended to make those feelings worse. Instead, learning how your children might be affected by your substance use disorder will show you some of the things that may need to be addressed in treatment.

Strained Relationships

In the early stages of an addiction, you may be able to successfully hide the problem. However, as addiction starts to take over different parts of your life, it will start to get out of your control. Addiction often starts to affect relationships, leading to an estrangement between spouses and children. Even if you’re always around physically, children may sense an emotional or psychological distance. As maintaining your addiction starts to demand more time and effort, your children may start to be neglected, or another friend or relative may need to pick up some of the slack.

Grown children demand less attention from their parents, but they may still feel an emotional distance and may start to sense that something’s wrong. As addiction gets worse, people often take advantage of friends and family members to help satisfy their substance use problem. This can lead to asking them for financial support, stealing money, or asking them to help get you out of consequences caused by addiction.


Researchers have found that substance use disorders are tied to genetic factors.

If you’re struggling with addiction, your children are more likely to one day develop a substance use disorder than the average person. Genetics can affect adopted children and children that don’t grow up in the same environment as their parents, which suggests that there are biological factors that can be passed on that make someone more prone to addiction. If you have a genetic predisposition to addiction that you pass on to your children, there’s really nothing you can do to change their genetics. However, you can help them by taking some extra steps to protect your kids from developing a substance use disorder.

Risk and Protective Factors

Your children may also be influenced by environmental and developmental factors that may lead them to addiction.

Early exposure to drugs and alcohol significantly increases their risks for developing a substance use disorder later in life.

Child holding a stuffed rabbit in front of alcoholic parentsHowever, there are also some things that can increase your child’s resistance to drug and alcohol problems.

Influences that increase a child’s likelihood of developing an addiction is called a risk factor while an influence that decreases their likelihood is called a protective factor.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, risk factors can include a lack of parental supervision, aggressive behavior, high availability of drugs or alcohol, experimenting with drugs, and a poor community.

Protective factors can include parental support and monitoring, positive relationships, anti-drug policies at school, and being connected to a community.

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