top of page
Effects of Substance Abuse on Children

Many people who abuse alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs often separate themselves from the “harder” drug users and think their addiction is not a problem or is not hurting their family. The truth is, it doesn’t matter if a substance is legal or illegal. What matters is how the substance affects the person using or abusing it.


Someone with a substance abuse problem may have trouble keeping a job. They may have trouble controlling their temper or their emotions. They may be physically sick from their addiction or have legal issues such as drug charges or DUI’s.

It doesn’t really matter how often or how much someone uses alcohol or other drugs. What matters is how it affects them and the problems it creates.


Alcohol or drug addiction in the family is messy and hurts everyone. Often families don’t want to admit that there is a problem. They may try to hide it or lie about it. Some adults who are addicted may look like they are doing okay. Others may not. Every person and family is different.


It is estimated that 6 million children in this country live with at least one parent who abuses alcohol or other drugs (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2003). Children living with an addicted or substance abusing parent or other adult are more likely to become drug addicted themselves. Alcohol and other drug addiction can cross generations and this cycle can be hard to break.


Some children may not talk about what is happening in their family, but living with an adult who is abusing alcohol or other drugs can effect a child’s behavior. You might see the child:

  • Be mean to others

  • Be quiet or keep to themselves

  • Act like a parent and try to take care of everyone

  • Get in trouble at school or have falling grades

  • Have nightmares or other sleeping problems

  • Not be able to focus or finish tasks

  • Miss many days of school or daycare

  • Believe the problems in the family are their fault

  • Worry about what will happen next

  • Hurt themselves or others

  • Feel helpless

  • Feel scared

  • Be sad, angry or cry a lot

  • Feel bad about themselves


Often times, children are abused or not taken care of when adults in

the home are abusing substances. Living in this situation the child may:

  • See a lot of fighting in the home

  • Get hurt by being hit, slapped, punched, kicked or other things

  • Be sexually abused

  • Be hungry, dirty, left home alone or not watched by an adult

  • See or be a part of illegal things

  • Be confused about what they feel and how to act


There are many excellent and successful substance abuse treatment programs available. Some adults who need treatment think that it will be easy. They may believe that after their treatment is over, everything will be fine.


Recovery can be hard and in many ways will involve the entire family. It takes effort and causes changes in the whole family. Recovery from alcohol and other drug abuse is possible. The adult in recovery needs support from family, friends and the community. Recovery can be a lifelong process but there is hope that those in recovery can stay sober and enjoy a happy, healthy life.


For more information about substance abuse and families, contact Tarra Winters at 618-583-2116 or


For information about the effects of methamphetamine on children, click here.


Changing Lives Foundation




National Institute on Drug Abuse


Illinois Department of Human Services

Illinois Helpline for Opioids and

Other Substances

1-833-2FINDHELP (833-234-6343)


Al-Anon (Families)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health

Services Administration

Donate Button.png
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
bottom of page