Shoreline Sober Living, San Diego, CA
How addiction affects children

Addiction affects every family unit member in several ways, including emotionally, medically, financially, and legally depending on your role.

When an individual is battling addiction, it can often be seen as a personal experience due to the devastating effect that occurs to the addict. Most individuals who have not experienced addiction of any kind understand its impact on their loved ones. Children, spouses, parents, friends, and even extended family members may all be impacted.

Family members and friends may often witness their loved ones enduring severe physical, mental, and emotional side effects while under the influence. Whereas others may see their addicted loved ones completely fade away physically, they quickly lose weight and become completely unrecognizable. In many cases, many family members and friends will often go months, if not years, without any knowledge of the addicted loved one. They completely disappear. In most cases, the family will become aware of their loved ones’ location due to fatally overdosing. Witnessing or hearing such intense shocks can often cause a relative to begin suffering trauma symptoms or develop an unhealthy coping mechanism such as co-dependent behaviors in response.

The impact on young children

Unfortunately, according to Psychology Today, roughly 1 in 10 children grow up in a household where at least one of the parents or caregivers is abusing alcohol and/or drugs. More than eight million children younger than age 18 live with at least one adult who has a substance use disorder (SUD). The majority of these children are younger than age 5.

Young children who grow up witnessing such scenes as their parents actively taking drugs or watching them have adverse side effects the illicit substances are more likely to develop their own substance use disorder later on in their lives. Furthermore, these young children are three times more likely to experience physical and/or sexual abuse at the hands of their parents, caregivers, or by addicted adults that enter the household. Witnessing a parent or caregiver on drugs or overdosing on drugs can cause intensely distressing emotions, which can cause severe delays in development and learning and lead to prolonged emotional and mental health disorders.

Children and young teenagers are still finding themselves, developing their personalities, and are highly vulnerable and easily influenced and therefore run the high risk of repeating such behaviors that they have witnessed for so long. Early childhood exposure to a divided home because of drugs can cause the child to feel completely alone, physically and emotionally neglected, and unsafe around those meant to love and support them. Substance abusers will often when under the influence, start fights with the people around them, which can cause the child to feel intensely emotional witnessing family members fighting.

Children are known when growing up in an unstable home to develop extreme forms of guilt and self-blame for their parent’s or caregivers’ substance abuse. They can often begin developing feelings of unworthiness or dysfunctional attachment that carry on into adulthood.

Children acting out

Often young children who have lived in an environment which involved one or more parents actively abusing drugs begin to take on the parent role around the house. As a result of the child taking on more responsibility, they often find it hard when criticized later on in their adult life, feeling worthless, anxious, and depressed. Other children may ultimately act out in irresponsible ways and inappropriate times more often than not. When a child grows up in an unstable household, they are at significant risk of developing learning difficulting, behavioral problems, and mental health disorders. Due to them struggling to keep up in school, they will often begin missing more and more lessons, which quickly results in the child missing out on full days of school.

Parents’ psychological health challenges

Parents who suffer from substance use disorder will often additionally struggle with mental health issues which can be a frequent factor contributing to their addiction. Children whose parents struggle with addiction and mental health issues are at substantial risk of experiencing their mental challenges with:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Addiction

Children who experience abuse may further suffer symptoms of trauma such as:

  • Having intense flashbacks
  • Hyperventilating
  • Exaggerating their responses if startled

When a parent or caregiver becomes preoccupied with their addiction, their ability to prioritize their children disappears. Parents are one of the most vital factors in a child’s life, the way the parents function alone and together dramatically impacts the way a child thinks and feels amount themselves and the world around them. Children who unfortunately grow up in an unsafe environment, surrounded by drugs and alcohol, will quickly learn that they are not in a safe environment and will soon take on the role of the parent in an attempt to have some control over the situation.


When addiction takes control of a person, the entire family is at risk, the parents, spouses, children, friends, and extended family. Addiction is a disease that can cause much heartbreak. Fortunately, millions of individuals have recovered from their addiction, and families have worked together to create a healthy, sustainable unit once again. Families can be reunited with the proper treatment, and parent-child bonds can be mended. Recovery is an option, the journey will not be easy, but the outcome is worth it.

Treatment for addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with overcoming addiction and/or mental health issues, we want to assure you that you do not have to face these challenges alone. Help is available for you and your family. Shoreline Sober Living completely understands the intense challenges parents and caregivers face regarding addiction and mental health. Our trained professionals are ready and waiting to help you and your family on your road to recovering and rebuilding the life that you would like.

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