The Effect of Addiction on Children

Addiction is a devastating illness that can be very difficult to overcome. Those with addiction are compelled to use a particular substance or engage in a certain activity to the point where their lives are negatively affected. Their health, relationships and finances are all affected, and this has wider reaching consequences. Those who live with an addicted individual will also be affected. Spouses often have to assume the responsibilities of the person with the addiction in terms of caring for children or managing finances. They may be dealing with their own stress because of the situation they are in, which can lead to both physical and mental health problems.

However, there is another set of victims that are often forgotten – the children of addicts. Children are frequently left in the dark when it comes to a parent’s addiction. They may be considered too young or too vulnerable to be told the specifics of what is happening, which can lead them to feel confused or frightened about what is going on. They may also blame themselves for their parent’s behaviour and will then feel guilty whenever that parent acts in an unreasonable manner.

Extent of Effect on Children

It is rare for a parent’s addiction to leave no impact on a child. In most cases, the child will suffer to some degree, and there are a number of factors that will affect the extent to which a parental addiction affects a child.

Children are said to be affected more severely when it is their mother suffering from addiction because mothers are generally the primary caregivers. Nevertheless, they will also be more affected by addiction if both parents are affected.

Family Unit

The strength of the family unit will have a bearing on the impact of addiction on the child. For example, if there is another strong caregiver present, such as an aunt, uncle or grandparent, the child may not be as deeply affected. Likewise, if the non-addicted parent manages to hold the family unit together and shield the child from as much as possible, the impact may be lessened. Unfortunately, non-addicted parents are often affected significantly by a spouse or partner’s addiction, and they may find it difficult to provide the necessary care for the children.


The age of the child when the parent became addicted is another factor on the severity of the impact. For example, younger children tend to be affected more deeply because they often do not understand what is going on. They cannot comprehend why their parent can gravitate from being in excellent spirits one minute to violent and aggressive the next. With no understanding of the illness, they are likely to be profoundly affected.

Older children are more aware of what addiction is and will understand that they are not to blame for their parent’s actions. Nonetheless, living with an addict is stressful no matter what age the child is, so it will inevitably leave some sort of mark.

Helping Children Through Addiction

Children of addicts need help and support through the recovery process too. Many people believe that once the addicted parent is in recovery and gets clean, that all will go back to normal and everything will be okay. This is very rarely the case. The effects of addiction can be long-lasting and will need to be addressed.

Giving your children literature to read if they are old enough will be a good start, and if your kids are quite young, you could look for help from a professional counsellor or therapist to help them come to terms with the addiction and to help them move forward.

It is important to remember that while addiction has a profound impact on the entire family, there is a lot of good support available for all members.

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