Over 30 million Americans are currently struggling with substance abuse or alcoholism. These are shocking numbers, and there are repercussions far beyond just the individual with addiction. The price of addiction manifests itself in a dozen different ways, like fatalities, traffic accidents, and lost productivity. Despite all these losses, the most saddening consequence of substance abuse is the neglect and abuse of children by their parents who are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse.
Child Abuse at Home
How is child abuse defined? At a federal level, child abuse is clearly defined in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act as:
‘Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caregiver, which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm’.
What does this imply for children who are exposed to the drug abuse of their parents at home? Any of the following could be considered maltreatment, abuse or neglect:
- Violence or verbal abuse due to being drunk or high.
- Sexual abuse, or behavior that makes the child uncomfortable.
- Expecting or making the child hide the adult’s drug or alcohol problem.
- Consistently leaving the child alone at home.
- Consistently ignoring the child’s needs.
Long Term Effects of Drug Exposure on Children
There are many studies which have focused on the long term effects of exposure to substance abuse on children. A shockingly large number of prison inmates have admitted to a troubled upbringing and having experienced some sort of neglect or physical, verbal or sexual abuse. Such individuals were also aware that there was criminality or substance abuse in their environment. This set a powerfully negative example for them.
The facts are clear and observable. Children who grow up exposed to substance abuse and criminality tend to grow up and do the same. This creates a vicious cycle, making those children who are born into lower income or underprivileged homes to remain in the system.
That is not to say that parental neglect is restricted to low income households. There are ‘marijuana mom groups’ in extremely wealthy areas like Beverly Hills or Aspen, where cannabis is part of progressive dinner parties. These parents say that being on a marijuana high helps them to parent better. However, the fact remains that they are exposing their children to what is essentially drug abuse.
Some symptoms showing long term exposure to drug abuse in children are:
- Poor sleep patterns
- Easily startled into agitation
- Weakened immune system
- Lack of impulse control
- Difficulty with problem solving, attention, planning and memory
- Depressive symptoms
Breaking the Cycle
What can be done to break this cycle of substance abuse? Some ways to help are:
- Giving support to local children and family centers, where the child can be in a safe environment, which the parents are unable to provide.
- Mandatory drug education in all schools. While drug prevention needs to begin at home, giving children the right information about substance abuse and its consequences is an effective way of keeping them off the cycle.
If you know a child who is being exposed to substance abuse in the home and want to help, call The Villa. We can provide you with information and resources to make a change.