drug abusing parents

Living with a parent who abuses alcohol or other drugs can have severe effects on every aspect of the child's life, including school performance. Some of the following indicators may (but not necessarily) mean that the child is living with a parent's alcohol/drug abuse problem.

behavioral signs

- Signs of physical or sexual abuse;

- Overall untidy appearance;

- Falling asleep in class;

- Grade swings or poor grades;

- Lack of friends;

- Social disengagement (shy and withdrawn);

- Extreme fear about situations involving contact with parents;

- Lack of parental interest in the child's report card or academic status;

- Learning difficulties;

- Consistent concern about getting home promptly;

- Excessive demand for attention to compensate for lack of attention at home;

- Unexplained absences from school and morning tardiness;

- Sudden behaviour changes (quiet and moody or acting out);

- Child remarks about the drinking / drug-taking at home;

- You see one of the parents intoxicated;

- Classmates ridicule the parent's drinking / drug-taking;

- Parental authoritariaism and unrealistic expectations;

- Hyperactivity or difficulty concentrating;

- Compulsive behaviours (overeating, over-achieving, smoking, chemical dependence); and

- Constant health problems (headaches, stomachaches).

psychological signs

- Low self-esteem;

- Anxiety;

- Easily embarrassed;

- Suppressed anger;

- Perceive problems as beyond their control;

- Poor coping skills;

- Prone to depression;

- Unreasonably fearful;

- Sad and unhappy; and

- Difficulty adjusting to changes in routine.

Once a child has been identified as being affected by a parent's alcohol or other drug abuse, an educator can help by considering the following:

- Develop and maintain a list of appropriate referrals of helping professionals in your community.

- Knowing which agencies have good resources will make it easier to respond promptly to requests for help.

- Maintain a small library of current books, pamphlets, and reprints of articles on alcohol / drug related problems that have been written for children. Such information can be obtained from your local Drug Dependency Services' office.

- Feel comfortable when a child asks you for help, being embarrassed or uncomfortable may increase their sense of hopelessness.

- Follow through after a child asks for help by assisting them to contact a local support group where others with similar problems will understand; helping a child identify all sympathetic, significant adults in their life who might be helpful; or referring a child to an appropriate professional, with parental consent.

- Try not to criticize a child's parents or be overly sympathetic. A child may gain the greatest benefit just from having an understanding adult friend who can tell them where help can be found.

- Share a child's problems with only those who have to know. This is important for building trust and for keeping a child from being labelled by peers or other adults.

- Be sensitive to possible cultural differences. If a child is from a different culture, it may be useful to explore the differences. Family structure, values, customs and beliefs can influence how you help a child. If you make any plans with a child - keep them.

- Stability and consistency are necessary in relationships if a child is to develop trust.

- Try not to counsel a child. It is better to seek parental consent for referral to an appropriate helping professional, or to assist a child in contacting a local Alateen group.

Copyright 2002 Government of Newfoundland and Labrador


help for children of substance abusers

Because one out of four people has a parent who uses drugs or drinks too much, know that you're not the only one out there who has to deal with this. I know how many children and teenagers there are like you, growing up in a family where one or both parents abuse drugs or alcohol.

Kids like you have told me how scary it can be, how they worry about their parents but also about themselves. They want to have the same kind of life as their friends. They feel torn between keeping this secret about their family (maybe they have even been told not to tell anyone) and wanting to get help for themselves and for their mom or dad.

They just wish their parent would stop drinking or using drugs so that the family can be happy together like other families. They tell me how they feel sad or depressed and that sometimes they feel responsible for their parent's behaviors.

Maybe, they wonder, if they just did better in school or were better at sports or never did anything wrong, the drinking or drug use would stop. I want you to know that you don't have to take care of this all by yourself, that help is available for you if you want it.

Talk to someone you trust - maybe a counselor or teacher at school, someone in your church or synagogue or your doctor. Maybe the problem can't be fixed right away but at least you will have someone to talk with about your feelings, your worries and your hopes. Just talking, just sharing what you're feeling with someone can help a lot.

There are even groups of kids like yourself who get together and support each other. It's also important for you to realize that you did not cause your mom or dad's drinking or drug problem, you can't control how much they drink or use drugs and you can't cure (fix) the problem all by yourself.

No matter how good or perfect you are, they will continue to drink or use drugs until they seek help for themselves. But you can get help for yourself. That is under your control. It takes some courage to share this secret with somebody else. But telling an adult you trust is the first step towards helping yourself and maybe your parents.

There are many adults around who care about you. Find one and let them help you.

Alateen 1- 888- 4AL- ANON

Alateen is a national organization with local chapters where teens meet to talk about how their lives have been affected by a relative's or friend's drinking. Alateen meetings can also help kids who have been affected by someone's drug use. Find out if Alateen has a chapter in your community.

National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA) 1-888-554-COAS

NACoA is an organization that provides resources for youth growing up with an alcohol or drug abusing parent.

Children of Alcoholics Foundation (COAF)

COAF helps children of alcoholics and drug abusers (while the name only mentions "alcoholics" COAF helps children of drug abusers too). COAF's web site has a special area that offers helpful resources for teens, such as steps you can take to feel better and safe and a list of books you can read for more information.

KidsPeace Crisis Hotline 1-800-334-4KID

KidsPeace offers 24-hour counseling through their toll-free hotline to help youth overcome crisis situations.

The organization's anonymous help-line website where you can share your story, get advice and see what other teens have to say.

Someday, someplace you'll have to deal with someone offering you alcohol. Check out a place where you can learn about being yourself, thinking for yourself and how to deal with pressures of underage drinking.

Copyright 2002


what can you do?

If you are one of the millions of adults who grew up with an alcoholic or drug abusing parent, chances are you think about it as little as possible. After all, it was probably painful, and you may feel there's nothing you can do now about what happened in the past. Maybe you think your parent's drinking or drug use never really got that bad, or maybe you were already in your teens when the binges started happening more often.

People can't go on blaming their parents all their lives, you may figure, so what's the point of bringing up all that sad, ancient history. While you may not like to admit it, inside you may still be carrying around the hurt and mistrust, the fear, shame, embarrassment and anger you felt so much of the time as a child.

You may have denied those feelings when you were young, and you may still ignore them today. But think for a moment about what life was like in your family. When you were a child, you probably couldn't express any of your confused feelings to your parents, or even to your brothers and sisters. You coped alone, as best you could.

As an adult, you may encounter the same feelings, and frequently you cope with them in ways you learned in childhood. But now, the old ways may not work so well. Mistrust, fear and guilt may still be with you, getting in your way and in the way of the people you care about.

To feel less self-conscious, less anxious and fearful, or less angry, you have to start by understanding what made you feel that way in the first place: your parent 's substance abuse. If you're not a COA or COSA, you may be close to someone who is: your spouse, your son-in-law, your friend.

Substance abuse is a family disease: everyone who has been touched by it has been affected in some way.

1999 Phoenix House


do they really have a substance abuse problem?

The answer is so simple it almost sounds silly. If someone else's drinking is causing you a problem, that's too much. This includes drinking too much liquor, beer, wine or wine coolers. Same goes for other drugs - including prescription pills. Every day or just on weekends. Whether they hide drinks or drugs at home or never use in the house.

Drinking too much or using drugs is a disease, like cancer. A disease that causes people to lose control over drinking and drugs. A disease that makes them think more about alcohol or drugs than you, and a disease that makes them do things they know are hurting themselves.

Whenever they start, they can't seem to stop. They act strange. Maybe get into arguments or even fights. Do things they would never do if they were well. Afterward, they may be sorry, and try to make it up to you and the rest of your family.

what if it is not my mom or dad?

Families today come in lots of shapes and sizes. Chances are, your family is not a mother, father, two kids and a dog. Your family may have a step-mom or dad, or a parent's boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe you live with your grandmother or grandfather, aunt or uncle. Maybe a foster parent. Maybe your parents are divorced, and the parent with the alcohol or drug problem lives in another state.

It doesn't matter.

If an adult you live with who takes care of you has a problem, you are affected! Some questions to ask yourself If you're still not sure there is a problem, check out the questions below:

- Have you ever wanted your parent to cut down on his / her drinking or drug abuse?

- Have you ever felt angry about your parent's drinking or drug abuse?

- Have you ever felt guilty about your parent's drinking or drug abuse?

- Does your parent ever have a drink or drugs first thing in the morning?

Now ask yourself the same questions about other drugs - and don't forget to think about any prescription medications your parent might be taking. If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, your mom or dad might have an alcohol or drug problem.

so what next?

If your parent does have a drinking or drug problem, you don't need to just sit there and wait for it to disappear. There are things you can do now to help yourself feel better, even if your parent never stops drinking or drugging.

feel better, stay safe

Remember: you are not the only kid in the world who has this trouble. Most people keep alcoholism and drug abuse a secret, but the fact is, there are millions of kids with parents just like yours. They go to your school, live in your neighborhood, and are on your teams and in your clubs. They just don't talk about it. Like you don't.

learn the facts about alcohol + other drugs

The first thing many kids do is try to learn all they can about drinking and drug problems. Just because your parent drinks a lot or uses drugs does not mean that you know the whole truth. Here are just a few facts about alcohol and drug use: First and foremost, alcoholism and drug abuse runs in families.

So because your mom or dad has a drug or alcohol problem, you are more likely than other kids to develop a substance abuse problem. But risk is just that - it means more likely, not definitely will and you hold the power to make sure it doesn't happen.

The way a person acts when he is drunk or high is not necessarily his normal personality. You may accept the fact that a friend acts differently when he drinks or gets high; the same goes for an adult.

Sadly, when they are using alcohol or drugs, many parents do things they otherwise would not ever think of doing - like becoming violent, forgetting to feed their children, or even not coming home at night.

Addiction is a weird disease - it makes people focus on alcohol or drugs over everything else, even when they stand to lose everything. If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, your body does not feel normal unless it has the drugs, so substance abusers spend a lot of time, energy and money on drugs.

People who are addicted have NO CONTROL over a substance - instead the substance has control over them.

One last critical fact ... you are not to blame!

Kids cannot make their parents have a drug or alcohol problem. Even if you always misbehave, never help out, and stress out your parents every day - it is NOT YOUR FAULT. And what's more, there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING YOU CAN DO to make your parent(s) stop drinking or using. They need help, professional help, to stop.

So even if your parent says it's all your fault, remember, that is the drug talking, and you haven't done anything at all to cause this. It's important to talk about it. After they learn some facts, a lot of kids talk about what is happening at home with a friend or an adult. It makes them feel better and may make you feel better too.

There are plenty of people you already know who would be happy to talk with you. Like your teacher, guidance counselor, a relative, doctor, coach, or your best friend.

don't forget to have some fun

A really important thing to do is get involved with activities you enjoy - clubs, sports, things you like to do that make you feel good about yourself. Maybe it's not a school activity - maybe you like to laugh with friends, or just go out and have fun! In other words, start thinking about yourself. Remember to be a kid!

on a more serious note ...

If your parent gets help, don't feel guilty or ashamed about what is happening. While your parent is getting help, he or she may ask you to come to meetings with them. You should go. You can hate their drinking or drug problem but still love your parent!

It takes time for your parent to recover. And keep in mind that sometimes people who have stopped drinking or using drugs slip back and start using or drinking again. This is called relapse, and while it is very discouraging, it doesn't mean they won't get well.

Experts consider relapse a normal part of the getting well process.

special situations

If your mom or dad has a drinking or drug problem, you may be coming up against some challenges that your friends may not have to deal with. Like:

- Every day at noon you can't concentrate on what is going on because you know your little sister will be coming home from kindergarten and you are not sure if your mom will be in good enough shape to take care of her.

- You don't know how you will be able to study for your big test because when you called home earlier to check, your step-mom was already drunk, so that means your parents will be having a huge fight, and you will have to make dinner, and get everyone off to bed again.

- You make a new friend, but know that as soon as his mother finds out your dad smokes marijuana, he won't be allowed to hang out with you anymore.

- You really want to audition for a play at a local theater company, but you know that you can't count on your dad to remember to pick you up after rehearsals, or be sober enough to drive you home safely.

- You started dating this guy, who is really great, but the problem is, he likes to drink, just like your dad, and it makes you a little uncomfortable.

- You have a chance to go on an overnight class trip for a week, but you worry about who will take care of your brothers while you are gone.

- You have the lead in the school play, and you are terrified: Will your mom remember to come? If she does, will she be so drunk that everyone will find out your secret?

planning for safety

You may also find yourself in unsafe or unsure situations from time to time. The key is to plan ahead as much as possible. Below are some suggestions for keeping on top of things:

- Have a safety plan: Make sure everyone in your family knows how to call the police, fire department, ambulance service, and doctor.

- If someone in your family has trouble speaking English, try to teach them to say something easy like: "Emergency," and the address.

- Make sure you always have extra money for a phone call.

- Just in case it is too dangerous to drive home with a parent, have taxi money.

- Make up a list of safe places to call for help or to stay.

- Maybe a grandparent, older brother or sister, aunt, uncle, neighbor, or friend.

- Memorize their phone numbers, and call them if it looks like the situation in your own home might get out of control.

- If you need to study for a big test or practice your lines, ask a neighbor you trust if you can spend some time there, where it is quieter.

- If you want to talk to your mom or dad about the alcohol or drugs, do it when you feel safe, and when your parent has not been drinking or using drugs.

- If you're nervous about talking to an adult about your parents, ask a friend who knows the situation if you can practice with him or her, to help work out ahead of time what you are going to say.

Copyright 2002 Phoenix House


affirming my assets

If I feel that I am defeated and have lost confidence in my ability to win, I need to sit down, take a piece of paper and make a list, not of the factors that are against me, but of those that are for me.

If anybody thinks constantly of the forces that seem to be against him or her, that person will build them up into a power far beyond that which is justified. They will assume a formidable strength which they do not actually possess.

But if, on the contrary, I mentally visualize and affirm and reaffirm my assets and keep my thoughts on them, emphasizing them to the fullest extent, I will rise out of any difficulty regardless of what it may be.

My inner powers will reassert themselves and, with the help of God, lift me from defeat to victory.



Anger - highly recommended
Drug abusers
Trauma and recovery
Learned helplessness

Children's issues
Debt: a new perspective
Optimism - the key
The biochemistry of hope
A healthy life
The laughter page
Find your own North Star

Inspiring material on recovering from addiction

Links to various 12 Step programs
Narcotics Anonymous message boards - NOW!
Narcotics Anonymous live chat - NOW!
Narcotics Anonymous world services
Facts about NA
Narcotics Anonymous mailing list - NOW!
Great free guided audio online relaxation exercises