The Effects of Addiction on Children

January 17, 2023

Written By: Buena Vista Recovery

Approximately 11% of children grow up in a home with at least one parent who either is currently diagnosed with substance use disorder or had an unhealthy relationship with drugs or alcohol in the past. The effects of addiction on children carry profound damage to development, whether they are engaging with such destructive substances themselves or living in a household where their use is commonplace. 

Addiction can cause parents to engage with these substances over other responsibilities, straining these relationships. Putting physical and emotional distance between a parent and child can be devastating for developing children. Coupled with a home atmosphere populated by irritation, mood swings, or other feelings of emotional strain, a parent’s addiction has lasting effects on children. 

Children experience a myriad of negative effects on their development if living in a household affected by addiction. Parents missing birthdays or other celebrations due to the use of drugs or alcohol can create lasting traumas. Even if a parent is physically present but not wholly invested in the event — such as attending a child’s sporting event but waiting for it to be over so they can return to the use of addictive substances — it can have incredibly detrimental effects. 

Childhood is an incredible time, and this development period makes up the foundation of children’s physical, emotional, and mental development. Living in a household or with a parent diagnosed with substance use disorder can fundamentally affect these developmental times, having lasting consequences. 

Some of the effects of a parent’s substance use on children include:

  • Compromised academic performance
  • Acting out in public spaces or increase in “rebellious” behavior
  • Compromised sense of self-worth
  • Stunted emotional development
  • Difficulty understanding or developing social skills
  • Inability to regulate emotions
  • Poor impulse control

Even after a parent has engaged in professional addiction treatment and is navigating sobriety, it can be difficult to address these lingering effects of addiction on a child. Having an open and honest conversation about addiction, its effects, and how to move forward together in sobriety is necessary to overcome any feelings of neglect, resentment, or other effects that addiction has had on a child.

How Can I Talk About Addiction With My Child?

Parents overcoming the use of drugs or alcohol will have to address their sober journey and the effects of addiction on their children. However, discussing substance use disorder (SUD) and confronting the effects that a parent’s use of drugs or alcohol has had on their child is incredibly difficult. Ignoring or avoiding such uncomfortable conversations can have a number of adverse effects on a child’s mental and emotional health. 

Navigating a discussion about addiction with a child is a complicated but necessary part of the recovery process. Preparing for these conversations can ensure that parents are able to communicate their journey and progress with the intended message and tone to repair the relationship with their child in sobriety. 

Talking About Addiction to Children

Opening a discussion about the complexities of addiction with children is difficult. It is important to always put these discussions in a frame of reference that children can understand. However, that doesn’t mean that an individual has to sterilize the destructive nature of addiction or avoid acknowledging its negative effects, and there is a crucial difference between changing the way a parent explains addiction and avoiding explaining it altogether. 

Educate Yourself

Before opening a conversation and fielding questions about addiction and recovery, it is important to be knowledgeable about the topic at hand. For many, exploring the chemical side of addiction and its effects will happen through dedicated detox and recovery programs. However, taking time to research additional uncertainties and information about addiction before having these conversations is still important. 

Prepare for Difficult Questions

While children may not necessarily have the vocabulary or emotional maturity to explain everything they feel or think, that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been profoundly affected by the use of drugs or alcohol. Taking a moment to enact breathing strategies and ground oneself before these conversations is important to prepare for difficult questions. Parents may have to confront the consequences of their use of which they were previously unaware, and feelings of guilt and shame are common when realizing the extensive effects of addiction. 

Acknowledge the Effects

Addiction has many effects in a variety of areas of life. By opening a conversation by directly addressing and apologizing for specific situations and actions from when one was using drugs and alcohol, parents can best set the tone for the conversation ahead. Speaking about specific events rather than generalities can also show how one is ready to repair a specific relationship rather than feeling more performative or generic.

Pick a Fair Time and Place

Hosting these conversations in neutral or comfortable spaces for a child is important, as it can add a degree of comfort and security. Talking to a child in their own bedroom and at a time when they are not tired or otherwise occupied is necessary. Breaking down as many unnecessary barriers as possible and ensuring that children have a comfortable time and space to discuss these topics can ensure that such conversations are effective. 

Take Your Time

Forgiveness takes time, and it is normal for children to need time to forgive or even accept the role addiction has played in their development. Offering support, being open to talking, and continuing to engage in effective treatment and recovery practices are all instrumental. Forgiveness cannot be rushed, and feelings of shame, resentment, and more can all be prevalent for a long time in children. Trying to rush children into forgiveness can have the opposite of the intended effects. Continuing to prioritize treatment programs, 12-Step meetings, relapse prevention, and making regular, conscious efforts to repair these relationships is necessary, despite how challenging it may be. 


Children are acutely aware of the effects of addiction, even if they don’t have the vocabulary to express its complex effects. At Buena Vista Recovery, we understand that true recovery is a familial effort and that addiction can have lasting effects on many different areas of your life. We are prepared to help you not only address and overcome the prevalence of substance use in your life but also navigate the complex emotional effects and consequences to your family, friends, and especially children to create a truly transformed sober lifestyle. To learn how we can customize a treatment program to help you pursue sobriety and further your relationship with your child, call to speak to us today at (480) 741-9414.