Parental Substance Abuse and Family Structure

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 5
Words: 1381
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College


Family structure plays an essential role in a child’s development into a fully-functioning member of society. The primary focus of this paper is how parental substance abuse damages the family structure and how it affects children in the future because childhood trauma has a lifelong influence on individuals. This question is crucial because any disturbances, misunderstandings, or unhealthy behaviors of parents may harm children’s physical and psychological well-being. Alterations in the family structure can be stressful for children impeding normal development, especially if there are unhealthy or painful transitions in terms of relations, household, and finances (Hadfield et al., 2018). Alcohol and drug abuse by one or both parents not only leads to change in the family structure but also causes disintegration since the family starts to experience financial difficulties (Raitasalo et al., 2019). Parental substance use is also a cause for malfunctioning relationships with children because parents fail to provide a safe and healthy environment at home (Kuppens et al., 2020). People’s brain alters under chronic exposure to mind-altering substances like alcohol and drugs, so they lose the usual parental feelings to care for and protect their children.

Effect of Parental Alcoholism on Family Structure

Alcoholism, unlike the occasional use of liquor, has multiple adverse effects on people’s physical and mental health; thus, it is unsurprising that a family structure where parents abuse alcohol is dysfunctional. Those who were raised by alcoholic parents frequently develop an array of emotional, cognitive, and behavioral problems (Raitasalo et al., 2019). These issues lower their chances of achieving academic success and affect their ability to interact with peers (Kuppens et al., 2020; Raitasalo et al., 2019). Families where one or both partners struggle with substance use often face poverty and hence low quality of life due to the shift of their priorities toward their obsession with alcohol (Raitasalo et al., 2019). The latter may be associated with such psychiatric disorders as schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder, and major depressive disorder in adults (Raitasalo et al., 2019). Parents who require help from medical professionals are not capable of providing proper care to their children, leaving them largely unattended.

When a child is raised by alcoholic parents, they do not receive adequate emotional support, and one’s basic needs are often neglected. Therefore, there is a rise in children and adolescents with depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, obesity, bronchitis, asthma, hay fever, and many other somatoform disorders (Umberson & Thomeer, 2020). Overall, alcoholism creates an unhealthy environment that is harmful to the family structure and children’s development.

Effect of Drug Use by Parents on Family Structure

Apart from leaving children without care and attention, parents who use illicit drugs may have legal problems, which may lead to the loss of their parental rights. According to Kuppens et al. (2020), drug use has a significant negative impact on children. It is partially “due to the illegal nature of these substances that could result in additional disruptive effects on families, such as fines, arrest, or custodial sentences” (Kuppens et al., 2020, p. 5). They include marijuana, inhalants, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, hallucinogens, and other types (Zhang et al., 2020). Drugs are perceived as mainly the problem prevalent among adolescents and young adults since every fourth child aged 12-17 tried them at least once (Zhang et al., 2020). Notably, adolescents who have single parents had 50-60% higher odds of developing drug addiction compared to those who had two parents (Zhang et al., 2020). Still, adults who have children struggle with drug addiction, too, which not only damages their own physical, psychological, and social well-being but may also affect children’s health.

The severity of the problem may be predicted by the type of illicit drug parents use, but in the long term, any chronic dependence is detrimental. Like in the case of alcoholism, people who abuse drugs have alterations in their neurocircuitry; hence, seeking the substance of addiction becomes the priority instead of protecting the offspring. Nevertheless, Kuppens et al. (2020) suggest that it is hard to state causative relationships between parental drug dependence and abnormal family structure because frequently, the latter can be the predisposing factor for the former. Regardless of the primary cause, the outcome is that children’s physical and mental health is damaged.

Long-Term Impact of Parental Substance Use on Children

Exposure to advantageous or adverse circumstances during childhood can influence a child’s development and impact one’s adult life. Alcohol or illicit drug use frequently co-occurs with financial difficulties in families; thus, many children of such parents cannot access proper medical care and education (Kuppens et al., 2020). Research shows that maternal substance abuse is more injurious for children than paternal use because drug or alcohol-dependent fathers often do not live with their families, which lessens the harm (Raitasalo et al., 2019). Furthermore, in most cultures, mothers play a greater role in children’s lives than fathers; thus, maternal alcoholism or drug use has more detrimental consequences (Raitasalo et al., 2019). Moreover, alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a significant risk factor for the development of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), as well as multiple other physical and cognitive disturbances in a child (Raitasalo et al., 2019). FASD is characterized by impaired self-regulation, neuro-cognitive deficit, and adaptive functioning abnormality (Raitasalo et al., 2019). Addictive mind-altering substances, used by parents, damage children’s well-being in the prenatal period and after birth unless proper intervention is implemented to minimize the adverse effect.

Helping Parents and Reducing the Harm to Children

Timely intervention is essential to help parents with addiction, restore the normal family structure, and reduce the long-term adverse effect on children. First of all, it is vital to refer mothers and fathers with substance use disorder to appropriate clinical management (Raitasalo et al., 2019). Additionally, children should be immediately assigned to a social worker and mental health professional, who will help them form healthy coping mechanisms and ensure that their traumatic experience is verbalized and heard. The school system should become another underpin for schoolchildren going through such traumatic experiences. Moreover, on the level of states and the entire country, strict policies must be introduced in terms of selling alcohol. For example, the limitations of hours when liquor is sold, higher taxes for import, and overall reduction of retail access are possible measures (Raitasalo et al., 2019). Furthermore, intelligence agencies must better control drug traffic and distribution. Notably, even prescription opioids should be more tightly regulated because, in such cases, individuals get access to legally addictive drugs.

Social Learning Theory and Attachment Theory

The sociological theory that applies to this issue is the social learning theory. It suggests that people tend to imitate and copy the behavior of the group they spend most of their time (Akers & Jennings, 2019). For instance, if a child observes one or both parents drink alcohol daily or use drugs, one may engage in a similar behavior later in life. Although there is no direct association, many adolescents who start using illicit drugs have an unhealthy environment at home due to one or both parents abandoning the child because of their substance addiction (Zhang et al., 2020). Moreover, various mental health problems develop in such children as a result of abnormal attachment early in life. Indeed, the attachment theory states that the quality of a child’s interaction with the caregiver determines one’s future personality, self-control, memory, attention, and socialization (Sutton, 2019). Since children of people with substance addiction disorder are often neglected or abused, they are at high risk of developing insecure attachment patterns in adulthood.


In summary, drug and alcohol abuse in families is a critical social and public health problem because these two issues have a substantial negative impact on children. The latter is likely to develop into not entirely healthy and traumatized adults because they do not receive adequate care and watch their parents under the influence of an addictive substance. Being raised in an abnormally structured family is undoubtedly harmful to a child. However, it is hard to determine whether a parental substance was the causative factor for abnormal family structure. Regardless of the initial reason, the outcome is that children become the victims of this vicious circle. Overall, the only solution, in this case, is to recognize problematic families as early as possible and provide medical and social assistance to the entire family.


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