Children of parents who abuse alcohol and other drugs

Shulamith Lala Ashenberg Straussner

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The use and abuse of alcohol and other mind-altering drugs is a worldwide phenomenon, and its political, legal, socioeconomic, health, mental health, and familial impact is felt widely. The United Nations(UN) has estimated that between 167 and 315 million individuals aged 15 to 64, representing 3.6–6.9% of the world's adult population, used an illicit substance in 2010 (UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 2013). Moreover, the use of licit or legal substances, such as tobacco and alcohol, is much more prevalent and deadly. The use of tobacco is considered to be “one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing nearly six million people a year. More than five million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 600,000 are the result of nonsmokers being exposed to second-hand smoke” (World Health Organization (WHO), 2013). The use of alcohol is considered the world's third largest risk factor for disease burden and is associated with numerous social and interpersonal problems; over 2.5 million deaths each year are attributed to alcohol-related problems (WHO, 2011). Although the exact number worldwide is unknown, many of the abusers of al cohol and other drugs are parents of young children and adolescents. While keeping in mind the global context and multidimensions of problems related to alcohol and other drug abuse, this chapter will focus on the impact of parents' abuse of selective substances, such as alcohol, heroin and other opiates, cocaine and methamphetamines, tobacco, and marijuana, on their children. It will provide a summary of several theoretical perspectives, an overview of the dynamics of families with substance-abusing parents (SAPs), the impact on their children at different ages, and the most effective treatment approaches for children and parents. A brief discussion of the implications for service providers and policymakers will be offered. Impact of substance abuse on the family although there is no commonly accepted international terminology in relation to problematic use of different psychoactive substances, the authors will use the term “substance abuse” as a catchall term for alcohol and other drug use-related problems, while the term “substance-use disorder” will be used as a diagnostic category (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). These terms refer to continued use of a substance by a parent despite experiencing a variety of psychosocial problems with various degrees of severity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationParental Psychiatric Disorder
Subtitle of host publicationDistressed Parents and their Families, Third Edition
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781107707559
ISBN (Print)9781107070684
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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