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Parental Problematic Substance Use Impact on Children


Parental problematic drug and alcohol use and recovery impacts family life and children’s mental health:

“When mum first did her detox I used to have sudden panic attacks; sudden anxiety that ‘gosh, she could start drinking again tomorrow.’” – Participant in focus group, Adfam 2013: 6

“Mum looks better, she tells me off now. I have to go to school and mum does normal things like cooking. Dad is more interested in what I am doing at school, there is more money to do nice things as a family.” – Survey Respondent, Everyone Has a Story Component 2

“When mum drinks she calls me horrible names and says she wished I’d been killed. Usually the neighbours call the police which makes it stop.” – Young person, age 8; Everyone Has a Story Component 1

Child and parent roles may become blurred:

“And I just used to stay off to make sure my ma didn’t get drugs and all that… ’cause I hate it… I used to follow her not let her do it… I mean, like, I would make sure she stays in the house with me.” – Child of problem drug user Jane, age 15; Barnard 2007:96

“I’d only be [in school] for a certain amount of time and then I’d have to go home and look after my mum… I used to come in from school. I would do the dishes. Put, like, all the clothes in the washing machine. My mum would be lying steaming [drunk] on the couch and I’d have to cook dinner.” – Rachel, age 17; Bancroft et al. 2004

“She has no control and falls over all the time. She pees on the settee and me and my brother have to clean up after her.” – Debbie, age 13; ChildLine cited in Kroll and Taylor 2003: 179

“The worst thing about my childhood? I think it was the fact that it was as if she was the child and I was the mum.” – Child of drug-using parent, Beth, age 19; Barnard 2007: 93

“When I was looking after my mum I was looked up at. People really did think the world of me because I was young and looking after my mum.” – Rachel, age 17; Bancroft et al. 2004: 10

“It’s like I’m used to daen all the tidying up and the cooking and like telling (siblings) when to be in and who no tae hang about with and where no to go… and my mum’s started daen that and… it’s like a kind of conflict between us now because she’s like saying ‘You’re 17, I’m the mum.’” – Bancroft et al. 2004: 10

“I drew a picture of a bottle of wine and wrote, ‘No wine Allowed in this house’, but it didn’t make a difference.” – Female, age 7; Everyone Has a Story Component 1

Children affected by parental problematic drug and alcohol use experience diverse living arrangements.

“If he stops making bad choices then I can see him. My mum says he could send me a card. My grandparents say don’t go with him. Like, if he says… ‘come on I’ll take you for a McDonalds.’” – Female, age 8-11; Everyone Has a Story Component 1

Kinship care may be a more stable and long term placement than alternative care arrangements. This continuity and nurture may help children overcome negative past experiences:

“It’s better to be going to school on time. We didn’t know it was wrong to be late. It was a big change. It’s good to be normal.” – Aldgate and McIntosh 2006: 43

But children can experience difficulty adjusting to new homes, different family dynamics or being far away from friends:

“She doesn’t understand life for a teenager today. She wants to go to bed earlier so you end up going to bed earlier as well.” – Aldgate and McIntosh 2006: 42

For some children, parental problematic drug or alcohol use may reach crisis point and in an effort to safeguard them from further harm they may be removed from the home temporarily or permanently and placed in residential care.

“At least when mum was drunk we sometimes got sweets. My mum dumped us with social work, I don’t know where she is now and never see my brother and sister.” – Young person, ag 14; Everyone Has a Story Component 1

“I was denied contact with my parents because I didn’t go to school. I knew I had the right to see my parents…” – Who Cares Scotland, 2014

“I am not in touch with her. I don’t care about her. I am feeling better without her.” – Young person, age 12-15; Everyone Has a Story Component 1