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The Long-Term Effects of Addiction on Children

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While addiction affects one’s physical health, mental health, and many other aspects of one’s life, the effects of addiction are not isolated to a single individual. One’s children are fundamentally impacted by having a parent struggling with addiction, with the effects of the disease having drastic, long-term effects. Children are uniquely susceptible to the effects of addiction, and dedicated detox and treatment programs are essential for challenging one’s relationship with these addictive substances while rebuilding one’s relationship with their child. 

The Prevalence of Addiction in the Lives of Children

Children are rarely truly oblivious to the effects of addiction, and one’s child doesn’t need to understand the chemical impacts these substances have on one’s brain to be affected by their use. A parent struggling with addiction presents many unique challenges, both for a child’s developing emotional state and social life. Despite the detriments addiction brings to the whole family, there are still many children across the United States tasked with living with a parent struggling with addiction. 

About 1.6 million children 17 or younger live in a household of two parents where one of these parental figures suffers from a substance use disorder. Another 538,000 children live in a single-parent household where their main parental figure is struggling with drugs or alcohol. Such influences greatly impact a child, and while these statistics only measure those under 18 years of age, adult children are still greatly affected by such a difficult familial influence. 

The Long-Term Effects of Addiction

Addiction affects children in a number of ways, and no two situations are exactly the same. Each family will have its own dynamics, especially as they address the long-term effects of addiction. Understanding the various ways in which addiction impacts children is the first step toward creating a dedicated plan to repair these crucial relationships. 

Substance Use During Pregnancy

A mother using drugs or alcohol during pregnancy can carry the most overt long-term effects of addiction, resulting in various prenatal conditions. Birth defects, stunted growth, and mental health conditions are all possible. The use of opioids during pregnancy may also result in one’s child being born addicted to these drugs, causing unique challenges such as neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). 

However, struggling with addiction at any point in one’s life will always affect one’s child. Children of parents who have battled addiction have a genetic predisposition for the disease,  increasing the risk of developing an addiction themselves. 

Impacts on Emotional Development

A child’s formative years are incredibly important, both for their physical and emotional development, and living with someone struggling with addiction can have drastic effects on both of these fronts. While a child may crave a parent’s attention or trust, addiction can strain this relationship from the moment of birth as parents may take a detached approach to their relationship with a child, dividing their time between caring for a child and engaging with drugs or alcohol. This situation can leave children adopting a similar detachment or the development of depression, feelings of abandonment, or other self-destructive behaviors. 

Other children may have their childhoods taken from them, being forced to grow up early or take on adult responsibilities instead of engaging in traditional childhood activities. Not only does this affect one’s developing emotional health but also one’s social life throughout these formative years.

These effects can continue throughout a child’s young adult and teenage years as a parent engages with drugs or alcohol instead of fostering these relationships. Missing birthdays or failing to celebrate accomplishments can all inform a child’s emotional health and define the relationship. 

Behavioral Effects of Addiction

A child may also change the way they behave as a response to addiction. Acting out can become common in an attempt to garner attention, along with other behaviors such as engaging in unnecessary risk-taking and getting into trouble at school or with law enforcement. Others may feel the effects of addiction in other ways, such as compromised scholastic performance or an unwillingness to participate in extracurricular activities if they do not feel pushed or supported to pursue these outlets, even if they are interested. 

Healing as a Family

Addressing how addiction has affected one’s child is a crucial part of the recovery process. However, navigating these relationships comes with many emotions, trauma, and nuance. Dedicated addiction treatment is not only about learning to cope with urges to reengage with drugs or alcohol. Still, it is an exercise in exploring every way in which addiction has affected oneself and the lives of those most important. Family programs are ready to help open a dialogue and promote familial healing, not just individual treatment. Professionals are necessary for navigating this time and the emotional fragility that may pollute the atmosphere, and finding personalized recovery treatment can help each individual embrace a new relationship with their child in sobriety.

Addiction is a devastating disease, and parents struggling with addiction can affect their children in profound ways. If you or a loved one are ready to take your first step toward a healthy future alongside a child in sobriety, Pacific Sands Recovery Center can help you today. We understand the far-reaching effects of addiction and that the disease affects entire families, not just individuals. Our commitment to your sobriety begins with treating not just the symptoms of addiction. Rather, it affects one’s life, family, and children, all in an effort to create a truly transformative experience in recovery. Your time with us is wholly personalized to your unique needs and goals, from individual and group therapy to a number of other proven therapeutic methods, along with a community of understanding and supportive peers inside and outside of our walls. For more information, call us today at (949) 426-7962.


  • I would just like to share how Grateful I am with my experience through my addiction at this facility. I couldn’t possibly ask to be in such a “SAFE/COMFORTABLE” environment while receiving treatment for my addiction. I would just like to say Thank you sooo much to ALL the staff there from the Nurse’s to counselors and therapist all of you are a True Blessing in helping me through my journey of sobriety. I couldn’t feel more comfortable there on how they monitored my physical health and on dealing with my emotional health with there therapy sessions and groups I truly see them ALL as Family!

    Andrew N.
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  • This place helped saved my life, and a great stepping stone to get my life on the right track. Was there first client under new management, caring staff and owners, comfortable place to get you on your feet in sobriety.

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