How to Help Children Cope with a Parent’s Addiction

How to Help Children Cope with a Parent’s Addiction

Understanding The Impact Of Addiction On Children

Addiction is a condition that can easily consume a person’s entire life. It can eat away at a person’s mental and physical energy and often results in the neglect of children.

A child also deals with the repercussions of addiction through a parent, sibling or other close family members. Drug and alcohol addiction have just as much an impact on the family as the person abusing substances.

Children living with alcoholic parents can face various dangers and challenges, both physical and emotional.

Here are some potential risks and difficulties they may encounter:

  1. Neglect: Parents struggling with alcoholism may fail to provide proper care and attention to their child’s basic needs, such as nutrition, hygiene, and supervision.
  2. Emotional trauma: Frequent exposure to alcohol abuse and its consequences can lead to emotional instability, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem in the child. Witnessing conflicts, violence, or erratic behaviour associated with alcoholism can be particularly distressing.
  3. Physical harm: The child may be at a higher risk of physical abuse or accidents if their parents’ alcohol use impairs their judgment, coordination, or ability to ensure safety.
  4. Role reversal: In some cases, the child may take on adult responsibilities and caregiving duties for their parents, assuming a parental role at a young age. This can hinder their own development and limit opportunities for a normal childhood.
  5. Substance abuse: Growing up in an environment where alcohol is misused can increase the likelihood of the child developing their own substance abuse problems later in life.
  6. Social isolation: The child may feel embarrassed or ashamed about their parents’ behaviour, leading to social withdrawal, difficulty forming relationships, or being stigmatized by peers.
  7. Academic difficulties: Living in a chaotic and unstable home environment can negatively impact the child’s academic performance and attendance, affecting their educational progress.
  8. Mental health issues: Children of alcoholic parents have an increased risk of developing mental health disorders, including anxiety disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


All of this can massively impact their development. It can lead to lifelong struggles with mental illness, their ability to form relationships, and even make them more likely to develop an alcohol or drug addiction themselves.

What these children are being exposed to is traumatising. That trauma changes their delicate brain chemistry, putting them at serious risk for many later-in-life issues.

Often the worst part is that they do not know what is happening. They may think their family member is ill or angry at them.


How to Support a Child with Addictive Parents?

Supporting a child with addictive parents can make a significant difference to their well-being and resilience. It may be a family member such as a daughter or son, nephew or niece, or even a neighbour’s child.

This can often be challenging as you may notice the child may be going through a difficult time or being neglected and intervening could cause further issues.

If you have access or live with the child, here are some of the ways you can help:

  1. Establish trust and open communication: Create a safe and non-judgmental space for the child to express their feelings and concerns. Encourage them to share their experiences and validate their emotions.
  2. Provide stability and routine: Offer a stable and predictable environment whenever possible. Consistent routines and reliable caregivers can help mitigate the chaos and uncertainty they may experience at home.
  3. Educate and empower: Help the child understand addiction as a disease and explain that their parent’s behaviour is not their fault. Provide age-appropriate information about addiction to increase their understanding and reduce feelings of guilt or responsibility.
  4. Encourage self-care: Teach the child coping strategies such as deep breathing, engaging in hobbies, or practising mindfulness to manage stress and anxiety. Encourage them to engage in activities they enjoy and promote their overall well-being.
  5. Safety first: If the child’s safety is at immediate risk due to severe neglect or abuse, it may be necessary to involve the appropriate authorities or child protection services to ensure their well-being.


Talking To Children About Addiction

We understand that you want to help a child of an addicted parent, but you must understand that addiction is complicated.

The best thing you can start with is talking to them about addiction in an age-appropriate and sensitive manner. Of course, if the child is too young to understand the implications of addiction, just listening to them and offering encouragement can be of help.

If they are old enough, you must ensure they understand that addiction is an illness, and this can be treated at a drug or alcohol rehab. That it’s not something they caused, and it’s not something they should feel guilty about.

If you know of a family history of addiction, you can even explain that some people struggle with mental health. They feel scared or sad a lot and use drugs or alcohol as a way to cope. But this doesn’t fix the problem. That is like putting a plaster over a cut that hasn’t been cleaned yet.

You must ensure the child knows it is not their responsibility to fix their family member. That there are special doctors who can help them, but only if they want that. Some questions will also be hard to answer and you may not have all the answers. But starting this dialogue can help the child by being there and offering support when they need it.

Creating A Safe And Stable Home Environment

One of the best ways you can be there for a child dealing with addiction is to be their safe person.

In some cases, a person living with a severe addiction won’t prioritise living basics such as heat, food or cleaning. This can sometimes, unfortunately, leave children living in unsafe conditions.

If you are a parent with custody rights, you can try to keep the child away from this harmful environment. You can also try to provide them with clean and warm clothes, nutritious meals and any other basics they need that will likely be overlooked.

Setting a routine that keeps the child away from addiction is best. If, for example, someone drinks a lot in the evenings and comes home late. It can be a good idea to provide the child with a lock on their room or make sure they are already asleep before they get home.

You can try to fit their schedule around the person with addictions. Get them to school, take them places to play and allow them to be a carefree child.

Consistency is the most important thing. Addiction makes it nearly impossible to follow any kind of routine. So making sure that the child has a life that is as normal and as stable as possible is important.

Teaching the child coping skills will also help them. This can range from mindfulness, such as centring themselves at the moment by naming different things they can see, touch, smell and hear, or getting them involved with a school counsellor who can provide more professional mental health counselling.


Use your Common Sense

We understand that sometimes, even talking to a child about their environment can be challenging in its own right. If the parent finds out, they could accuse you of wrongdoing or over-exaggerating the situation. They may even view it as you trying to divide or break up the family.

Many people with addictions have not accepted this themselves yet, and you should carefully balance the situation before intervening. They may act irrationally if they think you have been talking to their children about their issues and not take too kindly to it.

There may be some extreme scenario’s where you are really worried about a child in the custody of their parents and may want to report them to local authorities.

If you think a child may be in immediate danger through neglect or abuse, you can call the NSPCC and explain the situation to an advisor. They may arrange either a social worker or police visit to the property and asses the situation.

Seeking Professional Support From Rehab

Most rehabs can provide family support for children dealing with addiction in their families. This can be through one-to-one therapy sessions, group counselling and even local support groups.

Rehab is about helping the whole family, not just the person living with an addiction.

Therapy can help the child avoid turning to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope. It can teach them how to understand their mental health and how to care for it.

You can find information on support groups through the Alcoholics Anonymous website. Or you can give us at Rehab Clinics Group a call at 0800 470 0382. We will be able to provide you with advice and support to move forward.