22 Oct Parental Drug Use as Child Abuse
Two parents have recently made the news for sharing a dangerous habit:
“A Montgomery County (PA) mother allegedly introduced her 15-year-old daughter and the girl’s teenage boyfriend to heroin and would take the couple — and sometimes an 8-year-old child — on trips into Philadelphia to buy the drug.”
“A 4-year-old in Delaware took lessons in sharing to a new level when she handed out what she thought were bags of candy from her backpack to her friends at the Hickory Tree Child Care Center in Selbyville. Instead, the small bags of white powder were filled with heroin, according to a note posted on the Facebook page of the Delaware State Police.”
Sadly, stories such as these are becoming more common throughout the country. Communities can no longer turn a blind eye to what is happening in their backyards – and perhaps even in their own families.
According to The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “the lives of millions of children are touched by substance use disorders (SUDs). The 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that 8.3 million children live with at least one parent who abused or was dependent on alcohol or an illicit drug during the past year. This includes 13.9 percent of children aged 2 years or younger, 13.6 percent of children aged 3 to 5 years, 12.0 percent of children aged 6 to 11 years, and 9.9 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 years. These children are at increased risk for abuse or neglect, as well as physical, academic, social, and emotional problems.”
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act defines child abuse this way: “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” By that definition, parents who abuse substances are abusing children.
The Impact of Caregiver Substance Abuse on a Child
If a child is born to a mother who used drugs during pregnancy, medical conditions that could result include:
- Impediments in physiological growth
- Malformation in heart, lungs and brain
- Neurological impairment
- Impaired intellectual functioning
Social challenges may include:
- Inability to recognize and define social cues
- Poor frustration tolerance
- Anger management issues
- Little respect for rules or excessive adherence to rules based on fear
- Social isolation and withdrawal
- Addictive behaviors
- School performance problems
- Legal impact
- Choosing peers involved with substances and criminal activity
- Mental health diagnoses
Additionally, children raised in homes in which drugs and alcohol are in regular use may fall prey to developmental deficits because of the prenatal challenges on top of neglect and abuse perpetrated by caregivers who put substance use before the safety of their children. Continued use may also lead to physical injury requiring medical intervention and to involvement with Child Protective Services.
In one extreme case, a father with a heroin addiction sat with his adolescent son, tied off his arm and injected him, telling him life was hard and the only thing that made it bearable was drugs. He said he wanted his son to learn the “right way to use.” The boy overdosed shortly after his father introduced him to heroin.
There’s Hope for Children of Addicted Parents
“An examination of a social-skills intervention called Children’s Friendship Training found that it led to a decrease in hostile attributions or perceptions of children with PAE (Prenatal Alcohol Exposure),” according to an article from Promises Treatment Center. In this program, the participants were able to learn skills that would assist them in creating and sustaining meaningful connections and improve overall social functioning.
For children of addicted parents, solid support is crucial, whether it comes from family, friends, faith community, school, scouting, support groups or therapy. These can help stave off the devastating impact and perhaps break the cycle of multi-generational abuse.
For the parent, choosing recovery can prevent further damage in their own lives as well as the lives of the children they love.
Find relief in recovery. Life gets better with addiction treatment.
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