Parents who are drug users
drugs; heroin; symptoms; hepatitis; safety; withdrawal; counselling; rehabilitation; overdose; pregnancy; ambulance; methadone; parenting; law; addict; drug addiction; smoking; tobacco; drug; alcohol ;
When parents are taking illegal drugs it can mean risks to the health and well-being of their children. Each child is affected differently, some do well in spite of problems, others develop more problems.
Drugs and parenting
Just because someone is on drugs does not mean he or she will be a bad parent. Some are good at parenting and their drug problem does not have a big effect their children. There are others where the problem can have very bad effects, and a wide range in the middle who occasionally cause harm to their children, just like parents who do not use drugs.
Studies in the USA have shown that generally addicted mothers cared for their children in the same ways as non-addicted mothers. Overall they tended to be less strict and use less physical punishment. They were more likely to feel inadequate and have fears about the future of their children.
Some of the things some children have been exposed to are:
- not being looked after or not properly supervised so they do risky things
- parent having mood swings and erratic behaviour
- not having enough food or safe housing.
Children won't be removed just because you are a drug user. Neglect or abuse has to be proven before children are removed.
Children react to parents on drugs in different ways. They may:
- try to be very good to please the parent
- try to work extra hard at school to avoid the problems at home
- try to avoid going home, perhaps spending a lot of time with friends
- have behaviour problems so that attention goes to the child and not the parents' problem
- try to harm themselves or act in ways that might harn them (be careless with their own safety)
- become withdrawn and perhaps get overlooked
- act as a clown to draw attention from the parent.
parents on drugs can do to help their children
- Talk to your children about your drug habit and the effects it may have. Be honest. If you try to cover up they will know anyway and they won't be able to talk to you about their worries and fears. Help them to understand what is happening.
- Identify a safe person, eg a neighbour or relative whom the children can call upon if in trouble. This should be someone you and the children trust and feel comfortable with. Teach your children how to contact this person.
- Program the emergency number into the phone. The number should be clearly marked 'EMERGENCY'. If you can't program it into the phone put a sign next to the phone and make sure your children know where it is.
- Teach the children what sort of information to give in an emergency, especially street name and number. Put your address on or next to the phone as it is easy to forget in a panic.
- Tell them not to wait to see if you get better, always ring as soon as they think there is a problem, especially if they think that you have had an overdose or they are in danger.
- Have food in the house that is easy for the children to get if you are not available to provide a meal. Cans of baked beans, frozen meals or noodles and packet sauces are useful. Make sure there is always fresh fruit for them to snack on.
- If either parent becomes violent when using drugs, remember that violence always harms children even if they are not physically hurt. See the topic 'More than arguments - domestic violence' for ideas about how to protect the children.
- As children get older they may need to learn basic first aid.
child can do if a parent is on drugs
It is helpful to teach children some things to help themselves as they get old enough, if parents are on drugs.
- Keep yourself safe. It is your parents' responsibility to keep themselves safe - you should never feel responsible for their burden as well.
- There is some information in a Teen Health topic Keeping yourself safe
Talk to someone
- You don't have to cope on your own.
- Talk to an adult you can trust, eg grandparents, uncle or aunt, teacher, friend's parent. It should be someone you feel comfortable and safe with, whom you trust and who cares about you.
- Even if it is a "secret" in your house, it is important for you to have support for yourself - this is not breaking trust.
- Talk to someone who has professional skills, such as a Kid's Helpline (1800 55 1800 in Australia - free).
- There are support groups for young people when there is someone in the family who is abusing alcohol or other drugs. There is some information you may find helpful in the Teen topic 'Coping with alcohol in the family'.
Taking care of yourself
- It's not the child's responsibility to take on parental duties such as cleaning or cooking (apart from normal chores).
- This does not mean children should not be caring and supportive but they need to understand that it is important to put their safety and well being first. ul>
HIV and hepatitis
- If you have a parent who is sharing needles with others, there is a risk of her getting HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C. It may be useful to talk to your doctor about your risk of infection and whether you need to be immunised against hepatitis B.
parents can do to get off drugs
Taking drugs is a health risk to yourself and your children. If you have been taking a lot of drugs and you want to get off drugs you will probably need specialist help. See Resources.
Children can accompany parents to counselling sessions. There may be toys and videos to keep them occupied, or arrangements for childcare can be organised (in Australia).
Giving up drugs is not simple. Stopping drugs can have quite severe short-term effects which are called withdrawal symptoms. It is a good idea to discuss these symptoms with your children, as they can be quite alarming if unexpected.
- Sometimes people need to go to live for a time in a place where they will be treated for their addiction. This can take from six months to a year or more. It also often includes complete separation from their previous lifestyle and even contact with the family may be limited.
- If you need to go into treatment, counselling and arrangements can be made for the children.
- After rehabilitation you will probably go to a 'half way or safe house' so that you can gradually ease back into normal life.
- You may need to move away from the area or friends who are influencing your drug habit in order to give up drugs. This may mean your children have to change schools or friends. It is important to talk to your children about the reasons for the move and the long-term benefits for the family.
It is often hard for people to admit they have a problem with drugs because of embarrassment and risk of being rejected, so it needs a lot of courage to take the first step to getting off drugs. If you want to take this step towards health, get support from a friend or counsellor.
family members can do to support the parent on drugs
- Families vary
What is right for one may not be right for another, there are no magic formulas. It is most important not to panic. If you keep calm it will be much easier to discuss the problem and find a solution.
- Learn all you can
Check out the facts about the drug and its effects and consequences. Be honest about your feelings and seek expert advice. You will be much better able to help if you are well informed.
- Support the children
Often parents who are on alcohol or drugs break arrangements with children and leave them feeling disappointed and angry.
- Responsible help
You may need to get outside help, either to counsel you or to help the children of the family member on drugs. The stigma of addiction can continue long after the addiction has been overcome so be careful and selective about whom you talk to. Some people you may find it necessary to confide in for the children's or drug taker's safety are:
- other family members
- a family doctor
- a child's teacher
- the police
- a professional drug counsellor.
- Free choice
Assist with the chosen treatment but be careful not to try to force the person into a treatment. People need to choose the treatment type for themselves, as they must feel comfortable and able to cope with it in order for it to succeed. On the other hand, it is not helpful to try to protect the person from the consequences of his actions.
- Don't judge
It is often more effective to offer support and sympathy than advice. Remember that nobody likes to be criticised and it is not helpful. A person who is taking drugs is likely to already feel vulnerable and defensive, and criticism may make things worse and mean that the person will not trust you or turn to you for support. Your attitude should be that people taking drugs are responsible for their own actions. Encourage even small efforts to overcome the problem and give moral support.
- Keep communication channels open
Listen as well as talk, and don't force the issue as this causes people to shut down. These questions may help: "What is stopping you from change?", "What makes you keep using?" and "What support/information would help you?"
- No cashPartners and adult family members should not give the drug taker money but can help by paying bills for treatment with non-negotiable cheques, providing groceries or transport.
- Offer practical help
If the person on drugs decides to go into rehabilitation family members may need to assist in looking after children. Ask what help is needed.
If parents get aggressive on drugs, set up a safety net for the children, eg organise a neighbour who they can go to, or to phone a family member.
Stages in motivation to change
A person generally needs to be at the right stage of motivation and to progress through each stage in order to make changes. Recognise the following stages in people being motivated to change their behaviour.
- Not aware
Other people can see the drug use is causing harm but the user can't.
Users know they have a problem but are not sure what to do.
The person decides to change.
The person acts to change his drug use.
The person uses new skills and knowledge to maintain the change.
Users sometimes go back to drugs. This doesn't mean failure; it can be an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and to understand themselves better. Relapse may be short or long term.
addiction in pregnancy - what it does to the baby
- Most psychoactive drugs (drugs that affect your feelings) cross the placenta and can affect the unborn child. Heavy use of some drugs during pregnancy can affect the development and health of the baby, and cause miscarriage or premature labour.
- Due to the lifestyle associated with addiction, women who are addicted and fall pregnant are often in poor health.
- Children of addicted parents are at greater risk of later behaviour problems.
- Babies experience withdrawal symptoms that vary from hardly any symptoms to convulsions.
Passing hepatitis B and C to the baby
- These diseases can be passed on to the baby at birth, but immunising a baby at birth against hepatitis B reduces the risks of that infection. See Hepatitis B vaccine at birth
- It is important to inform the doctor or midwife if there is a chance of infection.
Breastfeeding and drugs
- Many drugs that a mother takes are passed through breast milk, and some pass through at levels high enough to affect the baby.
- If you take drugs you need medical advice about breastfeeding.
- See the topic Breastfeeding - medicines and drugs.
On this site
- Parent Helpline, any time, any day. 1300 364 100.
- For help, advice or general information phone the Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia (DASSA) which runs the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS) on 1300 131 340 (toll free).
- Pregnancy Quitline (smoking) 1300 889 010
- If you have any questions about a medicine, check with your doctor, pharmacist or ring the "Medicine and Drug Information Centre" information service at Women's and Children's Hospital - (08) 8161 7222 (South Australia only).
- Kids Help Line
Kids Help Line is a free, confidential, telephone counselling service for kids 5 to 18 years. Children simply dial Freecall 1800 55 1800 if they need advice or have a problem they wish to discuss with an independent counsellor. This service can be totally anonymous and children do not need to disclose any personal information. The service is national and can be dialled from anywhere in Australia.
- Quit Helpline 131 848
and further reading
The Australian Drug Information Network (ADIN) provides links to other drug and alcohol related sites on the world wide web. This may be a good starting point for people who wish to explore other websites for specific drug and alcohol related information.
Byrne A 'Addict in the family - how to cope with the long haul'
Wired in to recovery, Information about substance misuse and interventions, Wales (UK).
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.