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Parental Substance Abuse by Pam LaPorte, L.C.S.W.

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6 NIV).  This verse came to mind repeatedly as I read two recent studies published by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The results of both studies indicate a large number of U.S. children and adolescents are being affected by their parent(s) alcohol and drug abuse. The first study dated April 16, 2009 reported that over 8.3 million children under 18 years old live with at least one parent who abused alcohol or drugs in the past year.

A parent’s substance abuse often has profound and traumatic effects on children. One major effect was described in the second study I read which was dated June 18, 2009.  This study reported that adolescents living with an alcohol abusing father are at increased risk of substance use and abuse themselves.  Also of note was that teenagers who have fathers that drink even just moderate amounts of alcohol are at greater risk of binge drinking, alcohol and drug abuse.

Considering the nature of the parent-child relationship, these study results are not surprising.  From the time a child is born, parents become the primary role models in the child’s life.  Most parents can easily recall their children as toddlers imitating their own behavior – whether it be dressing up in mom or dad’s clothes or “making dinner” in their miniature kitchens.  Therefore, it makes sense that just as children imitate their parents in this way, they would be inclined to repeat their parents’ behavior with regard to alcohol and drug use.

While I am not an advocate of abstinence from alcohol, I do believe it is very important for parents to examine their own substance use habits and consider the possible influence that their behavior may have on their children.  As Ephesians 6:4 reads, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

If you feel that you may have a substance use problem or you are concerned about the substance use of a family member or friend, you may contact this office to schedule an appointment.  Symptoms of alcohol and/or drug abuse include withdrawal, increased or decreased tolerance, using in dangerous situations (including driving), trouble with the law and interference with obligations such as work, school and/or home.

You may also get more information on substance use disorders and the studies referenced from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration,


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