When an Adolescent must Help an Addicted Parent

Adult son helping father with alcohol addiction

“It’s a wild world” as the Cat Stevens song goes, and that couldn’t be truer now. We are living in the second decade of the 21st-century, a time period of technological advancement and big, international change.

But this has not all been changes for the good. We also live in a nation that has been all but crippled by drug and alcohol addiction, a country that now faces what might be the worst addiction epidemic of our lifetimes.

Since the turn of the century, America has experienced increasing addiction statistics, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimating twenty-four million drug addicts at the last estimate done a few years ago.

Twenty-four million Americans are the equivalent of about eight percent of our population. It is a significant percentage. Addiction is so common now that everyone either knows, has known, or will come to know at least one person who is a drug addict or an alcoholic. And a significant percentage of the American population will even be the family members and loved ones of addicts too.

The Effect of Having a Family Member or Loved One Who is Addicted

To be closely related to someone who uses drugs and alcohol is a harsh cross to bear. When we think of drug and alcohol addiction, we almost always only consider the addict himself or herself. Granted, this is the main factor, but we also need to consider the family members and loved ones of addicts too.

Growing up with family members or loved ones who use drugs and alcohol has a harsh effect on a person. When a child is exposed to drug and alcohol use over and over again, for an ongoing period of time, this tends to have a powerful, very negative effect on them. In the next section, we’ll look at some of the published research on this problem.

When Parents Use Drugs and Alcohol

As one can undoubtedly imagine, when a father or mother takes on a substance abuse habit, they are not just harming themselves. They are also harming everyone close to them. And the closer those individuals are to the addict, the more they are affected by that person’s addiction. This gruesome effect manifests itself perhaps most prominently in the children of drug addicts and alcoholics.

Consider the following quote from the National Association for Children of Alcoholics on how severe and prevalent drug abuse and alcoholism is in families:

“More than 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics; nearly 11 million are under the age of 18.” 
Little girl looking at mother alcoholic

Alcoholism and other drug addiction have genetic and environmental causes. Both have serious consequences for children who live in homes where parents are involved. More than 28 million Americans are children of alcoholics; nearly 11 million are under the age of 18. 

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics also spoke on the detailed effects that parents with addiction have on their kids. They found that three out of four child welfare professionals tended to cite substance abuse as not only being a factor in child maltreatment cases but that such substance abuses were in fact the primary factor in maltreatment.
[for more information you can visit National Association for Children of Alcoholics at https://nacoa.org/]

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics is not the only organization that explores the effect of a drug or alcohol-addicted parent on their children. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also explores this, particularly as pertains to alcohol abuse and alcohol-involved pregnancies.

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics found that ten percent of U.S. children currently live with a parent who misuses alcohol. This results in more Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, more youngsters being exposed to alcohol, and more young people growing up to be adults who find alcohol misuse as a normal way of life.

Clearly, when a parent brings alcohol abuse or drug use into their homes, their habits wreck havoc on their children and the entire family dynamic for that matter.

What Kids Can Do to Help Their Parents

Adult son with his father

The children of addicted parents are their own best allies. We all too often look at the effect that addicted parents are having on their kids. We don’t spend enough time looking at what the kids could be doing to help their parents get clean. This is a mistake. Kids are in a unique position to help their parents get off of drugs and alcohol, no matter their age.

Here are some strategies and general tips that kids can employ in their efforts to help their parents get clean:

  • Talk to your parents. Communication is perhaps the greatest untapped resource that we have in addressing the drug problem. We don’t necessarily want to talk about drugs and alcohol, but when we do, we automatically open the door to solutions. Kids, no matter their age, should talk to their parents about their parents’ drug or alcohol problem. Getting it out in the open is the first step towards resolving it.
  • Bring others in for support. Combatting addiction does not have to be a one-sided effort. Kids aren’t alone. If a son or daughter becomes aware that one or both of their parents is misusing drugs and alcohol, they should make this known to other family members, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. The more support and the more loved ones working to help the addicted parent, the better.
  • Look for treatment options. This might not seem like a task for a child or an adolescent to do, but when a parent or parents are misusing drugs and alcohol, they are certainly not going to be looking for treatment options. With that in mind, the child or children should be looking for such solutions instead. And besides, the plea of a child to their parents to get clean can be a strong one indeed.

The children of addicted parents should do something to help their parents, and not just sit as spectators watching their own mothers and fathers ruin the family dynamic and their very lives in the process.

(Included below is the “Sources Cited” section. This section not only has the research citations for articles and papers quoted in this text, but the following webpage links also include valuable information for the sons and daughters of addicts. The more kids know about addiction and about the unique interplay of addiction within the family unit, the more capable they will be in helping their parents get off of drugs and alcohol. A good education on the subject is key here.)


Clinical Review by Claire Pinelli, LADC, CCS, ICAADC, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.