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Children are the Collateral Damage of 21st Century Drug Addiction

sad 214977 640

sad 214977 640

According to countless studies, research reports, crime statistics, surveys, and autopsy reports, the United States is experiencing its worst ever addiction epidemic. This epidemic is by and large led by opioids, with opiate drugs like heroin and prescription pain relievers being the forerunners and the “big ticket items” in today’s addiction catastrophe.

When so many people are addicted to drugs and alcohol, it should come as no surprise that many children are being raised by one or more addicts for parents. However, this information is not made that broadly known, as Americans are usually too busy focusing their attention on the addicts themselves that they sometimes don’t pay attention to those immediately affected by those addicts.

However, the sheer prevalence of children being raised by addicts is irrefutable. In 2014, there were more than ten million Americans who reported non-medical use of opiate pharmaceuticals, abuse of heroin, or both in tandem. The following year, over thirty-thousand people died from opiate drug overdoses. With over ten million addicted and the most common age range of those addicted being between 24 and 54, it goes without saying that many addicts are also parents of young kids and teens.

The Long-Term Effects of Being Raised by an Addict

According to CRC Health, when mom or dad drinks or does drugs, the whole family suffers, and in a big way too. Approximately twelve percent of children in the U.S. lived with at least one parent who was dependent on drugs or alcohol in 2016, and the statistic will likely worsen for 2017 when the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration finishes compiling their information. Listed below we can see several factors that occur when today’s youth are exposed to addiction:

  • One can easily imagine the kind of damage that growing up with an addicted parent might do to a child. At the very least, it will make for an unpleasant upbringing. But the risk does not even stop there. Studies also show that children of addicted parents are at least twice as likely to develop substance abuse problems themselves as children raised by sober parents are.
  • The National Center for Biotechnology Information, a department of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, compiled a large research project to study the exact effects that addiction has on the “family unit” so to speak, i.e. the parents and children. This project dove into the family roles, the family bond, and how each family member is affected by addiction. One of the most common factors that were observed in all case studies was that children always seemed to struggle with some form of mental or emotional difficulty from being raised in an unsafe, unpleasant home environment.
  • The study put forth the idea of “Homeostasis” within the family unit. The idea was that each family member within the family tended to function in such a way so as to keep the entire family system in balance even in the face of one or more individuals being addicted. An example would be a child of any age trying to take care of a drug-sick or drunk parent, cleaning up after them, helping them get into bed or get to the toilet, lying to the other parent about them, etc. This has such a negative, long-term effect on children that it is no surprise that children of addicts often become addicts themselves later on in life.
  • Another way in which children are negatively affected by addicted parents is when children are born addicted to drugs because of a mother’s drug dependence. This is called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or NAS. This has not always been a serious concern, but in recent years it has become far more common. In fact, in 2012 a baby was born with NAS every twenty-five minutes, a statistic that has quadrupled in the last fifteen years and which continues to grow today.
  • There is also the simple loss of a parent or parents that many children face. In 2015, 428,000 kids were in foster care homes. Add to that those kids living with relatives or foster parents and the estimate is closer to 2.5 million kids who are not being raised by their parents. Further research shows that about one-third of those 2.5 million kids had been taken away from their parents and given to relatives or put into foster care because of substance abuse by parents.

What to Do for the Future Generation of Our Nation

A full-on societal change will need to occur to bring this problem down. We can’t continue to live in a society where parents abuse drugs and alcohol and then neglect their children. This problem has skyrocketed since 2010, with opiates and alcohol almost always being the major culprits.

The honest answer is that there is no one, single answer to fix the problem. It is only with extensive and repeated efforts that actual change will be able to occur, and it is only with ongoing dedication to multiple recovery campaigns that parents and kids will get the help and care that they deserve. This has to be a focus of prevention, education, rehabilitation, and legal action if necessary.

Prevention and education must be a priority for all communities to ensure that parents don’t fall prey to addiction in the first place. Rehabilitation has to be made available for parents who do slip into addiction. Unfortunately, legal action must be more effective and available to help children grow up in a nurturing and loving family if all else fails to help their biological parents get clean. We have a long and difficult road ahead of us to fully address this problem, but it is a road that we need to walk and we need to start walking it now.

Sources:

https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_3223/ShortReport-3223.html

https://health.usnews.com/health-care/for-better/articles/2017-06-22/the-hidden-victims-of-the-opioid-epidemic

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3725219/

https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/helping-children-addicted-parents-find-help

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