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Around 15% of Australian adults have used marijuana in the last year. Using drugs affects people in different ways, but children of drug users are more likely to be neglected than other children, and to use drugs themselves. Read about one drug-using parent, and about the challenges facing drug-using parents around the country.

Did you knowQuestion mark symbol

Children whose parents use drugs are more likely to use drugs when they grow up – usually the same drugs their parents use
 

At a glance

  • Research in 2010 found that 28.4% of Australian men and women drank enough alcohol to be harmful at least once every month (that is, in excess of NHMRC guidelines for harm from the chronic, long-term effects of alcohol).
  • Research in 2012 found that over 15% of Australians aged 15-64 had used marijuana in the previous 12 months, the highest proportion of anywhere in the world.
  • Children raised in homes where parents are regularly taking drugs are more likely to have problems with brain development and learning, and difficulties with emotional control, behaviour and social adjustment.
  • Children of substance-abusing parents are at greater risk of child abuse and neglect, and are less likely to be well looked after.
  • Alcohol or substance misuse is a factor in around half the cases of child abuse or neglect reported in Australia.
Parents who use drugs or alcohol don’t necessarily do a bad job of caring for their children. But problem use of drugs or alcohol can lead to detrimental effects on child growth and development.

The challenges

People take drugs for many different reasons (drugs can refer to alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal drugs). Some people use drugs (including alcohol) in social situations to have a good time or to relax and unwind. Other people use drugs to deal with unhappiness and problems with self-esteem, or to cover up feelings of guilt or shame. Some live in circumstances where drugs are part of their immediate culture, such as in areas of poverty where drug misuse is higher, or in parts of the country that embrace ‘alternative’ culture.

Taking drugs can affect the way you do things and the way you think. Some people feel that drugs have positive effects. But drugs can also have serious negative effects on your health and relationships. Depending on the drug, the amount used and the context of use, drugs can make you:

  • become anxious and upset
  • lose coordination
  • become aggressive or forgetful
  • lose awareness of what is happening around you.

Because drugs can also affect your ability to react and your accuracy in doing things, it’s much easier to have an accident when you’re doing things such as driving a car or even cooking over a hot stove.

Because of the effects of drugs, a parent’s ability to care for their child can be compromised when they’re under the influence.

Parenting and drug use
Using drugs doesn’t make someone a bad parent. Many Australian parents use drugs such as alcohol in a low-risk way. Other parents use drugs more heavily and cope remarkably well, doing the best they can in difficult circumstances.

Some studies have even shown that in general, mothers with drug addictions cared for their children in the same way as non-addicted mothers. Overall, these mothers tended to use less physical punishment and be less strict in parenting. But they also had some fears about their children’s future and thought they weren’t as good a parent as they could be.

But using drugs can negatively affect your ability to parent. In some cases, it can also directly affect your child. When parental drug use harms the child in some way, it becomes a problem. Sometimes when parents take drugs, the effects can have lasting impacts on the child’s development and behaviour.

For example, drug-using parents might:

  • drive when intoxicated and with the children in the car
  • forget about care the children need, such as getting meals or getting children to school
  • let children see distressing mood swings or behaviour
  • not be as involved in children’s daily lives as they ordinarily would be – this might mean missing important events, like school concerts and parties
  • have children who feel uncomfortable about having friends over, which can make it harder for the children to learn social skills.

Smoking parents might expose their children to second-hand smoke. Studies have linked parental smoking – even when the children are nowhere near the smoke – to SIDS.

Taking drugs while pregnant can harm the unborn child’s health and later behaviour. Most drugs including alcohol and tobacco - cross the placenta and can cause fetal distress, abnormalities, miscarriage, premature labour, low birth weight and developmental delays.

Dealing with drug addictions
Overcoming a drug addiction is a difficult process. 

If you decide to do it, it can take years. In the process of recovery, a user must go through several stages, including dealing with the often uncomfortable physical symptoms of drug withdrawal, learning other ways of coping with life’s ups and downs, and the possibility of relapse. Of course, the level of symptoms and difficulty will depend on the drug and how strong the addiction is.

If you decide to give up any drugs you’re addicted to, you’ll need support and counselling. Depending on the severity of your addiction, you might also need time in residential rehabilitation.

Supporting a parent with an addiction
Friends and other family members can help parents with a drug addiction in the following ways.

  • There’s a very good chance that a parent feels bad about the issues with drugs, so providing support, rather than judgement or criticism, is vital. Criticising someone in this position might only result in that person feeling worse and becoming defensive. But it’s also important to look after yourself and be clear about what you are and aren’t prepared to do.
  • People using drugs are responsible for their own actions. Only they can decide when to stop. The best way to help is by encouraging small efforts. Ask your friend or family member about how they’d like help once they show signs of wanting to deal with the addiction.
  • Familiarise yourself with the drug and its effects. Understanding how it works and why people become addicted will help you understand what your friend or family member is experiencing.
  • When you can, support the parent’s children by spending time with them and filling in where the parent might be missing out. Talk to the children about the parent’s problem. Make sure the children understand that they’re not the cause of their parent’s behaviour.
  • Try to balance supporting the parent with making sure the children are safe from harm or abuse.
  • Listen and talk to your friend or family member. Don’t push them into talking about the issue. When they do talk about it, try to find out what the underlying issues are.
  • If money is short, offer to help with bill payments or groceries, rather than providing cash.
  • For information and help, see Family Drug Support.

For further help

State Organisation Description Details
ACT ADIS (Alcohol and Drug Information Services) A confidential 24/7 telephone counselling, information and referral service for those struggling with alcohol and drug use, families and friends of users, and health and welfare professionals (02) 6205 4545
NSW ADIS (Alcohol and Drug Information Services) A confidential 24/7 telephone counselling, information and referral service for those struggling with alcohol and drug use, families and friends of users, and health and welfare professionals

(02) 9361 8000 or
outside metropolitan area
1800 422 599

Family Drug Support Information and advice for families and friends who are coping with the illicit drug use of someone close to them 1300 858 584 or www.fds.org.au
Odyssey House Provides a range of services dedicated to helping drug users and their family and friends www.odysseyhouse.com.au

QLD

ADIS (Alcohol and Drug Information Services) A confidential 24/7 telephone counselling, information and referral service for those struggling with alcohol and drug use, families and friends of users, and health and welfare professionals

(07) 3236 2414 or
outside metropolitan area
1800 177 833

Family Drug Support Information and advice for families and friends who are coping with the illicit drug use of someone close to them (07) 3252 1735
SA ADIS (Alcohol and Drug Information Services) A confidential 24/7 telephone counselling, information and referral service for those struggling with alcohol and drug use, families and friends of users, and health and welfare professionals

131 340 or
outside metropolitan area
1300 131 340

Family Drug Support Information and advice for families and friends who are coping with the illicit drug use of someone close to them
(08) 8384 4314
DASSA (Drug and Alcohol Services South Australia) For help with prevention, treatment information, education and community-based services www.dassa.sa.gov.au
WA ADIS (Alcohol and Drug Information Services) A confidential 24/7 telephone counselling, information and referral service for those struggling with alcohol and drug use, families and friends of users, and health and welfare professionals

(08) 9442 5000 or
outside metropolitan area
1800 198 024

Parent Drug Information Service  

(08) 9442 5050 or
outside metropolitan area
1800 653 203

NT ADIS (Alcohol and Drug Information Services) A confidential 24/7 telephone counselling, information and referral service for those struggling with alcohol and drug use, families and friends of users, and health and welfare professionals 1800 131 350
TAS ADIS (Alcohol and Drug Information Services) A confidential 24/7 telephone counselling, information and referral service for those struggling with alcohol and drug use, families and friends of users, and health and welfare professionals

(03) 6222 7511 or
outside metropolitan area
1800 811 994

VIC ADIS (Alcohol and Drug Information Services) A confidential 24/7 telephone counselling, information and referral service for those struggling with alcohol and drug use, families and friends of users, and health and welfare professionals

1800 888 236
Family Drug Help
1300 660 068

Other national helplines Lifeline   131 114
Parent Line   132 055
Quit   131 848
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  • Last Updated 15-11-2012
  • Last Reviewed 15-05-2006
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2010). 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, Cat. no. PHE 145. Retrieved September 20, 2011 from http://www.aihw.gov.au/publication-detail/?id=32212254712&tab=2

    Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2010). Australia's Health 2010, Cat. no. AUS 122. Retrieved September 20, 2011 from http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=6442452962&libID=6442452962

    Centre of Community Child Health (2004). Parenting information project, vol 2:Literature review. Canberra: Department of Family and Community Services.

    Degenhardt, L., & Hall, W. (2012). Extent of illicit drug use and dependence, and their contribution to global burden of disease. The Lancet, 379, 55-70.

    Johnson, J.L., & Leff, M. (1999). Children of substance abusers: Overview of research findings. Paediatrics, 13(5), 1085 – 1099.

    Mayes, L.C., & Truman, S.D. (2002). Substance abuse and parenting. In M.H. Bornstein (ed), The handbook of parenting, 2nd ed, vol 4. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Victorian Government Department of Human Services (2005). Parenting support toolkit for alcohol and other drug workers. Melbourne: Author.