The impact of parental alcohol and drug use on children and families

The impact of parental alcohol and other drug (AOD) use on children and families


The profound impact of substance abuse on the lives of children is staggering. The prevalence and cooccurrence of parental AOD use and child maltreatment are of growing concern. AOD use as a factor in the removal of children from the home has increased from 19% to 40% from 2000 to 2019, according to the National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (NCSACW).

Many AOD-abusing parents or caregivers are sincere in their desire to meet their children’s needs but can be limited financially, physically, or mentally, in their ability to do so. AOD use undermines many parental responsibilities, such as setting expectations for a child’s behavior, ensuring their home is kept clean and safe, providing adequate nutrition, and monitoring their child’s academics. The research on the likelihood and timing of reunification has generally indicated that children of AOD-involved parents have a lower chance of exiting foster care to reunification.

How child welfare workers can support families affected by substance use disorders (SUD)


Collaboration between child welfare professionals and SUD treatment providers is an essential component of helping these families.

Policies and procedures can be developed that encourage parents to enter substance use treatment, and sanctions can be put in place for those that choose not to. Sobriety monitoring should be an essential part of any treatment plan. Consider referring the family to parent education or family therapy.

With the recent increase in medical marijuana prescriptions, keep in mind that the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) lists limited qualifying conditions in terms of medical marijuana prescriptions and for “conditions where other medical treatment has been ineffective.”

The worker should require the patient to provide documentation of previous attempts by healthcare providers to verify that alternative methods of treatment have been proven ineffective.

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The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children

Child Welfare and Alcohol and Drug Use Statistics

What Child Welfare Staff Need to Know

Children and Families Affected by Parental Substance Use Disorders