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Harvard Study Pegs How Parental Substance Abuse Impacts Kids

Christopher Bergland – 2016

In the past week, there’s been a groundswell of new research affirming the impact that parents’ mental health and substance abuse have on their children’s development and life outcomes. A few days ago, researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) reported new findings that a father’s psychological well-being significantly influences the well-being of his offspring.

Today, researchers from Harvard Medical School (HMS) announced new findings that children whose parents (or caregivers) abuse alcohol—or use, produce or distribute drugs—face significantly higher risks of medical and behavioral problems, including substance abuse.

One in Five American Children Live in Homes with Parental Substance Abuse
Substance abuse is a significant public health problem for people of all ages and walks of life. Unfortunately, millions of American children live in homes with parents or caregivers who are regularly involved in alcohol or drug use, or the distribution, manufacturing, or cultivation of illicit substances. Kids who grow up in homes with prevalent substance abuse are more likely to begin misusing drugs and alcohol themselves, which leads to mulitgenerational cycles of addiction.

The double whammy of parental substance abuse on children is the combination of the toxic effects of exposure to drugs and alcohol, as well as the inability of parents struggling with substance use disorders to provide basic physical, psychological, and emotional needs for their kids.

The authors of the new study estimate that one in five U.S. children grows up in a household in which someone misuses alcohol or has a substance use disorder. The good news is that the researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) and Boston Children’s Hospital have identified that pediatricians are in a unique position to assess substance abuse risk and intervene to protect children. These types of interventions could break the multigenerational cycle of addiction.

The new clinical report, “Families Affected by Parental Substance Use,” is available online and will be published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP).