The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the number of infants born addicted to opioids has tripled over the past fifteen years. Data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that one in eight children seventeen years old or younger live in households with at least one parent with a past-year substance use disorder (SUD). Maternal drug addiction is a deceptively common problem and can create severe dysfunction in a child’s life. The interactive dynamics at play when dealing with an addicted mother can turn the parent-child relationship on its end and leave children feeling powerless, desperate, alienated, and disconnected from their family lives.
Impact of Living with a Mother Addicted to Drugs
While household dynamics are undergoing considerable change, mothers are still the primary caretakers in the typical household. Data from the United States Census Bureau indicates that two thirds of households with children still list the mother as the main caregiver for children.
Some of the immediate and long-term impacts of growing up with a mother addicted to drugs include, but are not limited to:
- Poor academic performance.
- Behavioral issues.
- Emotional problems.
- Decline in confidence and self-esteem.
- Heightened exposure to drug addiction.
- Negligence of safety.
Research from Partnership for Drug-Free Kids reveals that the emotional stress of children having to care for themselves in the wake of a parent’s drug addiction can have a significant impact on their brain development. The United States Department of Health and Human Services reports that children living with addicted mothers are at increased risk for physical and emotional abuse. This increased risk is the result of both direct factors such as verbal and physical aggression and also neglect in areas such as nutrition, grooming ,and other everyday needs.
Confronting Your Mother about Drug Addiction
The dynamic between children and addicted mothers can vary considerably depending upon the child’s age. According to SAMHSA, seniors are among the fastest-growing populations of those addicted, which means that, in more and more cases, children reach adulthood before their parents develop drug or alcohol addiction. Confronting an addicted mother can be considerably easier in adulthood. Underage children often feel that it’s not their place to say anything, despite the dysfunction going on around them.
The specific interaction and dynamics will vary based upon the mother’s overall mental state, child-safety concerns, and other variables; however, an honest and direct approach, such as what follows here, can go a long way:
- Let your mother know that you’re mindful of her drug abuse and want to help her.
- Illustrate examples of how her addiction has impacted your life and family.
- Enlist the help of others to support you as you talk to her.
- Emphasize that you’re not there to judge but to help.
It may be of benefit to keep a journal to effectively articulate your thoughts when the time comes to talk to your mother.
Support for Children Living with a Mother Addicted to Drugs
This process can be overwhelming for underage children. In most cases, they should be aided by another adult or even an experienced, certified interventionist. The intervention process can help solidify your message, drive the point home, and keep the dialogue from devolving into counterproductive shouting, drama, and name-calling.
Many organizations exist that can provide effective counsel and support to children of any age who have addicted mothers, including but not limited to:
- Child Help USA National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453)
- National Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-448-4663
- Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study
- Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA)
- National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACoA), Just4Kids, and Just4Teens
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- National Runaway Safeline
- Parental Substance Use and the Child Welfare System
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline
Put Your Safety and Well-Being First
When dealing with a drug-addicted mother—or any other loved one, for that matter—you can often find your personal safety at risk. It’s a good idea to have a list of emergency contacts in place, in case encounters get dangerously volatile and you find yourself in harm’s way. it can also be very easy to devote all of your physical and emotional energy to helping them get better. If you’re not careful, your entire life can be consumed by your mother’s addiction. Above all, it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault and that there is only so much you can do.
- cdc.gov – Incidence of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome — 28 States, 1999–2013
- samhsa.gov – Children living with parents who have a substance use disorder
- census.gov – One-Third of Fathers with Working Wives Regularly Care for Their Children, Census Bureau Reports
- drugfree.org – Commentary: The Most at Risk: The Most Ignored
- childwelfare.gov – Parental Substance Use and the Child Welfare System
- samhsa.gov – A day in the life of older adults: substance use facts