Impact of Alcoholic Parents on Teens with Substance Abuse Problems

family drinking wine over lunch

Despite what a lot of teens may say, parents do have a significant influence on their lives. Sometimes that influence is most apparent when a teen lives with an alcoholic parent. As children begin to grow and navigate the challenges of adolescence, parental substance abuse has a direct impact on their well-being, as well as their behavior. In some cases, the parent’s alcoholism influences a teen’s own substance abuse and subsequent need for treatment.

No matter where teenagers live or who their parents are, they are wired to create an identity, form significant relationships outside the home, and, at times, act impulsively.  Adolescent behavior often also includes experimentation with alcohol, drugs, or other substances. Surveys have shown that approximately 70% of U.S. high school students have had at least one alcoholic drink, while 22% have had 5 or more drinks within the span of a couple of hours. That second statistic should cause any parent to be concerned.

Having a parent who drinks excessively or abuses drugs is a strong predictor of teen substance abuse. Youth who live with an alcoholic parent have higher rates of alcohol abuse than those who do not. While the risk is higher for any teen with an alcoholic parent, it’s been found that the highest rate of substance-abusing teens was among those with a mother who abused alcohol.

The strain of living with a parent with alcoholism also contributes to teen substance abuse.  Stress and, particularly, trauma – especially during childhood – can be a risk factor for alcohol and drug abuse. An alcoholic mother or father may neglect parental responsibilities and create conflict within the home.  He or she may also be physically or verbally abusive, especially towards vulnerable children.

An alcoholic parent frequently creates an environment that makes substance abuse easy for teens in the home.  This is largely because easy access to alcohol is readily available. In addition, a parent who is drunk may not know or even care that their teenager is drinking.

Genetics may play a role in some incidents of adolescent substance abuse as well.  Research suggests that some families are genetically predisposed to addictive disorders. In addition, a family can have a predisposition for certain mental health disorders, such as depression or bipolar disorder, which are in and of themselves risk factors for alcohol and drug abuse.

Helping Substance-Abusing Teens

The importance of professional treatment.  Alcoholism and drug addiction are progressive disorders that don’t go away on their own. A professional treatment program can provide the tools and resources to help teens overcome substance abuse, make better choices, and develop a healthier lifestyle. Because many teens are heavily influenced by their environment, most experts recommend an inpatient or residential treatment program.  This type of setting allows teens to focus solely on getting well.

Residential or inpatient treatment will start with medically supervised alcohol or drug detox, if indicated.  During detox, substances are gradually and safely eliminated from the body. When the process is finished, therapy and other aspects of treatment begin.  Therapy may include one-on-one counseling, group therapy, or a combination of both. The goal of therapy will be to help adolescents understand what emotions and situations, including parental addiction, have contributed to their substance abuse problem. Another goal of therapy is to help teens understand and acknowledge the role their own decisions have played in their substance abuse.

Since teens are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure, treatment will help them learn practical ways to stay sober in social situations.  Role-playing and self-esteem building may be used to help them learn to abstain from drugs or alcohol and feel more capable of resisting pressure from other kids.

Get help for yourself. If you’re a parent who worries that your own alcohol use has gotten out of hand, or if you know you have a problem, now is the time to enter treatment.  Contact an addiction treatment facility about rehab options. Don’t reject the idea of alcoholism treatment because you believe you can’t leave home or won’t be able to find care for younger children.  The treatment staff will help you develop a recovery plan that works for you. Remember, you can’t help your substance-abusing teen until you’re sober.

Support aftercare. Once teens complete inpatient or residential treatment, they’re still vulnerable to relapse. This is especially true if they’re returning to an environment where a parent or other family members are abusing substances. If possible, have your teen enter a sober environment following rehab. Other ways to support your teen’s sobriety include encouraging his or her participation in continued individual, group, or family counseling.  A 12-step recovery program can also be very beneficial to your teen’s recovery success.

Find a teen support group. In addition to a 12-step program to support his or her own recovery, a teen with an addicted parent will benefit from being around other teens with addicted parents. Groups like Alateen provide support for adolescents with parents who abuse alcohol or drugs. During meetings, teens share their stories and experiences, providing each other with needed encouragement and support.

Help the entire family get healthy. Addiction impacts the entire family.  Each person is affected regardless of whether he or she abuses substances personally. Family therapy teaches members how to communicate with each other to reduce and resolve conflict in a productive way. During therapy, family members learn to work together in an open, honest and respectful way that promotes healing.

Encourage healthy activities with positive people. We often hear about the negative effects of peer pressure; however, it can have a positive effect as well. Your teen will benefit from being around other teens who participate in healthy activities. That doesn’t mean you need to force your child into the marching band if he or she has no interest. You can, however, work with your teen to find an activity that’s appealing and fun. If your teen likes martial arts movies, sign him up for karate classes. If she’s athletic, encourage her to join one of the athletic teams at school.  If your teen has always liked to draw, suggest taking a class at a local graphic design school. No matter what your teen chooses, the goal is to get him or her to channel energy and emotion into something positive and healthy.

Teens living with a parent with alcoholism are more likely to struggle with substance abuse themselves. If you have a teen who has or may be developing a substance abuse problem, seek professional treatment so he or she can start the healing process today.







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