Using drugs doesn’t necessarily make someone a bad parent. Many Australian parents use drugs such as alcohol in a low-risk way. Others use drugs more heavily and cope remarkably well, doing the best they can in difficult circumstances.
Recent analysis has found that almost 25 per cent of Australians with a caring role for children reported that a child or children with whom they lived or for whom they were responsible have been affected adversely by others’ alcohol consumption in the past year. It’s right across the social spectrum.
Children living in homes where there is parental substance abuse can find life difficult, unpredictable and confusing. Sometimes they even believe the alcohol or drug abuse is their fault.
Dealing with the chaos and unpredictability of their home life, children can receive inconsistent messages. They can feel guilt and shame trying to keep the family “secrets”. Often they feel abandoned due to the emotional unavailability of their parents.
What to tell the children?
According to the NationalCenter on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare in the United States, these are the messages that children, with parents have alcohol or other drug dependence or addiction, need to hear.
- Addiction Is a Health Problem – Children need to know that their parents are not “bad” people, they are people with the equivalent of an illness.
- It’s not your fault – Children must understand that they are not the reason a parent drinks too much or abuses drugs. They did not cause the addiction and they cannot stop it.
- You are not alone – Children need to realise that their situation is not unique and they are not alone. Millions of children have parents who are addicted to drugs or who are alcoholics. They need to know that even in their own school, there are other children in the same situation.
- It’s okay to talk – Children in homes with substance abuse need to know that it’s okay to talk about the problem, without having to feel scared, ashamed or embarrassed. They no longer have to lie, cover up and keep secrets. They should be encouraged to find someone that they trust to speak with.
For information about pregnancy and drug use visit www.anex.org.au/pregnancy