How Children With Drug-Addicted Mothers Struggle More Than Peers

Children of drug-addicted mothers face unique challenges that can persist through adulthood. Not only are children of drug-addicted mothers exposed to elements of a dark, adult world, but they are often deprived of learning basic social and survival skills that children of healthy mothers acquire naturally.

Serving as Surrogate Parents

Drug-addicted mothers are generally unavailable to their children for many parenting responsibilities. While addicted mothers are engrossed in their drug of choice, they are unable to provide their children with the nurturing, comforting and learning that mothers are supposed to offer their children. In essence, drug-addicted mothers are absentee parents when they are consumed by their addiction. As a result, older children often step in to serve as surrogate parents to younger children. These children are forced to grow up quickly, handle more responsibility than they are prepared for and often miss out on many critical aspects of childhood. Similarly, younger siblings are confused about what the roles and responsibilities are for a good mother. When these children grow up to have families of their own, they may not be adequate parents because their parent was absent and their actual caregiver was a sibling.

Unclear Boundaries

Children of drug-addicted mothers often suffer from a lack of structure. Rules, expectations and consequences for bad behavior are inconsistent when the parent who is supposed to enforce them is not available. As a result, children are confused about what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior. Many children of drug-addicted mothers test the boundaries of right and wrong by acting out at home or at school to see when boundaries will be enforced.

Poor Examples of Coping Behavior

A parent who uses drugs to cope with problems teaches her child by example that drugs are an acceptable means of dealing with stress, anger, sadness and other painful emotions. Many children of drug-addicted mothers harbor resentment and anger toward their mothers for their continued absenteeism. As children grow older, they often take out this anger on others or turn to drugs to escape their confusing emotions because that is what they learned to do from their mothers. Children are highly impressionable, but also resilient. While a child may seem on the outside to be coping with having a drug-addicted mother, there are likely a number of confusing and conflicting emotions going on inside. If you know a child of a drug-addicted mother, offer your support. Just knowing that there is an authority figure with healthy habits and behaviors to emulate can be enough to help children develop into well-adjusted adults. By Rai Cornell Sources Administration for Children and Families. (2009). Protecting Children in Families Affected by Substance Use Disorders. Child Abuse and Neglect User Manual Series. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2004). Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 39. Lander, L., Howsare, J. & Byrne, M. (2013). The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice. Social Work in Public Health, 28(0), 194-205.

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