Symptoms of Children with Parents Who Abuse Drugs

For teachers, day care providers, and other caregivers, knowing how to recognize the signs and symptoms of children who are living with parents that are struggling with addiction is important, as early intervention in such situations can lead to the most positive outcomes. Knowing the signs and symptoms of drug abuse in adults, as well as the indicators of abuse and neglect in children can be very helpful.

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse in the Home Environment

  • Clothing and appearance. You may notice that children are not appropriately dressed for the weather conditions, or that clothing is unwashed. Attention to grooming (e.g., hair and/or fingernails) might be minimal or of concern. Children may be dirty and in severe cases may have skin infections or other physical ailments due to neglect. You may also see that accidents or injuries are not properly attended to.
  • In some cases, parents oversleep and thus children are frequently tardy or absent.
  • Educational issues. In the school environment, teachers may notice children seem excessively tired and may fall asleep in class. Learning differences, problems with memory and/or cognition, concentration and attention may all be indicators of a serious problem with parents.
  • Often older siblings attempt to step in and care for younger children. This may be the reason for issues with appearance, clothing, and hygiene, or why children are tired during the day – they may be the ones getting up at night to care for a baby or toddler. Kids living with parents who are unable to parent often take on additional responsibilities, sometimes by choice and sometimes at a parent’s insistence.
  • Emotional issues. Kids who are struggling with adult responsibilities often feel mixed feelings – anger and resentment at their parents, but also fear regarding the uncertainty that home life with an addict or alcoholic involves, and also love and loyalty to the parent or parents who need help. These conflicting emotions can spill out in a variety of ways in the classroom, on the playground or in day care.

If you suspect that a child is living in a difficult situation in which one or both parents is abusing drugs or alcohol, proceed with respect. You may be mandated to report what you have seen, but share your concerns with the child’s parents as honestly and respectfully as possible when it is permitted. Parents love their children and children love their parents, even when addiction makes that love hard to understand. Team up with families to help everyone get the help they need to be as healthy as possible. Sources  

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