Substance use disorders (SUDs) are characterized by recurrent use of alcohol or drugs (or both) that results in problems such as being unable to control use of the substance; failing to meet obligations at work, home, or school; having poor health; and spending an increased amount of time getting, using, or recovering from the effects of using the substance. Parent substance use and parent experience of an SUD can have negative effects on children. Children with a parent who has an SUD are more likely than children who do not have a parent with an SUD to have lower socioeconomic status and increased difficulties in academic and social settings and family functioning. Children having a parent with an SUD are at risk of experiencing direct effects, such as parental abuse or neglect, or indirect effects, such as fewer household resources. Previous research indicates that the negative effects of parent SUDs may differ depending on the type of SUD the parent has (i.e., alcohol or illicit drug). Policymakers can use information on the number of children living with parents with an SUD for developing targeted prevention and outreach programs.
SUDs can have a profound influence on the lives of people and their families, particularly their children. The data in this report indicate that about 1 in 8 children in the United States aged 17 or younger were residing in homes with at least one parent who had an SUD. The rate of 1 in 8 children having at least one parent with an SUD was consistent across four age groups ranging from younger than 3 years to adolescents aged 12 to 17. Although many children living in households with a substance-using parent will not experience abuse or neglect, they are at increased risk for child maltreatment and child welfare involvement compared with other children.11 In addition, these children are at an increased risk for engaging in substance use themselves.7 The consistency of the prevalence across age groups in the percentage of children living with at least one parent with an SUD suggest that prevention and intervention efforts targeting older and younger children may be beneficial for reducing the impact of parent SUDs.
The annual average of 8.7 million children aged 17 or younger living in U.S. households with at least one parent who had an SUD highlights the potential breadth of substance use prevention and treatment needs for the whole family—from substance use treatment for the affected adults to prevention and supportive services for the children. As substance use and SUDs among parents often occur in households that face other challenges (e.g., mental illness, poverty, domestic violence), the recovery process may need to extend beyond substance use treatment to produce the changes in a family that are necessary to ensure a healthy family environment for a child.12
According to 2014 NSDUH data, approximately 20.2 million adults aged 18 or older had a past year SUD, including 16.3 million with an alcohol use disorder and 6.2 million with an illicit drug use disorder; however, only 7.6 percent of adults with past year SUD received substance use treatment in the past year (data not shown). The expense of substance use treatment can be a financial barrier for people who need it;13 however, the long-term potential impact of parent substance use on their children suggests that substance use treatment intervention for parents may be essential to the well-being of their children. When a parent has an SUD, the whole family may be part of the recovery process, and each household member may need support. Many resources are available to help children when a parent uses substances or has an SUD.