|Healthcare Training Institute - Quality Education since 1979CE for Psychologist, Social Worker, Counselor, & MFT!!
Paying the Price: The Impact of Parental Drug Use on Children
For many of our interviewees the fact that their drug use had had a negative impact on their parenting was beyond question. Indeed one of the most painful aspects of our interviewees’ eventual recovery from their drug use was in confronting the many ways in which their drug use had impacted upon their children. "When I was coming off, I remember thinking, `God, I chose heroin over my own life and put it before my children’s lives." (Helen)
Other parents were able to contrast the life that they had with their children once they had overcome their drug dependence with the life that they had when they were using drugs. The contrast they drew provided an insight into the
impact of parental drug use on children. "As much as I thought and believed I was a mother before, I wasn’t, do
you know what I mean? It’s myself I was thinking about all of the time." (Lesley)
In the remainder of this section we illustrate the various other ways in which our interviewees believed their drug use had influenced the lives of their children.
Material Deprivation and Neglect
The most obvious way in which our interviewees’ drug use had influenced the lives of their children was the channeling of monies and household resources into sustaining their drug use rather than in providing a comfortable and nurturing environment for their children. "The more people told me I had a problem, the more I would deny I had a problem. And it was one night, when I’d sold all the furniture in the house and the children were really starving and, instead of running
about trying to get them food, I was running about trying to get my drugs. In the end I think the shame caught up with me, and the guilt." (Pauline)
Although the impact of the parents’ drug use was often at its most visible in terms of the lack of material resources within the home, this was by no means the only way in which the parent’s drug use could be seen as having an impact upon the lives of their children. It was clear from what many of our interviewees had to say that their dependence on the drugs that they had been using had undermined the structure of the family home within which they and their children were living. Household routines, for example meal times, bed times, taking the children to and from school, had all suffered as a result of the parents’ focus upon sustaining their drug use. "It’s like the only thing that was at the front of my mind was drugs.
Where am I going to get this? Where am I going to get that? Whereas in actual fact I should have been thinking what am I going to give the bairn for his breakfast, his lunch, his tea? What’s he doing? Who’s he out playing with?" (Angela)
Some of our interviewees were aware of the way in which their drug use had compromised their ability to act as a role model for their children and had effectively deprived their children of an important influence on their own development. "I didn’t want the kids following in my footsteps. I knew the lifestyle I was leading was what they were seeing. That was what they thought was acceptable and that was the lifestyle they would grow into and I was scared for them, really scared for them." (Ian) "I mean, do you think for one minute I ever wanted them to know I’d been on this. What chance have they got? How could I tell them not to do something when I’m doing it? You’re just a hypocrite and I’m not prepared to do that. I wouldn’t even smoke hash in front of kids. As far as they are concerned, drugs are bad things and I’ll keep to that." (Claire)
As a result of their parents’ failure to adequately care for their children, it was evident that some of the children had taken on quasi-adult responsibilities in relation to both their own care and that of their younger siblings. In this sense, some of these children had been deprived of an important aspect of their childhood. "I think the fact that I had my wee boy about me helped me. At the same time I knew I was destroying his life. I felt helpless but there was still a part of me that wanted to be responsible for him and stuff like that. He was doing everything for himself, just like growing up at four years old, so grown up, it just made me feel, `Oh, he’s OK, he doesn’t need me,’ and that you know. . . . It got to the stage when he was having to look after his wee brother. He was sort of having to play mummy and daddy, you know? He’d get up in the morning and make his bottle because mummy and daddy are lying on the bed sparked from the night before. So it really affected my oldest boy." (Jane)
The Risk of Physical Abuse and Violence
It is well known that drug use is often associated with physical violence. For the most part this violence involves other drug users and is often related to disputes over drug transactions, money lending, drug purity, etc. (Brownstein, 2001) . It
would be incorrect to suggest that the children of drug users were regularly subjected to violence associated with the drug-using lifestyle of their parents; however, nor was it the case that these children were immune to such violence. We have been provided with a description of at least one occasion when the child of a drug-using mother was directly threatened with violence by a local drug dealer as a way of pressuring his mother to repay a debt. Aside from the potential for such violence there is also the possibility that as a result of his or her drug use the parent may simply not be able to protect his or her child from other violent incidents. "My eldest son had bruises on the side of his face and I think it was my partner that had hit him, but I was too out of my face to notice. I just hold on to things like that, what could have happened and in fact what has happened." (Kathleen)
It was also evident from what some of the drug-using parents had to say that their children could be subjected to threats and taunts from other children where the fact of their parents’ drug use became common local knowledge. "I want to be able to give my kids a good life. I don’t want them to see their mum and dad as drug users. I don’t want them to take stick
through our using at school or whatever." (Gerry)
Exposure to Criminal Behavior
For many people dependent upon illegal drugs the only way to fund their drug use is through criminal behavior whether it be shoplifting, prostitution or burglary. Where the individual concerned is a parent, there is a clear risk that the child or children might be exposed to such criminality at an early age and that such exposure may influence the child’s own attitudes towards criminal behavior and criminal justice agencies. "My oldest boy was treble streetwise ’cos he was brought up that way. He’d been in the jail and things like that with us (visiting relatives) and I’d take him out (stealing) with me, get the jail and my mum would need to come down to the police station and get him and things like that." (Fiona) "I remember my oldest boy when I bought him his first pair of shoes. He wanted a pair of Chelsea boots and I thought I’m going to get him them and I went in and bought him them. I was so excited I phoned my sister, `I’ve bought the child a pair of boots.’ And she was like, `You’re meant to do that,’ and I said, `Yea, I know but I’m not used to going in.’ See the day I was in buying him them boots that’s when I seen what I was doing to him. It’s all right laughing about it now. It’s quite funny when you think about it ’cos he’s got the boots on and he’s looking at me and he’s kicked his old ones under the seat. I’m watching him do this and I’m like, `We don’t do that anymore, just take the boots off.’ He took the boots off, and I’ve gone to pay for them and it wasn’t till we came out of the shop and I’ve looked at him and I’ve thought `God love you,’ ’cos that was the kind of thing I’d done with him before. I’d be like come on and be pushing him out of the door and things like that. And I was sort of trying to explain to him, `Look, son, we don’t do that now, we pay for things now,’ and he was looking at me, `Alright.’ He was starting to go into shops stealing and things like that. He was caught a couple of times in shops along [street] stealing and it was just because he thought that was the way you done it; it was a way of life." (Lorna)
It was clear from what some of our interviewees recounted that during the period of their drug use they had spent many periods when, for one reason or another, they had been separated from their children. One scenario where this had
occurred was where the drug-using parent had received a custodial sentence; another was where he or she had had their child or children taken into care as a result of their own failure to care for their children. Such separations could be enormously upsetting for both the parent and the child. "And it was torture when I was going to visit my children. When they saw me, I think they thought they were coming home ’cos they would say, `Oh you’re back, mammy.’ And I was like, `Oh, son, you can’t come home now.’ And what made it worse was the two of them were split up when they were in care. The oldest one was with one family and the wee one was with another family; so they weren’t even together. And, when you were going away after the visiting, they would be screaming and clinging on to you and the social workers would be dragging them away and I thought, fuck, I can’t handle this. I can’t go through this watching them doing this now. It was really cutting me up inside." (Paula)
- McKeganey, Neil, Maria Barnard, and James McIntosh; "Paying The Price For Their Parent’s Addiction: Meeting The Needs Of The Children Of Drug-Using Parents", Drugs: Education, Prevention, & Policy; Aug 2002 Vol 9 Issue 3, p233-246
Reflection Exercise #5
The preceding section contained information
about how children pay the price for a parent’s addiction. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
According to McKeganey, what are the biggest risks to the children of addicts? To select and enter your answer go to .