Staying Safe Around Others

Parental Drug and Alcohol Misuse

Most parents who occasionally use alcohol and drugs will do so responsibly in a way that does not impact on their children. Making sure that their children are cared for safely and that they are not at risk of harm.

For some children their parent’s misuse of drugs and alcohol will put them at risk physically and/or emotionally. Some of the damage can affect them for the rest of their lives.

Parents who recognise that their drug and/or alcohol use could be harming their loved ones can access support and advice to manage this. Getting the right help at the right time can help the whole family.

Dive Deeper

What Is Alcohol And Drug Misuse?

When a person’s use of drugs and/or alcohol means that they put themselves and those around them at risk, it is misuse.

Regularly using drink or drugs can build up over time and you may not realise it is happening. You may be upset and angry if someone mentions it is becoming a problem. It can be hard to accept.

A parent’s need for drugs and/or alcohol can become a bigger priority than caring for their family – even though they love them very much.

Both alcohol and drugs are addictive – the need to get hold of, and use substances can be very strong.

How Can it Affect Pregnancy?

Even before they are born, children can be affected by their parents' behaviour and choices. Using drugs and alcohol during pregnancy can cause:

  • Physical problems (birth defects) for the baby
  • Poor growth and/or early birth
  • Withdrawal symptoms for the baby after birth
  • Long term problems with development.

If you are pregnant and you or your partner are struggling with drug misuse it is really important to talk to your GP or midwife about this so that they can help you have a healthy pregnancy and birth. You will not be judged by professionals – everyone will want to help you have a good, healthy start to family life.

How Can it Affect Children?

When parents are under the influence of substances it could mean they are not able to keep their child safe. They might not be able to make sure children have what they need emotionally and/or physically.

As children grow being around alcohol/drug use continues to cause harm:

  • If family money is spent on drink and drugs there may not be enough for other things needed by the family like food and clothes.
  • It is hard to provide the care and attention children need when you are under the influence of, or recovering from drug and alcohol misuse.
  • You may not have a safe home – you may not keep drugs or drink safely out of reach, you may invite risky people into your home.
  • Your child will notice when you are using and will worry about you. You may be frightening and ‘not yourself’ when you use. There is a much higher risk of domestic abuse.
  • Your child may end up acting as your ‘carer’ - trying to look after you and/or brothers and sisters.

Children who grow up around drug and alcohol misuse are more likely to have mental health problems.

  • They often have to get used to feeling anxious and worried a lot of the time.
  • They might not feel good about themselves and have low confidence.
  • They may have problems with their behaviour at home or at school.
  • They may find it hard to concentrate and do their best at school because of their worries about home.

Having a parent who misuses drugs and/or alcohol can make childhood hard. It can make parents feel sad and guilty. You may not know what to do next but there is support available for you and your children if you need it.

If You Think You Have A Problem?

It can take time to accept you might have a problem. It might be others who mention it to you first. There may be signs that your drink and/or drug use is having a negative effect on you and your loved ones.

  • You may worry about how you have behaved towards your loved ones when you have been using.
  • You may notice that you are spending a lot of money on drink or drugs.
  • Keeping up with daily routines and work might be harder.
  • You may feel physically unwell if you do not have alcohol/drugs.

You might notice that it is hard to find the energy to spend time with your children. Caring for them might seem difficult and your patience might be less.

  • Keep a diary of what you are drinking/using and how you feel physically and emotionally before and after.
  • Choose a time when you are sober and calm. Ask your friends and family if they are worried about your use. Ask for their support.
  • Keep away from places and people who tempt you to use.
  • Try and increase the days you are not having any drink or drugs – if this seems too hard to do then talk to your GP or contact local support services.

Asking for help to take control of your drug and alcohol use is a really positive step. You and your children will benefit from this. Services will be keen to work with you to help you get back on track.

Who Can Help?

In Norfolk, Change Grow Live (CGL), an alcohol and drug behaviour change service can support you to make positive change.

The Matthew Project delivers Unity, the specialist Drug and Alcohol Service for children, young people and their families across Norfolk. They can offer support for children and young people affected by someone else's substance misuse. ​

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text Chathealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of the Healthy Child Programme team.

For 11–25 year olds Kooth is a free, confidential and safe way to receive online counselling, advice and emotional well-being support.

To speak to other Norfolk parents and carers, you can join our online community forum below.

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