How to Help a Child with a Parent Who Is Struggling with Addiction

How to help a child with a parent struggling with addiction

The following article is a guest post by Sarah Lockwood of the ThePreventionCoalition.org. Photo via Pixabay


It’s estimated that 25% of children are exposed to some type of addiction or substance abuse in the home. Children of people struggling with substance abuse are often overlooked when it comes to helping those with addiction. It’s good news if the parent is pursuing recovery, but we can’t forget to care for the children during this difficult time, too.

1. Don’t Burden Them With a Secret

Naturally, this situation calls for a certain level of privacy and it’s important your child knows not to loudly advertise it at school. However, make family and close friends aware of what’s going on.

This is vital in case of an emergency: if your child finds your spouse in need of medical attention, he shouldn’t have to worry about “letting the truth slip” and instead be able to focus on getting help. Further, if he’s feeling lost or confused about what’s going on, it’s good to have an outlet outside the home where he feels safe to talk about it.

2. Keep Them Informed

Knowledge is power, and educating your child on the causes and effects of addiction will help her understand what your family is going through. Make sure your child is aware of common addiction symptoms and understands how addictions develop so she can better understand her parent’s behavior.

Likewise, make sure your child knows that what your family is going through is not her fault. Make it known to her that you promise to be an open book about your family’s shared struggles.

This may seem like heavy information to share with your child, but doing so will show her that you’re respecting her enough to include her in this important family matter.

3. Encourage Wholesome Relationships

Even if your child has no problem spending quality time with his troubled parent, it’s still a good idea to help him find other adults to spend time with like a mentor, teacher, or family friend. He’ll be able to build bonds with healthy, caring adults who can be positive influences and give advice when requested.

Also be mindful of what types of friends your child is making at school. Spending time with active children who focus on wholesome hobbies and healthy activities will help influence your child’s emotional and intellectual development in a positive way.

4. Give Them Extra Attention

Go the extra mile to spend more bonding time with a child dealing with a troubled parent. Often, giving up your time for her is enough to let her know that she’s loved, but it doesn’t hurt to give her frequent verbal reminders, too.

Children of parents dealing with addiction often struggle with school and behavioral problems. Keep an eye on her progress in school and practice patience when searching for the root cause of any troubles she may be having.

5. Ask for Help

Whether you seek the counsel of your pediatrician, your spiritual leader, or your child’s teacher, never hesitate to ask for help if you feel like you’re struggling.

You may even consider adopting a therapy service dog. She’ll be another protective set of eyes, act as a nonjudgmental shoulder to lean on, and can even calm your child if he’s having an anxiety or panic attack. Therapy dogs can be a wonderful way to add an extra layer of support to help your child cope.

Knowing how this struggle may be affecting your child can help you understand what he or she is going through and how it may affect their future. You’ll be able to help them better when you’re communicating openly with them and paying attention to their needs.

It’s crucial that you don’t hesitate to seek legal intervention if you think a child’s wellbeing is in danger, but hopefully this won’t ever be the case for your family. Either way, just know that showing unconditional love for your child has the power to help them through the toughest of challenges during this difficult time.


About the Author:

Sarah Lockwood is a concerned parent and former social worker. Having worked with the public for decades and after watching her own daughter struggle with addiction, Sarah knows all too well the devastation that can be caused by drug and alcohol abuse. Sarah’s daughter is now in recovery, but her experiences with substance abuse inspired Sarah to get involved with ThePreventionCoalition.org. She plans to spread awareness and support through her work for others dealing with addiction. While Sarah devotes a lot of time to the Coalition, she makes sure to relax and enjoy the small things in life, as every day is a gift.