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Friday, September 17, 2010

Children and their substance abusing parents

In 2007, Scottish researcher Dr. M. Barnard wrote the fascinating book Dtug Addiction and Families which chronicled various types of experiences that are endured by family members of addicts. In particular, her book explored how children are impacted.

In a recently published summary of their experience with chldren in the UK, Childline has summarised some fascinating information. This report really brings the voices of children front and centre:

“My mum drinks all the time and leaves me alone lots of times. I feel scared and lonely. I look after my mum when she drinks. I put her to bed. Mum shouts and hits me; she is worse on a Friday. I don't want to feel pain. I want to die.” (Angel, aged 10"

You can feel this child's pain. Children are worried for their parents, take on parenting roles and live in an environment where substance abuse is not the only challenge. As the report states:

"Children who were counselled by ChildLine about their parents’ alcohol and drug misuse often also talked about their experiences of physical abuse, family relationship problems, neglect and sexual abuse."

As the report helps us to see, it is more frequently alcohol that is the problem versus illicit drugs. Yet, the media and perhaps organziations with budgetary and political agendas will focus the story more on the illicit side. Either way, the impact on children is significant when substances take over the household daily story.

One of the most powerful conclusions of the report is the burden that children feel to make things better or take on household management and parenting duties. Regrettably, many families will have little or no intervention creating a legacy for the child that will endure through their lifetimes. Research by Johnson and Leff (1999) showed the power of intergenerational transmission of subtsnace abuse behaviors.

We have not found the keys for prevention in our society as we see use rates again climbing (see the report from SAMSHA in the US issued yesterday at ) We also know that intervention can work but that we must be persistent with it. One time in a 15 or 28 day treatment centre is not the answer. Change is a long process.

I am reminded of advice I received as a young social wokrer from psychiatrist Tibor Bezeredi - People change when the cost of change is less than the cost of the status quo.

AS WELL - you might find this journal The Future of Childern of interest - free on the internet and a high quality journal

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