The Effects of Drug Abuse on Children

It is widely understood that drug use can have serious effects on the user as well as the people around them. Children are especially susceptible to the negative effects of drugs when it comes to being around those with substance use disorder.


The Effects of Drugs on Newborns

Newborns who are exposed to drugs in the womb often face neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which is a group of medical problems stemming from the mother’s addiction to a substance. The drugs that the mother takes pass through the placenta to the baby, leading to the mother and baby being addicted to the substance at the same time. If the mother continues to use drugs up to the baby’s birth, the newborn will be born addicted to the substance, and the child will face withdrawal symptoms that can be life-threatening.

Some of the common symptoms of NAS include:

Body shakes

Excessive crying and fussiness

Poor feeding and low weight

Breathing problems



Sleeping problems

Unfortunately, newborns with NAS are also at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), jaundice, and seizures. Additionally, there are a host of long-term effects of NAS, including developmental delays, vision problems, speech problems, behavioral problems, low self-esteem, and more. Due to the seriousness of NAS and its aftereffects, mothers struggling with addiction issues must understand the many negative effects addiction can have on infants.


Toddlers and Exposure to Drugs

According to a Top Rehabs article, a drug-endangered toddler is defined as “a toddler who suffers from physical harm or neglect when living in a house where illegal drugs are used or manufactured.”

Toddlers who are around people with substance use disorder may come across substances and ingest them, leading to dangerous health issues like increased heart rate, seizures, fever, muscle breakdown, and more. Even if they do not ingest any substances, toddlers may still be affected by parental drug use if they inhale secondhand smoke from substances like meth or cocaine.

Toddlers who grow up around substance abuse often face neglect. They may be malnourished, have poor hygiene, and have a lack of emotional contact with their caregivers. This type of treatment can ultimately lead to more problems, like attachment disorders, developmental delays, and depression.


Teen Drug Use

It is not uncommon for teens to experiment with substances. Unfortunately, this experimentation can prove to be extremely dangerous if it turns into an addiction. The good news is that, according to a survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, teen drug use (especially opioids and cigarettes) is at an all-time low.

Alcohol use in teens is lowering over time, but when teens drink, they tend to binge drink. Binge drinking can lead to injuries, risky sexual behavior, and motor vehicle accidents. Similarly, marijuana usage has decreased over time in teens, but the number of daily smokers has increased.

Club drugs like amphetamines and LSD have been used by teens at a consistent rate over time. The danger of these drugs is that their purity and ingredients are difficult to distinguish, putting teens at risk for overdose or injury.  Teens are using opioids less and less over time, and only 2.7% of high school seniors reported using prescription painkillers in 2019.

Despite dropping drug use rates, education and prevention measures are key in keeping teens safe. Addiction in teenagers can lead to a hard time graduating high school, difficulty finding employment, and many physical and mental health problems.


Risk Factors for Teen Drug Use

Certain teens are at a higher risk for drug use. Some risk factors include:

History of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

History of anxiety or other mental health disorders

History of school struggles and academic struggles

History of the child being impulsive

Adolescents whose parents have low socioeconomic status are also at an increased risk for substance use.


How to Help Children with Substance Use Disorder

Intervention is the first step to helping children dealing with substance use disorder. Talking with the child or teen to understand why substance abuse is occurring and to what degree can help figure out the next steps. If the substance abuse is a full-blown addiction, parents should immediately seek help from a therapist or counselor and look into rehabilitation facilities.

Many teens are opposed to vulnerable conversations with parents, so it may be difficult for them to open up about their substance use. Teens are also often resistant to seek help for their problems. However, research shows that the earlier adolescents receive treatment for substance abuse, the better the adolescent’s chance of recovery is.

Drug abuse treatment for young people includes breaking the habits that led to substance abuse, therapy, and learning stress-relief mechanisms that don’t involve substances. Recovery is not always linear, and teens may need ongoing therapy and rehabilitation.

Children whose parents have substance abuse disorder also often struggle with mental health issues stemming from a parent’s addiction. Some things children of people with substance abuse disorder can do to help manage difficult emotions include:

Speaking to a trusted adult, like a school counselor or other mentor

Keeping a journal to record feelings and emotions as a form of healthy expression

Making healthy friendships

Finding safe and supportive outlets through activities like sports, volunteering, or extracurricular clubs


How to Help Parents Addicted to Drugs

Parents with substance abuse disorder may find it difficult to get the help they need for themselves and their kids. Parents must seek treatment, however, because children who grow up around parents who use drugs are more likely to develop substance use disorder later in life.

Children whose parents struggle with substance abuse are also more likely to suffer from mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues. Kids whose parents are addicted to drugs often have issues with trusting others, maintaining healthy relationships, and finding healthy coping mechanisms.

There are a few helpful resources parents can use to help in recovery and keep their kids safe, including:

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, which offers a parent hotline where parents can talk with a professional about options for their children

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which offers a free and confidential hotline where people can call and discuss treatment options.


Information courtesy of TopRehabs