The Effects of Substance Abuse on Children
The destruction of addiction doesn’t just stop with the person abusing drugs and alcohol. It has a tremendous impact on everyone close to the addict, and this includes the children involved. The effects of substance abuse leave a tremendous mark on children. Unfortunately, being exposed to addiction so early in life also sets the child up for potential problems of its own in the future.
Effects of Substance Abuse Begin Right Away
It is an unfortunate reality that many children are born to mothers who continue to use drugs or alcohol during their pregnancy. To someone who isn’t an addict, it seems absolutely absurd to endanger an unborn child in such a way. To an addict, the consumption of drugs or alcohol is keeping them alive with no thought about the consequences it can have on them or their baby.
When a mother uses drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, some of the things that can happen, according to NIDA, include:
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Physical deformities
- Mental and cognitive problems
Any substance a person puts into their body during pregnancy can negatively affect the fetus, but the following are known to create complications:
- Meth and Crack
If a woman is pregnant and abusing drugs or alcohol, it is vital for her to get help as soon as possible. The earlier that an end is put to addiction, the less chance the effects of substance abuse will have a permanent effect on the baby.
Substance Abuse Plays a Huge Role in Early Childhood
Most people think of their childhood as a time filled with happy memories, smiles, and warm hugs. To the child of a drug addict or alcoholic, this is hardly the case. Recently, a video of a woman allegedly overdosing on heroin at a store right in front of her toddler was shared nationwide.
The child in this video is clearly in distress. She is trying in vain to pull at her mother’s hands in an effort to wake her. She even walks up to her face to try to get her to stir, to no avail. Eventually, help comes, and with two shots of Narcan, emergency personnel are able to rouse the woman and take her to the hospital.
While shocking, this video demonstrates the lost generation of children who exist in the shadows of drug addiction. Through the video we were able to be witnesses to her mom OD’ing, but who knows what else happens behind closed doors. And, how many children is this happening to every day?
Once a Child is Exposed to Addiction, They Can Be Scarred for Life
Situations like the toddler witnessing her mom OD’ing can cause trauma at a very young age. And, unfortunately, trauma can stay with a person for a lifetime. To the child, she just witnessed her mother dying, and was taken away by strangers to protect her. Without being old enough to comprehend what is going on, the child most likely feels an extreme sense of abandonment and fear. After all, she still needs and expects her mother in her life.
Children at this age don’t understand their parent’s behavior. As a result, they may think it is their fault, or that this kind of behavior is perfectly normal. This impacts how they will eventually interact with others, how they will perform at school and interpersonally, and even if they too will have an addiction in the future.
Child Abuse Can Accompany Parental Substance Abuse
To most, exposing a child to alcohol and drug abuse is abuse enough. However, verbal and physical abuse can be an unfortunate part of the effects of substance abuse. People who are under the influence loose their sense of self. What’s right and wrong, how to treat others, and anger management all goes out the window. Because of this, dealing with something like a crying baby causes an addict to fly off the handle and act out towards them.
It goes without saying that this is no environment for a child to be in. The parent no longer has a semblance of reality and what their role is as a parent or guardian. They will most likely continue to use drugs or alcohol until something catastrophic happens.
Childhood Exposure to Addiction Causes Trauma Later in Life
A large part of treating addiction to drugs and alcohol is the treatment of past trauma in people’s lives. Even if it happens at a young age, a child will have memories of being physically and verbally abused, and it may lead them to addiction as a way to cope when they are older. Also, they may find these kinds of violent behaviors acceptable. As a result, they may act on them themselves, or be accepting of significant others who are violent towards them.
The toddler in the video with her mom will likely have some idea that a bad thing happened when she was young, and that could create major anxiety and instability in the future. Again, these kinds of mood disorders often lead right to addiction.
It is clear to see that addiction is a cycle that can jump down from generation to generation. Children of addicts don’t have a choice in where they end up. It is up to parents and the other adults who are around them to make sure their children are in safe hands, far away from the darkness of addiction.