Hidden Harm: the Impact of Addiction on Children & Families

A family member will usually contact Tabor Group about a loved one’s addiction when they are at a crisis point and the situation has gotten out of control. They often do not know where to turn or how to get help, which can be an extremely daunting, challenging, and stressful time for any family including children. With it being International Day of Families on Sunday, in this blog, we have decided to focus on the impact addiction has on children and families, which sometimes can be hidden.


The term addiction refers to the consistent need to engage in a particular activity, despite the harmful effects on the individual’s life. This pattern of behaviour can involve the misuse or overuse of a substance, often stemming from the need for a mood-altering experience. Addiction is not limited to substance abuse; it can include a dependency on gambling too.
Signs of dependency can include changes in personality, changes in daily routines, an unusual need for money and continuing use of the substance despite its negative impacts. Alcohol and drug use occur at different levels, and not everyone who uses substances are addicted, however when these signs of dependency start to show it can be classified as an addiction.


When substance abuse occurs, the person suffering from addiction may become tired, agitated, upset or impulsive. However, addiction does not only affect the individual. Their loved ones, friends, and family also bare the burden of grief and worry. Children of all ages hurt when a parent or family member is suffering from addiction. Adolescence in particular, is a period which is crucial in terms of shaping an individual’s understanding of the wider world. What we experience in childhood and adolescence can have a lifelong affect, not only on our beliefs about ourselves, but also our beliefs about others. It is during our youth that we learn rules to protect our self-belief and to avoid vulnerability, in doing this we may develop dysfunctional behaviours that can have a long-lasting impact into adulthood.
When a parent is suffering from addiction, they may become absent from the home and absent from their role as a carer. An individual suffering from addiction can go through a cycle of three states, the first being “Preoccupation”, where the individual is craving the substance, time and money are mere obstacles in the way of acquiring the substance. The next stage is “Under the influence”, where the individual is not in control of themselves or their situation. The final stage of the cycle is “Withdrawal”, where the individual is suffering from both physical and psychological pain.
When the individual moves through this cycle, their capacity to care for children is significantly reduced. As a parent you are responsible for your child’s wellbeing, however, while suffering from addiction a parent may not be able to meet their child’s basic needs. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the child’s rights to be compromised while in the care on an individual suffering from addiction. This can result in neglect, or role reversal where the child becomes the primary carer for themselves and the parent.

Every child has the right:

  • To be safe
  • To be protected and live violence free
  • To be brought up by their parents in their family (unless it is not in their best interest)
  • To express their views
  • To have decisions made for them in their best interests
  • To be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness
  • To be free from discrimination, bullying and harassment of any kind.

Children growing up in a home suffering from addiction can often have a variety of emotional and developmental delays. The effects are not limited to the home life, addiction can affect a child’s life in many ways outside of the home. Stress and anxiety may make it hard to concentrate in school, impacting on the child’s progress and learning. Bullying can also occur amongst friends and classmates, leading to an unwelcoming school environment. Children often reflect how they feel in their behaviour, getting in trouble in school or engaging in risk taking activities. This may be your child’s way of showing that they are not comfortable with their home situation. A stable loving environment is extremely important in assuring a child reaches their full potential.


When one parent is suffering from addiction the casual effect may extend to financial problems, arguments, domestic issues, or a breakdown of communication. Living with a person suffering from addiction can be challenging, it can put pressure on the partner to keep the family functioning, to maintain stability or to hide the problem. It can lead to unhealthy stress, judgment, or facilitation of the addiction. It is important for the spouse not to allocate blame, it is not the person suffering from addiction’s fault, nor is it the fault of the spouse themselves.
The best thing a partner could do is support their spouse without enabling them. Patience is the key to support. It is also important for the spouse to remember that they are equally as important in the relationship and that they need to take care of themselves too. The spouse can learn about addiction and seek support by speaking to a professional.


Every situation is unique and different families may be affected in different ways. An important aspect of coping with addiction in the home is talking about it. If the child is in an environment where they feel it is not ok to approach the topic, then it can become scary. The very same as an adult, the child needs someone to talk to, someone to listen and acknowledge their feelings and someone they can trust.
Adults in the family can help by speaking to the child/teenager about the problem, conversations should be kind, informative, and thoughtful. Having support from other family members, professionals and friends can make a big difference in the child’s process. Speaking to a professional outside of the family may also help the child to realise that their situation is not unique, and they are not alone. They need to know that even in their own school, there are other children in the same situation.


When the parent receives help or treatment this can have a positive effect on the whole family. Tabor Group provides residential & community-based addiction treatment programmes to men and woman over 18 years of age, who are struggling with addiction to alcohol, drugs, and gambling. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, get help today. We can help you recover in a healthy, friendly environment and beat your addiction. Do not hesitate to contact one of our counsellors today for information by calling +353 (21) 488 7710 for Cork or +353 (1) 639 2962 for Dublin, or alternatively you can email us at info@taborgroup.ie. We can help you.