Parental Substance Abuse

General Information

Children’s education and performance in school may suffer because of parental problems with alcohol or other drug use. Parents who misuse/abuse substances may struggle to be involved in their children’s education, which can impact homework completion and attendance. As well, some children may feel responsible for their parent’s drug or alcohol use. They may feel that they are to blame for the substance misuse or that they should be able to stop their parents from abusing substances.

General Characteristics To Look For

  • Students may be preoccupied or tired because of events at home and be unable to concentrate in school or during other activities.
  • Students may be reluctant to bring friends home due to embarrassment, or their parents may not allow guests in the home.
  • Students may take on developmentally inappropriate responsibility for household chores, siblings, or parents.
  • Students may have poor attendance rates or continually show up late.
  • Students may have changed schools multiple times.
  • Students may have a tendency to be withdrawn and anxious, and perhaps to cling to teachers and seek their attention, as a result of anxiety and worry about family problems.
  • Students may try to avoid going home.
  • Students may exhibit behavioural problems to draw attention away from what is going on with their parents.
  • Students may become withdrawn and perhaps get overlooked.
  • Students may be disengaged from their peer group and have difficulty fitting in. This may make them vulnerable to BULLYING in their school environment.

Impact On Student Success

  • Students may work below their potential because so much of their energy is focused on what is happening at home.
  • Students may be unable to focus on homework because of fighting, tension, or worry at home.
  • Parents who misuse substances may struggle to be involved with their children’s education, e.g., by being unable to oversee homework completion, communicate with the teacher, or ensure regular attendance and punctuality.
  • Students may try to work extra hard at school to avoid problems at home.
  • For some children, school and friendships offer respite and a safe haven from what is going on at home.
  • Students may frequently find excuses to stay at home to keep an eye on the situation.
  • Be aware that alcohol and other drug use by parents does not, in itself, constitute evidence of difficulties with parenting. Family resources should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
  • Reinforce the message that children cannot cause a parent to drink or use drugs, nor can they solve a parent’s substance or alcohol problem.
  • Provide non-judgmental support for children and their families.
  • Ensure that children are attending school punctually and regularly.
  • Watch out for signs of BULLYING or unhealthy behaviours.
  • Allow students to share their feelings.
  • Encourage students to get involved in extracurricular activities.
  • Provide support..Teach good coping mechanisms and decision-making skills.
  • Be aware of services/agencies that can provide help to students and work to facilitate connections.
  • Follow protocols and collaborate with community agencies that can assist in supporting students.
  • Provide professional development opportunities for relevant staff.
  • Connect the students/family with community resources that can provide them with the support they need.
  • Maintain routines/rituals such as family dinners together, regular bedtimes, and school attendance.Take measures to protect children from access to alcohol and other drugs, and ensure that children are not witnessing their use.
  • Ask for help from extended family members/friends who can support your family.
  • Talk to your children about alcohol and/or other drug use and the effects it may have. There are supports out there to help parents with this conversation (e.g., Alateen).
  • Identify a safe person and teach your children how to contact this person.
  • Provide ongoing support to the child and the family.
  • Participate in community awareness of drug and alcohol use and misuse.
  • Recognize that all families have strengths and ways of coping with difficulties, and help them build on these strategies.