When a parent has a substance abuse problem, it’s a family affair, according to researchers who have studied the affects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Substance abuse ranks among the 10 ACEs that can disrupt the safe, nurturing home environment a child needs to thrive.

Children who are exposed to alcohol or drug addiction in their home tend to take on roles that prevent healthy development, said Annie Stricklin, program manager for The Family Center’s Nurturing Home program. She describes those roles as:

  • Scapegoat – child who gets blamed when things go wrong

  • Co-dependent/caretaker – child who is a substitute parent, taking responsibility for household and younger siblings

  • Peacemaker – child who defends a scapegoat sibling from an abusive parent

  • Lost child – child who gets lost in the shuffle and internalizes negative feelings

When long-term substance abuse occurs within the immediate family, there is a higher likelihood that the children will also become addicts,” said Stricklin. Abuse in the immediate family may also signal genetic predisposition to substance abuse. "Children of substance abusers are at higher risk for substance use issues than their peers due to the combination of genetics and family environment. Family environment plays a key role because 40-80% of child welfare cases involve families with substance abuse issues.”

Recognizing the danger and providing nurturing relationships for children in at-risk households can help prevent ACEs resulting from exposure to drug or alcohol abuse.

“The hope we see for children in these chaotic households is Center for Disease Control’s recommendation that safe, stable, nurturing relationships provide an alternative safe environment,” Stricklin advised. “The relationships might be with the other parent, an aunt or uncle, a teacher or an adult activity leader.

The Family Center offers 6 parenting classes in 5 different substance abuse recovery programs in Rutherford and Davidson counties.