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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 June, 2003, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
Parents' drug abuse harms children
Many children rarely speak about their parents' drug abuse
The lives of more than 350,000 British children are being blighted because their parents are drug users, according to a new study.

The affects on children can include a failure to thrive, offending behaviour, substance abuse and health problems such as blood-borne virus infections, its says.

The study carried out by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs found between two and three per cent of children in England and Wales are at risk, with up to five per cent affected in Scotland.

It says children, whether out of shame or fear or because they are too young to articulate themselves, rarely speak out about their experiences and therefore become increasingly isolated.

The report, entitled Hidden Harm, calls for children to be taken into account when drug abuse strategies are being formulated.

It also wants research to be carried out into the full impact on children of their parents' addiction.


The chairman of the council's Prevention Working Group, Dr Laurence Gruer, said: "From birth onwards, parents' drug problems can endanger their children's health in many ways and cause a great deal of emotional and psychological damage that often goes unnoticed.

"Most services for problem drug users offer very little help for their clients' children. That needs to change.

"But parents with serious drug problems should not be frightened, the aim should be to keep children with their parents wherever safe to do so, combining treatment for the parents and support for the child."

Children of drug users expressed hurt, rejection, shame, sadness and anger and are forced to live with the anxiety that these feelings create
Vivienne Evans
Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth said the government had already invested 1.2 billion in tackling the drug culture this year and would be spending 1.5 billion over the next three years.

He said: "We agree it is essential for adult drug services, children's services, indeed all local providers to approach the problem holistically.

"Only by reducing their numbers can we reduce the amount of children that have to suffer the consequences of growing up in an environment wrecked by drugs."

The report has been welcomed by Adfam, a charity working with families affected by problems with drugs and alcohol.

Its chief executive, Vivienne Evans, said: "Faced with the stigma that affects most families of problematic drug users, children often hide the problem, compounding their isolation.

"In our research, children of drug users expressed hurt, rejection, shame, sadness and anger and are forced to live with the anxiety that these feelings create.

"Such neglect and apprehension suffered by children is unacceptable and must be tackled by cross-departmental work to stop the problem root and branch."

'Flexible and accessible'

Health Minister Jacqui Smith said the department had already started work on addressing many of the issues, but there will still much to be done.

Education Minister Ivan Lewis said he was committed to ensuring that children whose parents have problems arising from the misuse of drugs have the "support and protection they need to flourish in their education and personal lives."

Patricia Conrod of the charity Action on Addiction said: "The effects of parental substance abuse on children are well established. They highlight the hidden costs of drug abuse to our society.

"Research has shown that there appears to be a window of time in a child's development during which their parents' recovery will be of benefit.

"After that point, children may require treatment to reduce their vulnerability to substance abuse and other psychological problems."

Your comments

I would hope that a similar survey will be taken with regard to alcoholism and how it affects the family, and children in particular. Alcohol plays such an important part in British culture, yet people never seem to want to admit it is actually more dangerous than smoking cannabis. How many people get killed each year by stoned drivers?
Susan, UK

I agree with the report that life must be awful for the children of substance abusers. However, what I do not understand is why, since it is known that children's lives are being wrecked by their parents' inability to get their act together, the priority is 'to keep the family together'. What 'family' can there possibly be in that situation where the child is so miserable?
Ada, UK

Any parent who kicks the habit, is, indeed, a miracle
Karen Smolk-Warren, US
Finally, there is regard for the real victims of drug abuse. I am a grandmother who has had temporary care for my three grandchildren all under the age of four, since the birth of the first grandchild. And while the addicted parents may leave a lot to be desired, they still give the children a certain 'blood' stability they can never achieve in a foster home.

As long as the situation is carefully monitored by caseworkers, and the parents are under the thumb of the facilities to ensure the safety and wellbeing, I can see why they want to keep the family together. I still believe in miracles, and any parent who kicks the habit, is, indeed, a miracle. Thank you.
Karen Smolk-Warren, US

It depends what you mean by abuse. I know a number of families where the parents have smoked cannabis on a regular basis and the children have grown up with a more balanced attitude towards drugs. Alcohol often causes anger and violence, but cannabis makes people happy and relaxed. I know what atmosphere I would prefer to see people brought up in.
Andrew, England, UK

I am glad this issue had been brought to our attention but it is also glaringly obvious that drug abuse affects the lives of children. My experience involved the effects living with an alcoholic father and a mother addicted to prescription medication. My belief is that this chaotic home environment can result in a child who is addicted to a pattern of chaos and learns an addictive pattern of being.
Margaret, England, UK

The BBC's Andy Tighe
"Children of problem drug users are often ignored"

'My mum was a drug addict'
05 Jun 03  |  Health
'Frank' anti-drugs drive backed
23 May 03  |  Politics
Drug misuse 'top priority' say police
11 May 03  |  Berkshire

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