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Children and Addiction

Adoption Date:
February 1, 1987

Public Policy Statement on Children of Parents Suffering from Alcoholism or Other Drug Dependencies

**Note: This historical policy statement is available as part of ASAM's Policy Archives, but it is no longer considered current ASAM policy. Please contact ASAM's advocacy staff at advocacy@asam.org for questions related to ASAM's position on this topic.


A very significant proportion of the nation's population is affected by alcoholism or other drug dependency in the family. One in eight Americans is the offspring of an alcoholic parent. Of the 28 million children of alcoholics in this country, nearly 7 million are under 18 years of age. Many additional children are growing up in homes with drug dependent parents.

Current research indicates that these children are at special risk for a wide variety of physical, behavioral and emotional problems, both during childhood and in later life. Familial transmission of alcoholism has been shown to involve both genetic and environmental factors. In addition, prenatal alcohol and drug consumption can cause severe fetal damage, including the fetal alcohol syndrome.

Because of societal stigma, ignorance and denial, these children often suffer in silence. As adults, they are unaware of the relevance of their parent's illness to their own distress.

Cognizant of these facts, the American Society of Addiction Medicine strongly recommends the following:

• Professional and public education about the problems and needs of this group should be greatly increased.

• Physicians in both pediatric and adult practice should inquire about parental and familial alcohol/drug dependency in every patient.

• Physicians treating patients dependent on alcohol or drugs should routinely arrange for the evaluation of the patient's children, and for their involvement in the process of rehabilitation.

• Health professionals should realize that the recovery of the parent may not be sufficient to lead to recovery in the child. Children require attention to their own needs.

• Conversely, professionals should be aware that the children of alcohol/drug dependent parents can be helped, even in the absence of parental treatment or recovery.

• All children and adults identified as offspring of alcohol/drug dependent parents should be evaluated, and services should be provided appropriate to their needs. These services should recognize the role of the parent's alcohol/drug dependence in the development of the child's problem, and provide for reinterpretation of their childhood experiences within a framework of the disease concept of alcoholism and drug dependence.

• Self-help groups for young and adult children of alcohol/drug dependent parents should be encouraged as an adjunct to treatment and personal develop¬ment.

• Adequate health insurance and other third party payment should be provided to cover the costs of treatment for families of alcohol/drug dependent persons.

• Programs to prevent alcoholism, drug dependence and other illness should focus on the children of alcohol/drug dependent parents as a primary target group. They should include educating such children that they are not the cause of their parent's alcoholism or drug dependence and cannot cure it.

• Public and private support should be provided for research on both prenatal and postnatal effects of parental alcohol and drug dependence. Such research will lead to more adequate prevention and treatment.

• Interventions in families in which are found: child abuse or neglect, conduct disorders, child and adolescent suicide attempts, or alcoholism or other drug dependency in the children, should always evaluate parental alcohol and drug use. Overall case management should always include specific treatment for alcoholism and other drug dependence when these are identified.

• Physicians and other health care providers should be aware of the resources available in their community for the care of children and adults who are the offspring of alcoholic or drug dependent parents.

• Student health programs in institutions ranging from elementary schools to universities should be particularly sensitive to this issue, and be prepared to identify, educate, assist and refer children of alcoholic and other drug dependent parents in need of services.