How Many Children Are Affected by Addiction in the U.S.?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that 12% of children in the United States live with a parent who either has a drug or alcohol dependency or abuses psychoactive substances. More on the effects of addiction on the entire family here.

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By Dr. Maria Elizabeth Weidmer-Mikhail, MD

The Statistics on Addiction and Children

With approximately 18 million individuals in the U.S. addicted to alcohol, The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence estimates there are about 26.8 million children exposed to alcoholism in their family every year. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) further estimates that 12% of children in the United States live with a parent who has a drug or alcohol dependency or abuses alcohol or drugs. In 2005, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 8.3 million children who were under the age of 18 lived with at least one parent who abused or was addicted to a substance.2

In most cases, these children are living with a parent who abuses alcohol or has an alcohol dependency. In fact, per SAMHSA’s 2005 data, about 7.3 million children in the US were living with a parent who was dependent or abused alcohol while approximately 2.2 million children lived with a parent who had a drug dependency or abused illicit drugs.2

The Invisible Victims

Regardless of who we are, we are always profoundly influenced by the people who raise us. Of course, these influences include not only the genetic information we inherit from our parents, but also things such as learned behaviors and habits, morals and personal values, as well as the ways we relate to others – both physically (through communication) and mentally (through empathy and understanding).

When a parent abuses alcohol or drugs, the children suffer. Even if the addicted parent appears not to be neglectful by being at home physically, it doesn’t mean they aren’t causing psychological or emotional abuse. Many alcohol and drug users think that children don’t understand what’s going on when they use, and that’s simply not true. While they may not understand specifically what is happening, even very young children are able to sense when a parent is impaired in some way.

How Addiction Affects Children

Children of all ages experience confusion, stress, fear, sadness and anger when they sense a change in a parent’s safety and/or ability. These children are also more likely to experience:

  • Poor performance in school
  • Emotional and behavioral problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Mistrust of authority figures or adults in general
  • A higher risk of physical, verbal, or sexual abuse
  • A higher risk of developing anxiety or depression
  • Earlier onset of experimentation with drugs or alcohol
  • A greater chance of becoming addicted once they start using drugs or alcohol

Some children develop an excessive need to be in control of their situation to balance out the perceived chaos in their lives. They may seek constant approval to reassure themselves that they have value. Some kids become aggressive, often as a response to try and take control in a world where they feel they have very little. The secretive and often isolated nature of substance abuse means that these children typically receive little experience seeing people make and interact with friends, which can result in difficulty with intimate relationships later in life.

Worst of all, so many of these children believe that their parent’s addiction is somehow their fault. They think that if they were better behaved, did better in school or took care of all their chores that their parents wouldn’t be so tired or stressed and wouldn’t have to use alcohol drugs to medicate themselves.

This is where Enterhealth, a Dallas-based drug and alcohol addiction treatment company, can help.

Getting Help, and What Enterhealth Does for Families in Recovery

Family therapy is one of the most successful programs at Enterhealth. We firmly believe that getting the entire family involved in a patient’s treatment is important to help them sustain recovery. After all, it impacts the whole family when a loved one goes to treatment.

Enterhealth typically sees more adult children visit their parents in treatment and participate in group therapy. It helps them in the long run because they finally get answers to questions they often struggle with for years. With time and understanding they come to realize they are not at fault for the mistakes of their parents.

Younger children are, of course, allowed to visit with their parents while they are in treatment and Enterhealth can provide some resources to help families with young children. In fact, children can have a powerful impact on the adults in their lives if they have access to the right resources and support services. Our goal is to reboot the family in a healthy way and help them heal as quickly as possible.

For more information about how Enterhealth can help you or someone you love who may be suffering from drug or alcohol abuse or addiction, take the first step and call one of our experts. Or, leave us a message in the comments section at the end.

Reference Sources:
1. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics. (n.d.). Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Retrieved April 16, 2018, from
2. Drug Rehab for Parents. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from
3. Kelley, M. L., Klostermann, K., Doane, A. N., Mignone, T., Lam, W. K., Fals-Stewart, W., & Padilla, M. A. (2010). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from
4. Violence Prevention. (2016, April 01). Retrieved April 16, 2018, from
5. Guide for Children of Addicted Parents. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2018, from

About the Author: Dr. Weidmer-Mikhail has been a consultant to a large OB-GYN group in a hospital setting, where she developed a special interest in working with college age and graduate students, and has been treating co-morbid conditions in psychiatry for many years. Trained in child, adolescent and adult therapy, Dr. Weidmer-Mikhail currently sees patients at Enterhealth Ranch and the Enterhealth Outpatient Center for Excellence, delivering a full continuum of care from treatment to recovery. Experienced in both acute treatment and outpatient settings, she spent many years in academia, teaching medical students, residents and fellows in psychiatric training.
Originally from Mexico City, Dr. Weidmer-Mikhail completed medical school in Mexico, followed by a residency in psychiatry and a fellowship in child psychiatry at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. She has worked at The University of Michigan, Tufts University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and holds a position at the UT Southwestern Medical Center. Immediately prior to joining Enterhealth, Dr. Weidmer-Mikhail practiced at Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.
About the author
Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, Enterhealth offers a science-based alcohol and drug addiction treatment program created by a dedicated team of addiction experts determined to dramatically improve treatment outcomes. Based on the latest National Institutes of Health research identifying addiction as a chronic brain disease, this program is implemented by a full-time staff of addiction-trained physicians, psychiatrists, nurses and therapists, beginning with a thorough medical and psychological assessment designed to create a personalized treatment plan for each patient. Enterhealth Ranch is nestled on 43 scenic acres just 30 minutes north of Dallas/Fort Worth and features 40 beds, private rooms and bathrooms, chef-prepared meals, housekeeping service, a luxurious pool, a gym and more. Enterhealth Outpatient Center of Excellence, an outpatient treatment facility, is located in the Park Cities, just north of downtown Dallas, and provides ongoing addiction management care and support. For more information, visit
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