Living With an Adult Who Has a Substance Use Problem

profile of a young person sitting in a window seat

For some young people, spending more time at home can be unusually stressful.

Did you know that about one out of every eight children in the United States age 17 or younger (about 8.7 million young people) live in households with at least one parent or caregiver who is coping with a substance use problem?

Know the facts

In some cases, the parent might be in recovery, but they’ve relapsed. In other cases, the family member may never have sought or received treatment. Living with a person who has a substance use disorder can be especially difficult for young people who can’t leave the house for other activities.

Research shows that children in this type of environment are more likely to develop depression or anxiety in adolescence and to use alcohol or other drugs early on. These can become lifelong problems if the children (including teens) don’t get help and support.

Honor your feelings

If this is happening to you, it’s important to understand how it might be affecting you or other children in the home. If you’re afraid of the drama in the household, or of being physically hurt, there are some things you can do.

First, it’s important to remember that: 

  • Everybody reacts differently to pressure and worry; even people who love you can lose control of their behavior, especially when substance use is involved. However, there is no excuse for abuse of any kind.
  • Many adults outside your home are willing to help, even if you’re reluctant to talk about such a personal problem.

Make a plan

988 Lifeline number

Plan for what you can do if things start to get difficult in the house. 

  1. Identify a place you’d feel safe to go while things cool off. It could be the backyard, outside on the porch, or in an apartment hallway. If you have a phone, keep it with you. 
  2. Is there another adult you trust who you can call? It could be a grandparent, an adult brother or sister, a coach, a teacher, or a faith advisor. Put their phone numbers in your phone now, just in case. 
  3. If you ever feel you or other family members are in physical danger, call 911. The most important thing is to protect yourself.
  4. Another option is Alateen, a free program that offers support for children of parents who are addicted. Teens (ages 13 to 18) can register to participate in regular Alateen chats, where they can share their experiences and their hope, discuss difficulties, learn effective ways to cope with problems, and encourage one another.
  5. You can use helplines to talk with people who are trained to help others in these situations. These services are free and confidential; you won’t have to give your full name or your contact information.
    • Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: Call 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). 
    • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline: Call 1-800-985-5990 or text “talk with us” to 66746.
    • Crisis Text Line: Text “connect” to 741741.
    • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988. This isn’t only for people thinking about suicide. They’ll talk with you about all sorts of problems.

Know you aren’t alone

Many young people are having these experiences. Remember that it’s never your fault if a parent or caregiver has problems with alcohol or drugs. Addiction is a disease, and there are treatments that can help.

Resources for Parents and Caregivers Seeking Help

  • If you know someone who’s struggling with alcohol use and is seeking a telehealth support group or treatment program, they can check this resource
  • People struggling with issues related to other drugs can find virtual or telehealth resources using this guide.