Children in households with parental substance abuse are at higher risk for mental health and behavioral problems, according to a new study slated for publication in the August print edition of Pediatrics, according to a news release from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
“An estimated one in five U.S. children grows up in a home in which someone misuses alcohol or has a substance use disorder,” the study’s authors wrote, according to the release. “Whether from the toxic effects of exposure to these substances or from the neglect of their basic needs by parents or caretakers struggling with substance use disorders, children in these households commonly experience developmental and educational delays and, later, are at higher risk for mental health and behavioral problems,” the authors wrote. “They also are more likely than their peers to have substance use disorders themselves later in life.”
The report said recent research indicates 22,000 babies in the U.S. were diagnosed in 2012 with neonatal abstinence syndrome that can result from prenatal exposure to opioids. A separate study indicated more than a quarter of expectant mothers were prescribed opioids during their pregnancies, the researchers wrote.
“Because pediatricians are the healthcare providers most likely to encounter families with young children who may be affected by substance use, they have the opportunity to help break multigenerational cycles of abuse,” the authors wrote. “By being informed about the effects of parental drug use on children, they can intervene when necessary.”
According to a ChildWelfare.gov publication, “Children and youth of parents who use or abuse substances and have parenting difficulties have an increased chance of experiencing a variety of negative outcomes (Felitti et al., 1998; HHS, 1999; Staton-Tindall et al., 2013).” The publication lists poor cognitive, social, and emotional development; depression, anxiety, and other trauma and mental health symptoms; physical and health issues; and substance abuse problems.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, which publishes Pediatrics, said in an online article that pediatricians should “include questions about the extent of substance use as part of the routine family assessment during health supervision visits or when clinically indicated, noting that research suggests parents who screen positive for substance use are open to pediatricians presenting them with follow-up options such as community treatment programs.”
The National Association for Children of Alcoholics stated in a publication from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention that, “there are more than 28 million children under the age of 18 in the United States who are exposed to family alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence.”
The publication recommends healthcare providers listen and ask questions; provide support and validation for the patients’ concerns; help educate patients and their families about substance abuse disorders as a disease that affects the entire family; take an active anticipatory role in guiding patients and families to available resources; and help connect patients and their families to specialists and consultants when needed.
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For more on opioid abuse, read “Study: Sharp increase in opioid abuse-related hospitalizations and treatment costs in U.S.” and “Patients need support when transitioning from opioids.”