Social Work and Parenting Capacity: The Case of Drug Abusing Parents

Social work involves the use of social theory and information obtained from research to help people in improving their lives. It also assists in the improvement of the living conditions of community groups as well as societies. It facilitates positive response of the society towards certain issues that affect it. These help in solving problems that affect people thereby assisting them to overcome the impediments of development. Social workers strive to achieve social justice in the human population, improvement of the standards of living as well as empowering people in order for them to be in a capacity to be self reliant as individuals or community groups. Social issues are addressed at all levels that exist in the society regardless of the economic status. However, more emphasis is focused on improving the quality of life of the aged, the sick as well as the poor. On the other hand, the issues that affect families such as drug addiction in the youth as well as parents can not be ignored. Many social workers therefore get involved in caring for the children and assisting in rehabilitation of drug addicts. They tend to establish the causes of problems in the society and their remedies.

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Social workers are engaged in activities that involve groups of people across all ages. These are normally the ones that have been identified as needy in order to improve their lives. They assess the situation on the ground, and reach an agreement with the people who are set to receive their services on what they need. They organize the procedures of service delivery while offering advice in the process. In order to be effective in their work, they need to understand the society in a broad perspective. They also need to know the consequences of the problems that are affecting their target community. For example, in order to help in improving parenting in families affected by drug abuse, Social Workers need to be aware of how parenting capacity may be affected by the parents’ substance misuse (Cleaver, H., Unell, I. & Aldgate, J. 1999 pp.36-38)

Drug and Substance Abuse in Parents

There are a variety of drugs that are available for people in the society today. Their effects on the body of the user as well as the society in general are wide-ranging. Some are relaxants while others are stimulants. People usually have different reasons why they take particular drugs. Perpetual taking of a particular drug leads to addiction, whereby an individual develops a craving for the drug regardless of the effects that it has on the body. Drug addiction in parents adversely affects parenting. This is the provision of the basic needs for children and ensuring that they grow up in a favorable environment. The capability of a parent to bring up children in a healthy environment is significant in determining their future. Children who are denied their basic needs usually become unsuccessful in their adulthood. Parenting capacity is the willingness and ability to provide children with all what they need to grow up successfully. Social workers have an objective of promoting parenting capacity which is supposed to ensure that parents provide the necessities for the growth of children which include;

  • Provision of the basic needs. These are requirements which are necessary for any human being to exist. They include food, clothing shelter, healthcare as well as guidance to hygienic practices for children.
  • The safety of children should also be provided by the parents. Children should not be exposed to the risk of external aggression by child abusers. They should also be protected from moving in to risky areas where they can be attacked by animals. Physical harm may cause permanent deformities or mental stress in case of child abuse.
  • It is important to ensure that the child is emotionally protected. Lack of emotional well being may cause undesirable mental stress which may hamper the growth of children. Parents should show love and sensitivity to their children’s needs. Parental and encouragement is of utmost importance in the life of a child.
  • Parents have the obligation of ensuring that their children get the necessary education in order for them to be self reliant in their adulthood. They should facilitate intellectual growth in their children.
  • Guidance is significant in modeling the character of a child. A child takes the character of the examples that exist around. Guidance serves to educate the children on what is good or bad. Respect for other people is achieved through parental guidance.
  • The parents should also provide a stable family whereby the child can feel attached to the social institution that builds emotional contentment. This includes ensuring that children are attached to other family members.

Drug abuse in parents is an impediment towards achievement of these objectives. The parenting capacity is adversely affected in that dependence on alcohol and drugs impacts on the children physically and mentally. For health care, education and basic needs to be provided, the parents need to be economically stable. Drugs are costly and their misuse affects the family budget. Drug abusing parents will most likely purchase drugs at the expense of their children’s basic needs. It therefore becomes difficult for such children to get good shelter, healthcare, clothing and education. Such children have been found to suffer from serious ailments. They are usually socially withdrawn since they feel due to lack of the basic needs that fellow children get from their parents. They tend to have a feeling that their parents do not care about them. This is a major drawback to parenting capacity. It is important for social workers to acquire such information in order to develop ways of assisting such children who are usually stigmatized in the society and also providing the necessary advice to the parents on the needs of their children. Social workers can also assist in advising the parents on how to acquire the necessary resources for their children as well as offer teaching concerning the dangers associated with addiction. They also play an important role in educating the drug addicted parents on the impact of the stigma that they cause their children, as well as offer training about the proper parenting.

It is important for social workers to understand the impact of parental drug abuse on children especially when their focus is on the children. Some time a child may turn out to be violent not because of inborn characteristics but because of the environment in which he/she grew. Growing in a drug abusing family exposes children to violence that mainly comes as a result of over consumption of alcohol. Gender based violence is usually manifested in alcoholic couples where either one or both are alcoholic. Since alcohol reduces the reasoning capacity, it is not unusual for the drunken parents to engage in physical confrontation in the presence of the children. Perpetual fighting in the view of children instills in them a mentality that fighting in parents is a usual thing. At first, they tend to be traumatized but with time, they get used since most of the time the parents later reconcile when drunkenness ceases (Goodman, A. 2007 pp.87-91). The children may develop the aggressiveness against other children due to such kind of parenting. With this understanding, it is easy for a social worker to handle such children.

Substance abuse in parents may also induce a sense of secrecy amongst children. The child may be afraid of revealing the family problems especially if the parent abuses drugs that are illegitimate. The children may even lie to social workers or teachers and it may be difficult with them. For the necessary interventions to be developed, it is important that the social workers understand the parental background of the child. The parenting style will enable the social worker to understand how to approach the issues concerning children with peculiar behavior. Several characteristics that are usually exhibited by children may actually be due to the family social setting somewhat than rebelliousness. It would therefore be wrong to approach the issue without understanding the parenting style used to bring up the child.

While social workers intend to assess the parenting capacity, it is necessary for them to understand the fact that problems associated with drug abuse can lower the parenting capacity. Such parents will most likely fail to respond effectively to the needs of their children. The parent’s intentions may not be to expose the children to suffering, but it may be due to drug abuse that is also caused by issues related to work or life in general. Drug abuse also may affect parenting capacity through lack of guidance for the children. It is of utmost importance for the parents to offer this guidance in order for the children to understand the best way through which they can become successful in their adulthood. While under the influence of drugs, it is difficult for the children to be convinced that drug abuse is not good. Social workers need to know this in order to develop the most appropriate approach for the children who lack parental guidance. This is because if they do not learn how to escape the trap of drug addiction like their parents, they may end up following their foot steps.

Drug abuse diminishes the family’s resources and may also cause loss of employment by the bread winner. Since parenting capacity is highly dependent on the family’s economic status, it may adversely be affected by the loss of employment. The capacity of parents to bring up their children is also affected by external factors such as associations with others, community groups and other such societal associations. Drug abuse may cause the parents to be dissociated with such essential groupings. The decline in parental capacity that results traumatizes the children in the sense that they feel rejected by the society. Understanding this association between abuse of drugs and parenting capacity usually assists the social workers to understand the root cause of the problem hence it becomes easy for them to develop means of finding a solution and offering the most appropriate advise to the parents as well as the children.

According to BBC News (June 5th 2003), “The lives of more than 350,000 British children are being blighted because their parents are drug users”. The impact of drug abuse and parenting capacity is adverse. Children turn out to be offensive in behavior, unsuccessful, of poor health as well as drug abusers. Children usually shy away from sharing their experiences with any one. Parents who misuse drugs from the time they bear children pose a high risk to their children. Their parenting capacity is characteristically low and their children are normally isolated from the rest. They usually suffer from psychological and emotional stress

Parents who abuse drugs usually encounter numerous problems in parenting. They are normally faced with difficulties in bringing up their children. This eventually tends to make them authoritarian in their parenting style. Authoritarian parents give their children punishment that will most likely leave the child feeling neglected or hated. They do not bother to offer explanations on the reasons for the punishment (Brooks 1997). The children are usually socially withdrawn and exhibit a sense of disgust towards their parents’ conduct. On the other hand they become negligent in most of their family affairs. It is important for social workers to understand the impact of drug abuse on parenting in order to understand the stimulus towards the behavior of children. Research has established that children whose parents are drug addicts are most likely to encounter problems in their early ages of development. They are most vulnerable to risky behavior such as engaging in early sexual activity due to parental incarceration caused by problems associated with drug abuse such as crime.

Substance abuse may result in lack of parental attachment to between the children and caretakers. This poses a great risk for the welfare of the children because there is usually no one to cater for their urgent needs. It causes ineffective parenting that makes the children to seek refuge from other caregivers. This is because the parent may abandon the children.

Parenting is also put at risk because the conflicts that drugs cause in the home of drug abusing parents may end up causing divorce or death due to the dangers associated to consumption of drugs. Even when the parent is not under the influence of drugs, a child who has experienced a long stay with drug abusing parents may not have a change of attitude and may tend to keep away from the parents. This is because the abuse usually has adverse impacts on the child that can not be reversed in a short period of time. In such a family, there is usually a breakdown of communication and the parents may never understand their children. There is frequent turmoil in the family and volatility. The children may not understand whether the behavior of their parents is due to the effect of drugs. They therefore tend to feel threatened since they take their parents seriously. They do not see love in their parents and they tend to wonder why their parents can not reciprocate the love that they get from the children. Social workers equipped with this understanding are able to advise the children on the reality behind their parents’ behavior. Without the understanding of the impact of drugs on parenting, they can not be able to address the fears in the children (Brooks 1997 pp.45-47).

Under the influence of drugs, parents make children to believe that they are the cause of their suffering. This happens in cases where the parent tells the children that it is due to their bad performance that they take the drugs. This may continue to an extent whereby the children are instilled with the fear of having offended their parent. However, a social worker will understand that such a situation is due to the influence of drugs and is usually short lived as long as the parents remain drunk or under the influence of drugs. This usually has several impacts on the children’s thoughts. Some of them tend to keep off their parents in order not to offend them. Others try their best in order to please their parents. In all cases, the children become frustrated when they do not meet their targets. On the other hand, those who avoid their parents are frustrated for the fact that they do not get the desired proximity to their parents.

In many occasions substance abusers tend to be aggressive and exert physical violence on their children. Other children have fallen victims of incest rape. These are some of the most undesirable behaviors caused by drugs. The children remain frightened due to uncertainty of the next assault that may be directed at them by the parents. It is usually stressful especially when fellow children know what happens in the family. They also fear for the lives of their parents especially in case of alcoholism where they are exposed to dangers of falling on sharp objects and arriving home late in the night (Ranga & Denise 2006 pp.17-19). Other risks that make the children fearful are the fights that drug addicts engage in while under the influence of drugs. Many such children shun from inviting friends in their home in case their dad came home drunk and behaved in a way that could be shameful in the view of their friends. At times children refuse to identify themselves with a drunken parent. They are socially weak and would never like their family problems to be known by other children who may laugh at them. The parents of other children may also warn them to avoid friends from such a family and the children from the drunken parents may end up facing discrimination.

Drug addiction is usually associated with immorality. Alcohol abuse is known to cause family problems due to one parent having affairs outside marriage. It is usually shameful for children when they realize that their parent is having an affair out of their family. In several circumstances, people have been attacked by estranged partners once found having such affairs. The publicity that results from such situations is usually awful to the relations of the family especially the children. Social workers should be able to address such issues prudently while focusing on drug addiction. They can help the children to recover from such circumstances once they understand the root cause was drug addiction (Cleaver, Unell, & Aldgate, 1999 pp.56-59).

Proper parenting is very important in the performance of children in schools. Children of substance abusers may suffer from slow learning. Such parents rarely sacrifice time to make follow up of their children’s performance in school. As a result, poor performance is recurrent at all levels. At times they may resort to truancy due to the fact that parents will never know since they do not make follow up. Apart from behavioral related problems, the stressful existence of the children may cause the common disorders associated with stress such as stomach ulcers, headache as well as regular crying. Negligence can cause children to be hurt physically by aggressors because there is no one to care for them. Many cases have been reported where a child is abused especially small girls when their parents were on a drinking spree. Others find their houses on fire with no one to explain how it started the fire having consumed the children.

There often happens to be mistrust in the substance abusing parents. This is because the behavior mainly depends on the level of drug consumption. For example a parent under the influence of alcohol may promise the children something at times when they are highly intoxicated only to deny the promise later on when the drunkenness is gone. This causes the children to lose trust in their parents because they can not know when they tell the real truth. They usually fail to understand how a grown up person can forget what he/she promised too soon. To them it is utter lies to please them over a short period of time. Social workers can assist in explaining to the children the effect of drugs on memory. Without such explanation, mistrust between children and their parents can be detrimental. In other occasions, a parent may declare having quit using drugs. This usually happens when the adult is heavily intoxicated. It usually brings happiness and cheers in the family, only to find the parent heavily intoxicated the following day. It causes shame and amplifies mistrust in the family. Every one feels let down by such behavior (Forester, D. & Harwin, J 2003 pp.67-71).

Parents are at times viewed as badly behaved by children who are able to analyze the drug addiction exhibited by their parents. For them, it is usually difficult to understand why a grown up person buys a lot of alcohol while the children do not feed well. At times, older children are known to question their parents openly. However, this is a problem that is usually caused by poor parenting caused by drug abuse. No respectful child would dare question a parent openly on such matters. But since substance use promotes carelessness, parents find themselves engaging in talks with their children in a careless manner. There are even times when a drunken parent may inform the children of the other parent’s infidelity. Initially, the children feel shy and offended. However, perpetual talks of that nature end up making the children used to it which is detrimental to their social life. In other instances, parents may consume alcohol in the presence of their children. The child observes from the beginning to the time when the parent becomes heavily intoxicated. The child becomes confused when he/she tries to seek out the reality of what transpires after the parent suffers an alcoholic blackout. The other parent may just lie to the child that the mother is sick. The confusion comes when the child knows quite well that it is due to alcohol that the mother is in such a state. However, due to the love for the father, he tends to believe that he can not lie.

Substance abusing parents cause a feeling of insecurity and anxiety in the children. For example the parent who suffers alcoholic blackouts may be the one that the children depend on for their defense against external aggressors. They usually feel that when attacked, there can be no one to defend them. Others fear that the parent could have been poisoned and they remain in anxiety until the parent recovers. This causes low self esteem and loss of confidence in belonging to the family. They tend to hate the people who sell the drugs to their parents and often wonder why such debilitating commodities should be sold and secondly at a high price that affects the family budget.

When mothers abuse drugs during the early stages after birth, their parenting capacity is usually affected and they can not perform the necessary child care activities such as breast feeding and hygiene practices. The children, who are taken care of under such circumstances, usually do not develop in to healthy adults. This is because the most important stages of human development are usually at the earliest stages of breastfeeding. They are very likely to suffer from negligence. The impairment of parental capacity has adverse effects on the health of the baby. Few of the babies survive to the age of five when brought up under such circumstances.

Substance abuse in parents may cause the children to develop a constant thinking about the events that take place at home. In such a case, the children’s concentration is lowered, making them unable to make simple decisions concerning taking care of their own self. They are usually preoccupied with the family situation a may loose interest in many activities especially in school. They usually sacrifice most of their energies doing what the parent should have done was she or he at home. This leaves them little time for interaction with other children and therefore they take long to develop intellectually.

However, it is not all the children from substance abusing families who do not become successful adults. Some of them are able to learn with time and develop a positive attitude towards life. Those who interact with other children in social places are usually transformed in to responsible people and most of them tend to ensure that they do not repeat the same mistakes that their parents engage in. social workers should understand that the problem of substance abuse in families affects parenting, although the effect may not be permanent for the children and that there are chances that the children can be saved from a possible negative impact in their lives due to drug and substance abuse in parents (Department of Health 2006).


Social work is of utmost importance in ensuring that parenting capacity is maintained and that children are saved from undesirable situations such as growing up in a stressful environment that can hinder future success. A stressful environment mainly arises as a result of drug abuse which is known to be a major threat to parenting. Misuse of drugs has affected the lives of many children world wide and therefore parents should be educated on the impact of their parenting styles on the lives of their children. Many children from families that abuse drugs are usually the majority in the care centers because the situations in their families are usually unbearable. The impact of parental drug abuse on the children is either long term or short term. However, both of them are detrimental to the health of the child. This is because for the child to grow up successfully, the environment in which he/she grows up should be favorable, with the child not lacking the necessities and love that should be provided by the parents.


  1. BBC News, 2003. Parents’ Drug Abuse Harms Children, viewed on 13th 2009 at <>
  2. Brooks P. 1997. Consequences of Growing up in a Poor Family: The Impact of Insensitive Parenting, New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  3. Cleaver, H., Unell, I. & Aldgate, J. 1999. Children’s Needs – Parenting Capacity: The impact of parenting mental illness, problem alcohol and drug Use, and Domestic Violence on Children’s Development. London: The Stationary Office.
  4. Department of Health 2006. Working Together to Safeguard Children. London: Stationary Office, viewed on 12th 2009 at,


  1. Forester, D. & Harwin, J 2003. Parents Who Misuse Drugs and Alcohol: Effective Assessments and Interventions in Social Work and Child Protection, Chichester: Wiley.
  2. Goodman, A. 2007. Social Work with Drug and Substance Misusers, Exeter: Learning Matters Ltd.
  3. Ranga, R & Denise M. 2006. What Affects Parenting: The Problems are Organizational. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 27(7), 45-83.


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