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Ask a REL Response

Effects of substance use in the family on students — October 2020


Could you provide research on substance use in a family and its academic, social, and emotional effects on students?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on the effects of substance use in the family on students, especially those that may inform interventions by school staff. The sources we searched included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Access to the full articles is free unless indicated otherwise.

Research References

Anda, R. F., Whitfield, C. L., Felitti, V. J., Chapman, D., Edwards, V. J., Dube, S. R., & Williamson, D. F. (2002). Adverse childhood experiences, alcoholic parents, and later risk of alcoholism and depression. Psychiatric Services, 53(8), 1001–1009. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Objective: The study examined how growing up with alcoholic parents and having adverse childhood experiences are related to the risk of alcoholism and depression in adulthood. Methods: In this retrospective cohort study, 9,346 adults who visited a primary care clinic of a large health maintenance organization completed a survey about nine adverse childhood experiences: experiencing childhood emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; witnessing domestic violence; parental separation or divorce; and growing up with drug-abusing, mentally ill, suicidal, or criminal household members. The associations between parental alcohol abuse, the adverse experiences, and alcoholism and depression in adulthood were assessed by logistic regression analyses. Results: The risk of having had all nine of the adverse childhood experiences was significantly greater among the 20 percent of respondents who reported parental alcohol abuse. The number of adverse experiences had a graded relationship to alcoholism and depression in adulthood, independent of parental alcohol abuse. The prevalence of alcoholism was higher among persons who reported parental alcohol abuse, no matter how many adverse experiences they reported. The association between parental alcohol abuse and depression was accounted for by the higher risk of having adverse childhood experiences in alcoholic families. Conclusions: Children in alcoholic households are more likely to have adverse experiences. The risk of alcoholism and depression in adulthood increases as the number of reported adverse experiences increases regardless of parental alcohol abuse. Depression among adult children of alcoholics appears to be largely, if not solely, due to the greater likelihood of having had adverse childhood experiences in a home with alcohol-abusing parents.”

Dyba, J., Moesgen, D., Klein, M., & Leyendecker, B. (2019). Mothers and fathers in treatment for methamphetamine addiction—Parenting, parental stress, and children at risk. Child & Family Social Work, 24, 106–114. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “Parents addicted to methamphetamine (“crystal meth”) are likely to be impaired in meeting parental responsibilities, and the developmental settings can be highly disadvantageous for children. Therefore, parenting by methamphetamine-addicted mothers and fathers needs further exploration, while considering the impact on children affected by parental substance use. In our study, we analyzed parenting practices and parental stress as well as children’s behavioral problems using standardized assessments. The sample consisted of 87 methamphetamine-addicted parents in recovery. We obtained data on parents’ current substance use and on their psychological distress. Multiple regression analysis was performed to identify predictors of children’s overall problems. Parents reported high levels of parental and psychological distress, even after achieving abstinence. Especially depressive perceptions of parenthood appeared problematic. While recovering from methamphetamine addiction, parents exhibited a precarious psychosocial situation and problematic parenting behavior. Dysfunctional parenting practices were evident in both indifferent and overreactive tendencies. Children were at risk of behavioral and emotional problems. Variables associated with parenting showed significant predictive value for children’s overall problems, beyond current substance use, and psychological distress. These findings are discussed in terms of a family-oriented perspective in order to promote parenting capabilities of methamphetamine-addicted parents and to prevent problematic development of their children.”

Finan, L. J., Schulz, J., Gordon, M. S., & Ohannessian, C. M. (2015). Parental problem drinking and adolescent externalizing behaviors: The mediating role of family functioning. Journal of Adolescences, 43, 100–10. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “This study explored relationships among parental problem drinking, family functioning, and adolescent externalizing behaviors. The unique effects of maternal and paternal drinking were examined separately for girls and boys. The sample included 14–19 year old U.S. adolescents (Mage = 16.15; SD = .75; 52.5% female) and their parents. Participants completed surveys in the spring of 2007 and 2008. Structural equation modeling was used to conduct path analysis models. Results showed the distinctive and adverse effects of parental problem drinking on adolescent alcohol use, drug use, rule breaking, and aggressive behavior over time. Findings also highlighted the indirect and mediating roles of family functioning. For both girls and boys, family cohesion mediated the relationship between parental problem drinking and adolescent externalizing behaviors. For girls, adolescent-father communication predicted increased externalizing behaviors over time. These findings draw attention to the importance of exploring adolescent and parent gender when examining parental problem drinking, family functioning, and externalizing behaviors.”

Kuppens, S., Moore, S. C., Gross, V., Lowthian, E., & Siddaway, A. P. (2020). The enduring effects of parental alcohol, tobacco, and drug use on child well-being: A multilevel meta-analysis. Development and Psychopathology, 32(2), 765–778. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “The effects of psychoactive substance abuse are not limited to the user, but extend to the entire family system, with children of substance abusers being particularly at risk. This meta-analysis attempted to quantify the longitudinal relationship between parental alcohol, tobacco, and drug use and child well-being, investigating variation across a range of substance and well-being indices and other potential moderators. We performed a literature search of peer-reviewed, English language, longitudinal observational studies that reported outcomes for children aged 0 to 18 years. In total, 56 studies, yielding 220 dependent effect sizes, met inclusion criteria. A multilevel random-effects model revealed a statistically significant, small detriment to child well-being for parental substance abuse over time (r =.15). Moderator analyses demonstrated that the effect was more pronounced for parental drug use (r =.25), compared with alcohol use (r =.13), tobacco use (r =.13), and alcohol use disorder (r =.14). Results highlight a need for future studies that better capture the effect of parental psychoactive substance abuse on the full breadth of childhood well-being outcomes and to integrate substance abuse into models that specify the precise conditions under which parental behavior determines child well-being.”

Lander, L., Howsare, J., & Byrne, M. (2013). The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: From theory to practice. Social Work in Public Health, 28(3-4),194–205. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “The effects of a substance use disorder (SUD) are felt by the whole family. The family context holds information about how SUDs develop, are maintained, and what can positively or negatively influence the treatment of the disorder. Family systems theory and attachment theory are theoretical models that provide a framework for understanding how SUDs affect the family. In addition, understanding the current developmental stage a family is in helps inform assessment of impairment and determination of appropriate interventions. SUDs negatively affect emotional and behavioral patterns from the inception of the family, resulting in poor outcomes for the children and adults with SUDs. Social workers can help address SUDs in multiple ways, which are summarized in this article.”

Lipari, R. N., & Van Horn, S. L. (2017). Children living with parents who have a substance use disorder. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Full text available from

From the abstract: “Parent substance use disorders (SUDs) can have negative impacts on children, including lower socioeconomic status and more difficulties in academic and social settings and family functioning when compared with children living with parents without a SUD. This report uses data from the 2009 to 2014 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUHs) to determine the number of children living with a parent who had a SUD (alcohol use disorder or illicit drug use disorder). The analysis is based on a sample size of 22,200 adults aged 18 or older with at least 1 related child aged 17 or younger residing in the household. Based on combined 2009 to 2014 NSDUH data, about 8.7 million (12.3 percent) children aged 17 or younger lived in U.S. households with at least one parent who had a SUD. About 7.5 million (10.5 percent) children lived in households with at least one parent who had an alcohol use disorder, and about 2.1 million (2.9 percent) children lived in households with at least one parent who had a past year illicit drug use disorder. Conclusion: The annual average of 8.7 million children aged 17 or younger living in U.S. households with at least one parent who had a SUD highlights the potential breadth of substance use prevention and treatment needs for the whole family—from substance abuse treatment for the affected adults and prevention and supportive services for the children.”

McGovern, R., Gilvarry, E., Addison, M., Alderson, H., Geijer-Simpson, E., Lingam, R., Smart, D., & Kaner, E. (2020). The association between adverse child health, psychological, educational and social outcomes, and nondependent parental substance: a rapid evidence assessment. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 21(3), 470–483. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “Between 5% and 30% of children in high-income countries live with a substance misusing parent, the majority of which is below dependent levels. However, little is understood about the impact of nondependent parental substance misuse upon children. Methods: We searched the international literature using rigorous systematic methods to identify studies examining parental substance misuse and adverse outcomes in children. The inclusion criteria were cross-sectional, longitudinal, case-control, and cohort studies; of children aged 0–18 years whose parents are high-risk substance misusers; reporting on their health, psychological, substance use, educational, and social outcomes. Results: We identified 36 papers (from 33 unique studies), most of which were assessed as being of medium to high methodological quality (N = 28). Parental nondependent substance misuse was found to be associated with adversity in children, with strong evidence of an association with externalizing difficulties (N = 7 papers, all finding an association) and substance use (N = 23 papers, all finding an association) in adolescents and some evidence of adverse health outcomes in early childhood (N = 6/8 papers finding an association). There is less evidence of an association between parental substance misuse and adverse educational and social outcomes. The body of evidence was largest for parental alcohol misuse, with research examining the impact of parental illicit drug use being limited. Conclusion: Methodological limitations restrict our ability to make causal inference. Nonetheless, the prevalence of adverse outcomes in children whose parents are nondependent substance misusers highlights the need for practitioners to intervene with this population before a parent has developed substance dependency.”

Ohannessian, C. M. (2013). Parental problem drinking and adolescent psychological problems: The moderating effect of adolescent–parent communication. Youth & Society, 45(1), 3–26. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “The primary aim of this study was to examine whether adolescent–parent communication moderates the relationship between parental problem drinking and adolescent psychological problems. Surveys were administered to a community sample of 1,001 adolescents in the spring of 2007. Results indicate that paternal problem drinking was associated with adolescent alcohol use, whereas maternal problem drinking was associated with adolescent depression. In addition, open adolescent–parent communication specifically acts as a protective factor for girls but not for boys. These results highlight the need to consider both the gender of the adolescent and the gender of the parent when examining the adolescent–parent relationship.”

Peleg-Oren, N., & Teichman, M. (2006). Young children of parents with substance use disorders (SUD): A review of the literature and implications for social work practice. Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 6(1–2), 49–61. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “This article reviews the scientific literature that focuses on school-age children of parents with substance use disorder (SUD). The review examined the subjects, instruments, and results of 10 scientific studies published from 1985 to the present (2006). Generally, school-age children of parents with SUD demonstrated a variety of emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and social problems. Specifically, (a) children of drug users (CODs) were at higher risk than children of alcoholics (COAs) for psychopathology and functional impairments, and (b) Children of parents diagnosed as having SUDs (particularly alcohol), along with anti-social personality disorder (ASPD) showed more negative psychosocial outcomes than children whose parents did not have ASPD. Recommendations for future research and implications for social work practice are discussed.”

Shadur, J. M., & Hussong, A. M. (2020). Maternal substance use and child emotion regulation: The mediating role of parent emotion socialization. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 29(4), 1–15. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “Children of substance-dependent caregivers are at significantly increased risk for emotion regulation deficits, yet little is known about the role of parent emotion socialization in this process. Given the strong link between parent emotion socialization and child emotion regulation in both community and other at-risk samples, our goal was to examine this mechanism within the high-risk clinical context of maternal drug use. We examined parent emotion socialization as a risk mechanism underlying child emotion regulation deficits among young children of substance-dependent mothers. We focused on supportive, non-supportive, and degree of consistency in parental reactions to children’s emotions during episodes of maternal drug use. Methods: We employed a multisite design and conducted interviews with mothers in substance abuse treatment who had children ages 3–8 years. We employed structural equation modeling to test three unique dimensions of parent emotion socialization as mediators of the relation between maternal substance use and child emotion regulation. Results: Findings supported a mediated risk mechanism such that more severe impairment related to maternal substance use predicted higher levels of non-supportive reactions to children’s negative emotions which, in turn, predicted poorer child emotion regulation. Furthermore, when controlling for the potential co-mediating effect of parenting behaviors more generally, we found that general parenting style did not co-mediate this relationship, indicating specificity in this risk mechanism uniquely related to parent emotion socialization. Conclusions: Prevention and treatment implications suggest that non-supportive emotion socialization behaviors may be an appropriate target for supporting children’s emotion regulation within contexts of maternal substance use.”

Walden, B., Iacono, W. G., & McGue, M. (2007). Trajectories of change in adolescent substance abuse and symptomatology: Impact of paternal and maternal substance use disorders. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 21(1), 35–43. Abstract available from

From the abstract: “The effects of paternal and maternal substance use disorders (SUDs) on trajectories of change in adolescent offspring nicotine, alcohol, and drug use and symptomatology were investigated in a population-based sample of adolescent twins (N = 1,514). Adolescent and parental substance phenotypes were assessed when most adolescents were 11 years old, with 2 assessments of adolescents approximately every 3 years thereafter. Growth curves were fit using hierarchical linear modeling. Results indicated acceleration of substance involvement during adolescence, particularly for boys. Paternal and maternal SUD were each associated with more extreme trajectories. There was evidence for an additive, rather than interactive, combined parental effect. Findings help clarify the impact of paternal and maternal SUD on the development of substance involvement during adolescence.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used:

[(Parental OR family) AND (addiction OR “substance abuse” OR “substance use” OR “drug abuse”) AND (effect OR impact) AND (child OR student)]; [“Parental substance use” AND (effect OR impact) AND child]

Databases and Resources

We searched Google Scholar and ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2005 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.