Parents in Recovery

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, more than eight million American children live with at least one parent who was addicted to alcohol or another drug during the past year. These children face an increased risk of maltreatment. One study, for example, showed that children of parents with chemical addiction are nearly three times more likely to be abused and more than four times more likely to be neglected than children of parents who do not abuse substances. 

Because addiction affects how families live and function, children are bound to be impacted when parents use drugs or alcohol. Addiction, by impairing parents’ judgment and priorities, often influences how parents discipline their children and how much consistency and supervision they provide. The time and money parents spend on getting or on using drugs or alcohol often means they don’t have the resources to meet their children’s basic needs. 

Studies show that abused and neglected children from families affected by substance abuse are more likely to be placed in foster care and to remain there longer than maltreated children from families not affected by substance abuse. Federal laws (the Adoption and Safe Families Act) requiring parents to quickly remedy the issues that led to the placement are especially difficult for those with addiction, and the burden on the child welfare system is enormous. 

While addiction is chronic, progressive and incurable, it is very treatable. In addition to stopping the use of the drug or alcohol, the process of recovery involves changing lifestyle, learning new ways to cope with stress and emotions, and taking responsibility for one’s behavior and actions. Success rates for treatment of addictions are similar to other chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. People can, and do, recover from addiction and successfully resume their parenting responsibilities. 

Understanding that the connection between substance abuse and child maltreatment is important, Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA) published a pamphlet in 2007, “Parenting One Day at a Time,” targeted to parents in recovery. It provides tips for applying the concepts of 12-step programs (such as AA or NA) to parenting. This publication has been distributed to thousands of parents across the state and is often used in treatment facilities and counseling programs. Download the publication now.

Last year, PFSA published a more comprehensive resource for parents in recovery, “Recovering Families,” a parenting curriculum that specifically addresses the needs of recovering parents. Our goal is to help parents with a history of chemical addiction understand how their drug or alcohol use has impacted their children and how they can move forward in recovery while nurturing and supporting their children. 

For many parents trying to stay clean and sober, the hardest part of recovery may be facing up to the effects of drug or alcohol use on the family. PFSA staff worked closely with parents in recovery and professionals in the field of chemical addiction to create an easy-to-read, practical workbook that can be used in both group and individual settings. Topics in “Recovering Families” include: the effects of parental drug use on children, how to talk with children about addiction and recovery, and how to balance the demands of recovery with the needs of children.  View sample pages here.  

“Recovering Families” has been enthusiastically received. The publication was reviewed in the Summer 2011 issue of the National Council on Family Relations publication “Network.” NCFR is the oldest, multi-disciplinary non-partisan professional organization focused solely on family research, practice and education, with over 3,400 members in 35 countries and all 50 U.S. states. Read the review of “Recovering Families” here.

To find out more about “Recovering Families” and how to order workbooks, click here.  You may also contact PFSA at 717-238-0937 or


September is observed as Recovery Month Across the U.S.
This observance, sponsored by the US Dept. of Health and Human Services promotes the societal benefits of alcohol and drug use disorder treatment, lauds the contributions of treatment providers, and promotes the message that recovery from alcohol and drug disorders in all its forms is possible. Visit the website at:


Signs of Substance Abuse in Parents
While these problems can result from other issues as well, when you observe these signs in a child, it is important to consider whether the parent(s) are abusing drugs or alcohol.  


Talking With Your Child About Drugs  
Here are some tips for talking to your child about drugs. Read About “Talking with Your Child About Drugs”.

The Partnership for Drug-Free America offers some tips for talking to your kids if you have used drugs in the past. Read these tips here.  


Dear Friend (a look at what addiction feels like)
A powerful letter from “Addiction” to a suffering addict.