Parents with alcohol and drug problems

This planning and operational guidance is for directors of public health and commissioners and providers of adult alcohol and drug treatment and children and family services. The guidance outlines the main issues for families affected by parental alcohol and drug problems and shows how services can work together to support them.

In this guidance, ‘parents with problem alcohol and drug use’ refers to parents or carers of children whose alcohol or drug use causes, or has the potential to cause, harm to children. Dependent and non-dependent problematic use are both included in this definition.

Not all children of parents who use alcohol or drugs problematically will experience significant harm, but children growing up in these families are at a greater risk of adverse outcomes.

Research shows that problem alcohol and drug use can reduce parenting capacity and is a major factor in cases of child maltreatment. In 2019 to 2020, Department for Education (DfE) statistics on the characteristics of children in need found that parents using drugs was a factor in around 17% of child in need cases, and parental alcohol use was a factor in 16%.

DfE analysed serious case reviews between 2011 and 2014 also found that parental alcohol or drug use was recorded in over a third (36%) of serious case reviews carried out when a child has died or been seriously harmed.

The harms children experience can cause problems in the short term and later in life. Evidence shows that this includes intergenerational patterns of:

  • substance misuse
  • unemployment
  • offending behaviour
  • domestic abuse
  • child abuse and neglect

These problems can then cause further harm, as well as increasing the financial cost to the different agencies who work to support the people who experience harm.

Published 10 May 2021

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