Parental Drug and Alcohol Problems

What is addiction? 

QuestionWhy do people use drugs and alcohol?


AnswerThere are a number of reasons why people use drugs or alcohol. Alcohol is commonly accepted in our society and adults may choose to have a drink while socialising with friends or as a way or relaxing at the end of their week. Many adults who drink alcohol follow alcohol guidelines and know what amounts are safe and when it is time to stop drinking.

Other reasons why people use drugs include:

  • To forget problems and block out or hide feelings
  • To feel more confident
  • To experiment or because they are curious
  • To escape from reality

Using drugs or alcohol to forget problems, change feelings or escape from reality will not solve anything as the problem will still be there when the drinking or drug use is over and it may even be worse.

QuestionWhen does it become a problem?


Answer Alcohol and drug use happen at different levels. Not everyone who uses substances has a problem or is addicted.

Among adults, it is socially acceptable to drink alcohol and some people may enjoy its taste or relaxing effect. Sometimes people also take drugs for a pleasurable effect. However, even small amounts of drugs or alcohol can alter moods, cause drowsiness or inhibit judgement. This means that the drugs or alcohol can change the way a person behaves and they may not be able to think straight. 

Even the careful use of medication as prescribed by a doctor can also affect the mind or body, for example there may be a loss in appetite or drowsiness. This is why many medications leaflets advise people not to drive or drink even small amounts of alcohol when taking prescribed medication.

Any of these reactions described above affect how a parent cares for or responds to their child.

Problems arise when alcohol or drugs are over used and guidelines are not followed.

  • This can be when someone uses alcohol in a way that isn’t consistent with legal or medical guidelines, e.g. underage drinking, binge drinking, or drinking excessively.
  • Or someone could be using legal drugs in a way that is different to their intended use, such as using someone else’s medication, taking wrong amounts of their own medication, inhaling solvents.
  • Or a person could be taking illegal drugs.

When someone is drunk or under the influence of drugs, it can seriously impair their judgement. This poor judgement means the user may continue taking drugs or alcohol regardless of health or other welfare risks.

It can seem like the person is out of control and they cannot read the many warning signals around them. They may begin taking risks which can put their health, their job or their home life in danger. If a parent uses drugs or alcohol in a harmful way, it will cause problems in their day-to-day life. 

A person can be very aware that they have a drug or alcohol problem yet they will turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of coping.

In other cases, the person may not be able to face up to the fact that they have a problem. They may think that their level of drug or alcohol use is acceptable when really it's not.

They could deny they have a problem by saying things like 'You're making a big deal out if it, I'm fine,' or 'I'm only having a few, I can handle my drink.' They may also say that it is temporary, 'Work is very stressful these days, I need a few drinks at the end of my day.'


When someone is drunk or under the influence of drugs, it can seriously impair their judgement.

QuestionSo… what is addiction then?



Dependence, also known as addiction, refers to more long-term use of alcohol and drugs. The person may use greater amounts of the drug as they can tolerate larger amounts. They can also experience serious withdrawal symptoms if they cannot get the drugs or alcohol their body and mind craves.

When a person is addicted, life becomes more centred on using the drug or drinking. They are no longer in control of their use and can find it difficult to stop despite the fact that it is causing harm.

With addiction, there is a physical or psychological dependence on the substance.

Addiction is considered by some to be a chronic, progressive illness. However, many people working in the field prefer to call it a ‘condition’, which has some similarities to an illness in that the affected person can have some symptoms of an illness such as vomiting, headaches, shakes, appearing very sleepy or slurring of speech. Also, signs such as severe mood swings, staying in bed all day or being unable to carry out normal day-to-day tasks can be signs that the person is not coping mentally.

Unlike an illness, however, it is not possible to recover from addiction by a visit to the GP or by taking an antibiotic or headache tablet. Over time the person may become ill and develop a mental illness, such as paranoia, or a physical illness, such as liver disease.

A lot of the work in getting better has to be done by the person themselves and there is medical and other specialist help available to support them.

Addiction is not easy to recover from and can require medical or specialist help.

QuestionWhat happens when people are addicted?

AnswerAddiction means that a person can be in one of these three states.

1. Preoccupation or anticipation

Constant cravings are a sign that addiction is taking hold. There is an overwhelming urge to use and the person can be preoccupied with this, despite other events or responsibilities in their life. This means spending time and money getting drugs or trying to work out or plan the next time they can drink or take drugs.

Irritability, mood swings, tiredness and depression are a part of this stage. The person can feel like they are 'on edge' and they cannot relax until the next time they can have a drink or use the drug they are addicted to.

2. Under the influence

The person is not in control of themselves or the situation around them. They are either drunk or high.

  • Drunk is used to describe how a person feels thinks and behaves when they have too much alcohol.
  • High is used to describe the feelings and behaviour of a person who is under the influence of drugs.

As the drug or alcohol is taken frequently, the person may take larger amounts to experience similar or greater effects or highs. This ‘bingeing’ pushes the effects of drug or alcohol use to dangerous levels.

Recovery from episodes can be physically painful and the user may be unable to carry out day-to-day tasks due to symptoms. So, everyday jobs like looking after the family and home can be affected.

3. Withdrawal

This brings serious physical pain and psychological anxiety (mental distress). The person may become upset or agitated and feel panic or anxiety. They may be unable to sleep or show signs of paranoia (distorted thinking). Other effects can be tiredness, muscle pain, seizures, headaches, nausea or sweats.

When a person is feeling withdrawal symtpoms, it is hard to concentrate, make decisions or enjoy day-to-day activities. Avoiding these frightening and painful symptoms becomes the main priority and ‘preoccupation’ sets in again, so the addiction cycle continues.

When someone is addicted to drugs, whether it is alcohol or other substances, looking after children and doing the job of a parent can be a real challenge. This can have an impact on everybody in the family.

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