Parents drugs, alcohol and tobacco use harm their children's futures

A white paper - Family Matters: Substance Abuse and the American Family - released by The National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, says parents who use illegal drugs, abuse alcohol and use tobacco put half the nation's children - more than 35 million of them - at greater risk of substance abuse and of physical and mental illnesses.

The CASA report found that 13 percent of children under 18 live in a household where a parent or other adult uses illicit drugs, another 24 percent of live in a household where a parent or other adult is a binge or heavy drinker and 37 percent of children live in a household where a parent or other adult uses tobacco.

Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA's chairman and president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, says the findings are a tragedy and too many parents set examples that increase the risk their children will smoke, use illegal drugs and abuse alcohol. Children of substance abusing parents are much likelier to become substance abusers themselves. Parents who behave responsibly - who don't smoke, abuse alcohol or use illegal drugs - have a positive influence on their children, steering them away from substance abuse.

The paper says that alcohol and drug-abusing parents are three times more likely to abuse their children and four times more likely to neglect them than parents who do not abuse these substances. Children of alcohol and drug abusers are at increased risk of accidents, injuries and academic failure and are more prone to suffer from conduct disorders, depression or anxiety. These conditions increase the risk children will smoke, drink and use drugs.

A greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, asthma and ear infections is more likely in children exposed to their parents' second-hand smoke as is having their tonsils or adenoids surgically removed. Over the long term, these children are at greater risk of cancer and heart disease.

Califano says if substance abusing parents are not concerned about what drugs, alcohol and tobacco are doing to themselves, they should be concerned about the ill effects they have on their children, and this should serve as a powerful incentive for parents to seek the treatment they need.

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