In this review, we consider the potential service needs of children of substance abusing parents based on what we know about the risk outcomes faced by these children and the parenting deficits often present in these families. Importantly, our review does not address the etiological role of parental substance abuse in children’s negative outcomes but instead we discuss the complex inter-related risk factors that often co-occur with and exacerbate risk associated with parental alcohol and drug use. We first review studies showing the elevated risk that children of substance abusing parents face in general for poorer academic functioning; emotional, behavioral, and social problems; and an earlier onset of substance use, faster acceleration in substance use patterns, and higher rates of alcohol and drug use disorders. We then review studies showing contextual risk factors for children of substance abusing parents, including parenting deficits (less warmth, responsiveness, and physical and verbal engagement as well as harsher and more over-involved interaction styles), greater risk for child maltreatment, and less secure attachment patterns. We conclude with a discussion of future directions for research and guidelines for professionals working with children and their families where parental substance abuse is present.
Keywords: Academic achievement, attachment, behavioral functioning, child outcomes, cognitive functioning, emotional functioning, families, maltreatment, mental health, parental substance abuse, parental alcohol abuse, parenting, risk factors, substance dependence, treatment needs