The ripple effect: How parental addiction impacts a child's well-being

Parents struggling with drug addiction cannot provide a stable and suitable living environment for their child, raising concerns about the child's well-being.

22 Mar 2024 01:52pm
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In the context of parental addiction, it is evident that a parent struggling with drug addiction cannot provide a stable and suitable living environment for their child, raising concerns about the child's well-being.

Founder of Solace Asia, Professor Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam, delves into the complex dynamics faced by families caught in addiction's grip, stressing the need for solutions that prioritise both parental rehabilitation and child welfare.

“Addiction is not just a behavioural issue; it is a disease often triggered by external influences.

“While peer pressure may initiate addictive behaviours, the cycle of addiction quickly escalates, hindering parents from creating a healthy environment for their children,” he said

Prem also advocates for a shift in approach by authorities, prioritising treatment over punishment for addicted parents.

“The focus should be on treatment, not punishment. A prison sentence does not address addiction. It is crucial to emphasise that a prison sentence serves as punishment, not rehabilitation.

“While serving a prison sentence is a consequence for committing a crime, the underlying addiction remains untreated,” he explained.

Prem also highlights the dilemma of children left in the wake of parental addiction, navigating the ethical terrain of keeping them with addicted parents or separating them.

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“The bond between parents and children is invaluable, and separating them is not ideal.

Professor Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam
Professor Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam

“However, if parents struggle to overcome their behavioural addiction, exposing children to a constant environment of addiction poses significant risks,” he implied.

Drawing insights from epigenetics and twin studies, he highlighted the pivotal role of the environment in shaping children's outcomes.

“While children whose parents are drug addicts may inherit a genetic predisposition to addiction, their environment plays a crucial role.

“A nurturing and positive environment can positively influence gene expression, leading to healthier outcomes,” he added.

Ultimately, Prem acknowledged that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the dilemma of parental addiction.

He mentioned the decision to keep children with addicted parents or separate them must be guided by a thorough understanding of the specific circumstances and the best interests of the child.


Moving beyond individual repercussions, Prem sheds light on the broader impact of parental drug addiction within families.

Prem paints a stark picture of the intergenerational cycle of addiction, citing a poignant real-life case involving a teenage girl.

He recounted how the girl's descent into heroin addiction and engagement in prostitution mirrored her mother's behaviour.

“Children are highly influenced by observed behaviours, witnessing her mother's behaviour firsthand, the girl learned and replicated these destructive patterns.

“This scenario represents the extreme consequences of parental drug addiction on children,” he emphasised.

Prem also mentioned that the repercussions of parental drug addiction extend beyond individual behaviour, disrupting the very fabric of family life.

“Some individuals may choose to conceal their addiction from their family, fostering a culture of secrecy that inadvertently enables continued drug use. This secrecy breeds feelings of shame, inferiority, and low self-esteem among family members.

“Siblings may react differently, with some distancing themselves and pursuing independent lives, while others may feel neglected due to their parents' focus on the addicted individual,” he said.

He also addresses the adverse effects of prenatal drug exposure on children, emphasising the increased risk of health and developmental issues later in life.

“This exposure to substances in utero leads to the baby becoming dependent on these drugs, resulting in withdrawal symptoms upon birth.

“They (the babies) have an increased risk of developing substance abuse disorders later in life, along with other health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and cancer, due to a genetic predisposition and the adverse effects of prenatal drug exposure,” Prem explained.