Family Matters: Substance Abuse and The American Family | CASAColumbia

Family Matters: Substance Abuse and The American Family

Family Matters: Substance Abuse and The American Family

Published: March 2005

Add this reports


Families influence their members, particularly children, in multiple ways in their choices about smoking, drinking and using other drugs. This white paper explores the effects of substance abuse on the family unit as a whole and on children in particular.


In April 2004, CASAColumbia hosted a CASACONFERENCE, Family Matters: Substance Abuse and The American Family, which examined:

  • Situations and characteristics that influence children’s risk of abusing substances
  • What parents can do to reduce their children’s risk of substance abuse
  • How parents can spot substance abuse by their children and what to do when they spot it
  • The impact of substance abuse on the American family, in relation to divorce, teen pregnancy, child and spousal abuse, and juvenile delinquency

The findings that emerged from that conference and from an extensive review of the literature are presented here.


Parents who used tobacco or illegal drugs or abused alcohol put half the nation’s children—more than 35 million of them—at greater risk of substance abuse and other physical and mental illnesses. The report found that of all children under age 18:

  • 13% lived in a household where a parent or other adult used illicit drugs
  • 24% lived in a household where a parent or other adult was a binge or heavy drinker
  • 37% lived in a household where a parent or other adult smoked or chewed tobacco 

The white paper also found that alcohol- and drug-abusing parents were 3 times likelier to abuse their children and 4 times likelier to neglect them than parents who did not abuse these substances. 

Children exposed to their parents’ secondhand smoke were at greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, asthma and ear infections. They were likelier to have had their tonsils or adenoids surgically removed. Over the long term, these children were at greater risk of cancer and heart disease.

Children of parents who abused alcohol and other drugs were at increased risk of accidents, injuries and academic failure. Such children were more likely to suffer conduct disorders, depression or anxiety—conditions that increased the risk children will smoke, drink and use other drugs.

The report documents the unique role of the family in the development and results of substance abuse: it suffers some of the direst consequences and holds the potential to be one of the most powerful protective influences against it.


This report provides concrete and practical recommendations for family members to prevent substance abuse and to intervene when it occurs. To assist parents, this white paper contains two guides: Ten Steps Parents Can Take to Prevent Teen Substance Abuse and Signs and Symptoms of Teen Substance Abuse.

Download the full report

Download The Full Report

Download Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the full-text versions of our reports online.

Further information

Read the press release.

Newsletter Additional Information

Newsletter Additional Information

Thank you for subscribing

This information will be used to better customize your experience and help inform future tools and features on our website.

Additional Information
What brought you to our website?