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Breaking the Cycles of Addiction & Abuse

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Substance Abuse & Children

Alcohol's global impact is on par with unsafe sex and above tobacco in terms of its contribution to number of years of life lost to death and disability. In addition to chronic diseases, alcohol contributes to traumatic outcomes that kill or disable youth, resulting in loss of many years of life to death or disability.
                                                                      WHO and the World Bank

Children of alcoholics/addicts (coa/a's) and their parents in early recovery constitute one of the highest risk populations. According to CASA substance abuse and addiction are the primary causes of the dramatic rise in child abuse, neglect and an immeasurable increase in the complexity of cases. Children surviving abuse or neglect are angry, antisocial, physically aggressive and violent. They perform poorly in school and engage in delinquent or criminal behavior. Consequences can include low self-esteem, depression, hopelessness, suicide, and self-mutilation. They may behave compulsively, suffer panic attacks, are highly distrustful of others, tend towards dangerous play and sexual promiscuity. They are at high risk of developing their own substance abuse and likely to repeat the cycle of abuse and neglect.

Coa/a's also experience higher health care costs: their rate of injuries is 1.5 times greater, rate of total health care costs is 32% greater; they are admitted to hospitals at a 24%higher rate, stay in the hospital 29% longer and have 36% higher rate of in-patient hospital costs . Many of these children are affected in utero by their parents alcohol/drug use. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is the leading cause of preventable mental retardation: clinically significant effects on learning, memory and attention have been documented with as little as .5 ounce of alcohol per day ; a profile of adolescent antisocial behavior and school problems has been associated with "binge" maternal drinking and exposure early in pregnancy.

Research has documented the relationship between violence and substance abuse. While there is no evidence to suggest that one causes the other, research has identified that victims of violence are more likely to suffer increased levels of injury if the perpetrator is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Studies have also shown that victims of violence are at greater risk to abuse drugs or alcohol to cope with the physical and emotional difficulties of trauma or repeated acts of aggression.

Chemical dependency with related problems of child abuse, violence, and learning disabilities is multi-generational. Research by both Ira Chasnoff, MD and Sterling Clarren, MD with addicted mothers showed 35% of their mothers (mothers of the adults) were alcoholic and/or drug addicted. On the average 2.4 children had been removed from their care: 20% of the women were pregnant before the age of 15, 54% were pregnant between the ages of 16-19. All had experienced "horrible abuse": 38% had experienced domestic violence, 50% physical violence during pregnancy, 44% were raped, 30% had a loss due to a violent death; 80-90% had a history of sexual abuse and incest. In Clarren's study, 25% of the women had died by the time of the 5-year follow up. 80-85% had mental health issues, including 20% with organic brain damage from their own mother's use of alcohol and other drugs. All lack support systems: no friend, mother, husband nor significant other to ask for help.

How many children or families are we discussing? A recent survey by Ira Chasnoff in San Luis Obispo county indicates that 42% of women use alcohol and tobacco when pregnant; 27% continue even after they know they are pregnant . Nearly 24% of children in the US live with a binge or heavy drinker, 12.7 % live in a household where a parent or other adult uses illicit drugs. Nationally substance abuse is a factor in at least 75% of all foster care placements.

Read WHO article


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