Children are Latest Victims of the Opioid Addiction and Overdose Epidemic


When a parent begins abusing a substance, her destructive behavior affects much more than just herself. Substance abuse of any kind does a great deal of damage to all friends and family members but when it occurs in a family, the substance abuse of one member can cause permanent damage to her child or children. For instance, many children will take on distinct “survival roles” marked by different behavioral or emotional issues indicative of growing up in a dysfunctional household or with a parent that abuses opioids or any other substance. Some children will even inherit substance abuse from their parents and repeat that behavior themselves later in life.

Raising Children of Addiction

Opioid addiction can cause a terrible impact on a child’s development that can follow them well into adulthood. Starting in the prenatal environment, if an expectant mother is taking opioids, she greatly increases the risk of her baby being born prematurely or with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). This is a potentially fatal disease that entails the baby being born addicted to the substance that the mother was abusing and having to go through withdrawal shortly after birth.[1]

Picture of a crying baby in a hospital ICU. Parents who begin to abuse opioids later in their children’s lives likely pass on behavioral issues that will follow the children through their lives into adulthood if left untreated. Growing up in a house with one or more substance abusers or in a dysfunctional household in general, can cause children to take on “survival roles” marked by the following traits, potentially following them for years after the trauma has run its course:[2]

  • An overactive fantasy life
  • Compulsive behaviors like perfectionism and inflexibility
  • Fear of being vulnerable
  • Fear of failure and/or success
  • Inability to have fun
  • Intimacy issues
  • Overriding insecurity
  • Trust issues
  • Unresolved negatives feelings such as anger, fear, shame, etc.

“Parents who abuse opioids will also have difficulties determining the needs of their children, creating a negative home environment.”

Due to the opioid crisis, many children of drug abusers end up orphaned, in foster care, or living with relatives. This is often an improvement as addicted parents are usually unable to bond with their young children in the way that is best for their development. In general, parents who abuse opioids will also have difficulties determining the needs of their children, creating a negative home environment. The children who manage to escape without starting a substance abuse habit of their own will often adopt these poor parenting behaviors later in life and continue the cycle of abuse in this way instead.[3]

The Victims of Opioid Addiction

Prescription drugs are causing more overdose deaths in the United States than any one illicit drug. As doctors continue handing out prescriptions for painkilling opioids, more people have legitimate access to prescription medication than ever and many of them are using those prescriptions irresponsibly with unforeseen consequences. Between 1999 and 2015, over 183,000 people in the United States died from overdoses of prescription opioids, and at least half of American opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription. In 2015, over 15,000 people died in the U.S. from a prescription opioid overdose.[4]

An infographic detailing the impact of opioid abuse on overdose deaths in the U.S.

An infographic detailing the opioid addiction epidemic in America

The number of overdose deaths from prescription opioid pain relievers, excluding non-methadone synthetics such as illicit fentanyl, which warrants its own category, nearly doubled from 2002 to 2011. In the United States, there were approximately 17,000 prescription opioid overdose deaths in 2011 as compared to just over 9,000 in 2002. Some examples of opioids are:[5],[6]

Codeine: Prescribed to treat mild pain, sometimes for coughs and severe diarrhea

Hydrocodone (Vicodin, etc.): Prescribed for pain in general, associated with pain from injuries of a physical or dental nature

Morphine: Given to patients experiencing severe pain following surgeries

Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, etc.): Used for moderate to severe pain over a long-term period

Over six out of 10 drug overdose deaths in the United States are caused by an opioid. Since 1999, the amount of deaths caused by overdoses to opioids such as OxyContin, Vicodin, and methadone quadrupled, keeping in line with prescription opioid sales’ comparable growth. Despite this enormous change, Americans have not reported any overall difference in the amount of pain that they experience. And yet, 91 people die from an opioid overdose in the United States every day. From 2000 to 2015, the amount of deaths by any kind of drug overdose climbed to over half a million, and as long as prescription drug sales continue growing, overdoses will do the same.[7]

“91 people die from an opioid overdose in the United States every day.”

If you’re a parent and you or your spouse has an opioid addiction problem, you need to know that your actions can have a permanent, negative effect on those around you, particularly your children. In addition to adopting destructive behavioral and emotional issues, they might develop an addiction of their own as adults perpetuating the cycle of abuse. Unity Behavioral Health can help you and your family overcome the opioid epidemic together. We are a comprehensive recovery center located in scenic North Palm Beach, FL, specializing in drug and alcohol dependence, mental illness, and dual diagnosis. Please give us a call today at 561-708-5295 to learn more.

  1. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007313.htm
  2. http://addictioninfamily.com/family-issues/unhealthy-families/
  3. http://www.opiaterehabtreatment.com/how-opiate-addiction-influences-your-children
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/overdose.html
  5. https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
  6. http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/narcotic-pain-medications
  7. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/