Parental substance use

Parental substance use

  • Parental substance use is an adverse childhood experience (Public Health England, 2021b).
  • Most parents who drink alcohol or take drugs do not cause harm to their children. However, it is important to recognise that parents and carers who use substances may struggle to recognise and meet their children’s needs, and can placing them at a higher risk of abuse or neglect
    • Parental drug use is a factor in 16% of child in need cases (Public Health England, 2021b).
    • Parental alcohol use is a factor in 17% of child in need cases (Public Health England, 2021b).
    • Between 2011 and 2014, over a third (36%) of serious case reviews carried out after a child had died or had been seriously harmed involved parental substance use (Public Health England, 2022).
    • Children may be exposed to crime if parents or carers use this to pay for their dependency (Public Health England, 2022).
  • If parental substance use is not addressed, it can result in intergenerational patterns of: substance use, unemployment, offending, domestic abuse, and child abuse and neglect (Public Health England, 2021b).

What is the national picture?

  • It has been estimated that 4% of children in England lived with a parent using alcohol or drugs in 2019/20 (Muir et al., 2022).
  • Substance use is more common in socially deprived areas (Public Health England, 2022).
  • Families impacted by parental substance use often have multiple support needs (Public Health England, 2021b).

Figure 119: Common support needs of families impacted by parental substance use. Adapted from: (Public Health England, 2021b)

A lack of support for carers may be a gap in the provision of services for people with co-occurring conditions, particularly for young people who provide informal care for their parents (V. Crawford et al., 2003).

What is the local picture?

The rate of children in households with a combination of parental alcohol and drug problems, parental mental health conditions and domestic abuse is higher than the national rate in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Figure 120: Prevalence of parental substance use, mental ill health and domestic abuse. Source: Parents with problem alcohol and drug use: Data for England, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, 2019 to 2020, NDTMS.

The proportion of unmet mental health need amongst adults in substance use treatment is substantially higher for people who are parents in Peterborough, than those who do not have children (Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, 2023).

Figure 121: Proportion of people presenting to substance use services with a mental health need, that did not receive mental health treatment, by parental status. Data source: (Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, 2023)

Additional resources


Full list of references is included at the end of this chapter.