A child whose parents abuse or neglect him because of drugs and alcohol has been set up. Besides suffering emotional and physical injuries, he is likely to perpetuate the same cycle when he becomes an adult, according to the project director of the Child Abuse Resource Center at California State University.
Hershel K. Swinger said the pattern continues even when the parents receive treatment for their addictions and abusive behavior. To break the cycle, the children also have to be treated."Years ago, we were under the impression that if we provided treatment, intervention and support to parents, it would automatically trickle down to the children," he said. "It doesn't, and the children are severely disturbed. If we're not strengthening the family, we're only dealing with part of the problem."
Swinger was at the University of Utah Wednesday to provide the annual Clyde and Marie Gooderham Lecture for the School on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependencies, which ends Friday. His lecture, "Substance Abuse and Family Violence: Its Effect on Children" attracted hundreds of conference participants.
The American family is "the most violent unit we may encounter in our lives," he said, adding that roughly half of all married couples abuse each other. Of those, 40 percent of the abuse is done by the woman, 60 percent by the man. Physical abuse in those families occurs about six times a year.
There's a strong correlation between substance abuse and child abuse. Swinger said 87-90 percent of the parents who abuse or neglect children have drug problems, and 100 percent of the children with drug-abusing parents have been neglected.
Use of alcohol and drugs diminishes ego control, impairs judgment, can prevent appropriate social behavior, may give a false sense of bravado, leads to paranoia and other thinking disorders and even sparks violence. When the drugs run out, getting more is the main concern, so children are neglected.
These children then grow up unable to trust others and the situation often leads to delinquency, drug abuse, alcoholism, running away, mental health problems, poor self-esteem and more.