Single Parents and Substance Abuse

Single Parent Households

A single parent is the term that refers to a mother or father who has the responsibility of being the primary caregiver and the parent that children reside with. Single parenting is an accepted norm in Australia, United States, United Kingdom and many other countries around the world. Single parenting may occur as the result of a divorce or separation, unplanned pregnancy or death of a partner. Around 16 percent of children live in single parent households worldwide, with up to 26 percent of children living in a sole-parent house in the United States. Statistically, single parent households tend to be women rather than men as the primary care giver.

Challenges for Single Parents

The majority of single parent households successfully manage the stresses and challenges that they face in bringing up children on their own. However, many of the concerns they face are unique to their situation. Financial issues such as having enough financial independence to pay rent, food costs, electricity, water bulls, health care, school fees and car registration or transport have to be faced alone. Being able to adequately provide parenting enough for two parents, dealing with emotional, physical and mental changes of children, discrimination and adequate care giving are other concerns for single parents. These can cause significant stress to a single parent and they may also struggle with feelings of guilt, depression, exhaustion and loneliness.

In an attempt to cope with these stresses, some single parents may begin to rely on alcohol or other drugs as a coping mechanism. They may not feel that they are able to deal with these problems without the relief that their drug of choice provides. In essence, they are self medicating their stress with drugs which only provide temporary relief for their problems.

Using alcohol or drugs to deal with stress is a short term solution, a dangerous one. It is known to be a factor in the development of tolerance and an addiction. If an addiction begins, it may compound the problems the single parent is facing and make them worse. Drugs and alcohol will only give temporary relief to problems but will in no way solve the problem. Substance dependence damages a persons ability to perform at work or at school, it places unnecessary stress on an individuals financial situation, socializing and mental health. In addition, substance abuse among single parents can interrupt child development. This can impact on the social and emotional development of a child that could cause problems in the future. In addition to this, children of parents with substance abuse problems may be at a higher risk of developing a drug or alcohol addiction, depression, anxiety, antisocial or suicidal behaviors.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is characterized by the lack of interest and devotion to normal responsibilities and obligations which includes caring for dependents Children in a single parent household face the problems associated with an addiction on their own. Having an addiction does not imply that the parent does not care for their children, but it does imply that the addiction takes over the life of the parent which is especially risky in single parent households. Many people who abuse drugs and alcohol reach a point where they are unable to care for themselves, let alone their dependents.

Substance abuse is a term used to describe the misuse of legal and illegal substances to the point of intoxication or inebriation. Substances grouped into this category include alcohol, prescription medications, illegal drugs and psychoactive chemicals. Substance abuse is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) as a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress as manifested by one (or more) of the following, occurring within a 12 month period:

* Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home – e.g. repeated absences or poor work performance related to substance use; substance-related absences, suspensions or expulsions from school; neglect of children or household.
* Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous – e.g. driving a vehicle or operating machinery when impaired by substance use.
* Recurrent substance-related legal problems – e.g. arrests for substance-related disorderly conduct
* Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance – e.g. arguments with spouse about consequences of intoxication, physical fights.

Symptoms of substance abuse or dependence include a loss of control over substance use, devotion of increasing amounts of time and effort into obtaining and using the substance and physical and mental health problems such as liver disease, hepatitis or psychosis directly caused by substance use.

Access to Treatment

One of the biggest challenges that single parent households face is access to treatment for a substance abuse problem. Single parent households, especially with a woman as the single parent, experience a high incidence of socioeconomic problems, including unemployment, homelessness, public assistance use and poverty. Many are unable to financially afford accessing appropriate treatment or find the necessary care for their children if they were to enter a treatment facility. In addiction, if the parent relapses and begins to abuse drugs again, they may not have the resources or capacity to get into treatment a second or third time. This can have incredibly damaging consequences.

Drug or alcohol addiction is a chronic disease and the symptoms are progressive and can be fatal. Dependency on a drug or alcohol is characterized by cravings and an increased tolerance despite severe medical implications and an inability, physically and mentally, to stop drinking or using drugs. Those who are dependent on a substance often require medical intervention to treat the symptoms of the disease of dependence. Long term, repeated treatment is often required as relapse is common. Like other diseases, addiction can affect people from any ethnic, cultural or socioeconomic background. Genetics, environment, childhood experiences, peers and trauma can play a significant role in the development of an addiction. Single parents are just as likely to develop an addiction as any other demographic, but the consequence of the abuse can be more severe.

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