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An Issue of Influence: Alcohol, drugs can lead to domestic abuse

Sara Bowles

During the month of April we observe Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month.

Native American elders teach that children are gifts from the Creator and it is the family, community, school, and tribe's responsibility to nurture, protect and guide them. Children truly are gifts and should be treated as such, but when parents or community members are in the grips of substance abuse and addiction, nurturing, protecting and guiding children are not always a priority.

According to a report by the Child Welfare League of America, problems with substance abuse are estimated to exist in 40 to 80 percent of the families of children who are confirmed by child protective service (CPS) agencies as victims of abuse and neglect. The total cost of child abuse and neglect is estimated to be $94 billion ($24.3 billion in direct costs; $69.7 billion in indirect costs), according to Shoveling Up, a 2001 study by the National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse (NCASA). The annual cost to the nation of untreated abuse of alcohol and other drugs is $276 billion, yet only $3 billion is spent on prevention, treatment, and research of substance abuse of all types - with only a small amount designated for child welfare cases.

But much more important than the financial burden is the human cost. According to Joseph A. Califano Jr., in the publication No Safe Haven: Children of Substance-Abusing Parents, "the human costs are incalculable: broken families; children who are malnourished; babies who are neglected, beaten, and sometimes killed by alcohol- and crack-addicted parents; 8-year-olds sent out to steal or buy drugs for addicted parents; sick children wallowing in unsanitary conditions; child victims of sodomy, rape, and incest; children in such agony and despair that they themselves resort to drugs and alcohol for relief."

This quote may be from 1999, but ask any social worker, school employee, medical professional, daycare provider, etc., and they will confirm that all of what was said by Joseph Califano exists right here in our own backyard.

But the wreckage does not stop during childhood. The phenomenon continues into adulthood. The experience of being abused as a child may increase a person's risk for substance abuse-related problems as an adult. Lack of coping skills; antisocial behavior; and psychological problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder can also be found in abuse victims. These issues can begin to create many barriers for an individual including poor communication skills, poor academic achievement, poor decision making skills that can lead to further barriers with law enforcement, financial struggles, homelessness, unemployment, sexual vulnerability and more. It is because of the grips of these extensive barriers caused by the cycle of abuse and addiction in families that many become overwhelming and hopeless, stopping them from breaking free from this destructive pattern.

So what do we do about it?

We can remind ourselves of the link between parental alcohol or other drug problems and child maltreatment and do what we can to get the person struggling with alcohol or drugs help with their addiction. We can help break through the barriers put in place by abuse and addiction, one by one if necessary to restore hope to the individual or family. We can foster resilience in both adults and children by nurturing their spirit with support and encouragement, helping them see past the fog of stressors will bring focus back on the gift of children and family.

Take time this week to check in with a parent to see if you can lend them some support so they can focus on nurturing, protecting and guiding their children, a precious gift for us all.

It is an issue of influence...

For more information contact Sara Bowles at 218-252-8275, sbowles.hapa@ or go to www.hub