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Alcohol/Substance Abuse and Child Neglect: A Proposal for Educational Reform

Updated on April 8, 2013

The subject of child abuse with regards to alcohol/substance abuse is well substantiated by statistical data. Studies have shown cases involving child abuse and/or neglect also share comorbidity with alcohol/substance abuse in the home (Freisthler, B. R. 2012). Why is this issue not addressed in such a manner as to increase awareness to the public? It would seem that the Media may have many motives in not presenting this information to people. First and foremost alcohol is not only legal but a billion dollar a year industry. What would be the impact of alcohol sales and use if it was advertised as a contributing to childhood neglect/abuse? The Media is driven by advertisements, in short companies that have an interest in the promotion and sale of their products. It is not a concern of these companies the negative effects of their products as evidences by health statistics related to its use. Alcohol is presented as a means to “have fun” and be social. You do not see advertisements for books, family games etc. because they do not cause continued consumption.

In addition to this it seems that alcoholism and/or substance abusers are depicted as suffering from an illness. In general terms and perspectives this can create an image of the individuals alcoholism or substance abuse as an individual problem not a socially of familial fed construct. If anything alcohol use in particular is portrayed by the Media as being normal and socially acceptable. For example in the television series Anger Management staring Charlie Sheen whenever he is at home and not working he has a beer in his hand as does any of his guests. Alcohol’s is also portrayed as a means of social interaction. For example; the classic baseball game combination of “beer and ballpark franks” at a game, or “nightlife” depicted as friends going out for drinks either at a bar or club or the wealthy depicted pouring themselves a “nightcap” from expensive decanters. This is the Media “marketing” alcohol as a positive addition to one’s life style.

What are not portrayed are the psych-social effects that alcohol and/or substance abuse can have. Regardless of demeanor when an individual is under the influence of a mentally or physically altering substance they become out of touch with reality. Individuals may seem “more” fun or experience a self-proclaimed decrease in social anxiety yet this only an expressed attempt by the individual to correct an imbalance in congruency between internal and external influences on the individual’s self-image by altering their consciousness (Fields R., 2010). At its base it is an attempt to avoid the reality of their emotional and/or psychological distress. As a result of this internal conflict the individuals often become disengaged. A parent exhibit disengaged behavior will in turn tend to be neglectful of their children. This could be evidenced by a disinterest in their activities in school, with peers and their physical, psychological and/or emotional needs. In some cases the extreme is present in which the parent become not only neglectful but physically, psychological and/or emotionally abusive as well (Fields R., 2010).As this is viewed as a socially acceptable behavior it becomes more difficult to recognize when its use becomes detrimental to the physical and psychological health of an individual and their relationships. So what would be an effective way to circumvent this social perception and raise awareness about the comorbidity between alcohol/substance abuse and child neglect/abuse? Children today are exposed to more advertisement and social media than ever before in history as a result of unregulated internet, advertisement and social media sites. The age with which a child is exposed to alcohol and/or substance abuse can be very young simply because social acceptance within a group dictates similar activities and priorities be assimilated by the engaging individual. For a child growing up in a home where there is alcohol/substance abuse and therefore absentee parenting resulting in reduced acceptance, understanding and nurturing of the child this child will seek to fix this imbalance through their peer relationships. This in turn can lead to the development of a dependent personality and an imbalanced self-image (Morgan, J. (1991).

For these reasons I would center an informative approach on grade and high school students. Children at these stages of development are exposed to regulated education. By this I mean their education is guided and structured for them. An example of this is the mandatory curriculum of mathematics, science, reading and writing and history that all students are required to learn to graduate or move forward in their education. Perhaps the inclusion of basic psychology with regards to family systems, role and boundaries can provide children tools they may not be acquiring in their home environment to be evaluative of their relationships both familial and social and their respective roles and influence in them. In addition to this mandatory education with regards to alcohol and substance abuse can provide points of relation for children that can help reduce confusion and the subsequent stress induced trauma associated with children of alcohol and/or substance abusing parents.

Studies have shown that the ability to recognize, evaluate and validate one’s feelings is integral to recovery from emotional and psychological imbalance (Fields, R., 2010). I postulate that a course curriculum specifically designed to provide these tools for children will have a major impact on their development of a health self-image. This in of by itself can be a significant factor in the reduction of maladaptive behaviors in later life. It can also enable children to evaluate the relationships they have and possibly increase their prevalence to engage in positive and nurturing relationships. I addition to the effects in their present stage of psych-emotional development these tools will undoubtedly transition to how they parent their children in later life.

The course structure should be indicative of increasing selfless and selfish awareness. By selfless/selfish I mean teaching children to view themselves and others with compassion, empathy, understanding and honesty. This could be facilitated through providing course work expressed to be private unless willingly disclosed to the group by the student in which the student is guided much like in a counseling session to explore their feelings and their roots in their environment. This could graduate to course work designed to explore they “why” behind what they feel. Understanding why we feel the way we do can help provide clarity as to our subsequent reactions to these feelings. The next step in this process would be to help students identify their emotional needs congruent with their self-actualization and how to assert them in a proactive manner.

At this stage the course work would shift to teaching the children vulnerability. Through having the students discuss themselves openly in an environment that trust and awareness is established as the “norm” student will learn to be comfortable including others in their development of their identity without being dependent on them for it. Children that learn to express their feelings outwardly tend to be less subjective to the external judgments of their peers (Lisa, H. R., Marion, K. U., & Kurt, J. B., 2011) and thus are less likely to engage in risk taking behavior such as alcohol/substance abuse.

It is also important that the teachers facilitating this course receive support from not only the students’ parents and/or family but from the educational community as well. Lifelong learning with regards to continued education in childhood development, family and social dynamics, psychological therapeutic techniques, relationships, the effects of substance/alcohol abuse and their application to the education and development of children in these age groups will be fundamental in their ability to provide a comprehensive education that provides the tools and awareness necessary for the emotional and adaptive development of the child. This educational reform would need to be instituted on a national level. For this an educational reform inclusive of these variables would need to be created and passed by legislation. The reform would need to be inclusive of not only grade and high school curriculum but that of higher education, in particular to those pursuing a career in education, as well.

As and ending thought for consideration; what would be the effect if this type of education was made mandatory for expecting and/or current parents? Perhaps mandated education on childhood development, alcohol/substance abuse and its effects on individual and family, emotional health would decrease the prevalence of alcohol/substance abuse in the family and the subsequent neglect manifested by this behavior. Parents who are aware of their effect on their children presumably may be more likely to change negative behaviors they are presenting to their children.


Fields R., (2010). Why do people abuse drugs?, Chapter 2, Drugs in Perspective, McGraw-Hill, p.27.

Fields R., (2010). Stages in Family Recovery from Substance Abuse Problems, Chapter 5, Drugs in Perspective, McGraw-Hill, p. 171.

Freisthler, B. R. (2012). Explicating the Social Mechanisms Linking Alcohol Use Behaviors and Ecology to Child Maltreatment. Journal Of Sociology & Social Welfare, 39(4), 25-48.

Lisa, H. R., Marion, K. U., & Kurt, J. B. (2011). Peer victimization as a mediator of the relation between facial attractiveness and internalizing problems. Merrill - Palmer Quarterly, 57(3), 319-347. Retrieved from

Morgan, J. (1991). What is codependency? Journal of Clinical Psychology Vol. 47: pp. 720-729


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