Call 1.855.378.4373 to schedule a call time with a specialist or visit
Call 1.855.378.4373 to schedule a call time with a specialist

    Parental Mental Health and Teen Substance Use

    Parental mental health significantly influences the overall well-being of their children, impacting their development, behavior, and life choices. Being a parent or other caregiver is a challenging job that requires you to be healthy in both body and mind. One of the most critical areas where the mental health of parents plays an important role is in the prevention of teen substance use. This article explains why parental mental health is important and how not treating it can put their children at risk.

    Key Takeaways

    1. When parents and other caregivers don’t take care of their mental health, it can be difficult to create a loving and stable home. Kids in these homes might feel neglected or stressed and may turn to substances to cope.  
    2. It’s estimated that 1 in 12 kids live in a home where a parent has a mental health problem. 
    3. Getting help for yourself can make an enormous difference. Healthy parents reduce the risk of teen substance use. It also models for kids the importance of mental health and that it is okay to ask for help. 

    How Parental Mental Health Affects Children

    Kids watch and learn from their parents all the time. Parents who take care of their mental health can create a loving and stable home. This helps their children feel safe and teaches them how to handle their own problems.

    In households where parents or other caregivers struggle with their mental health, it may be more difficult to parent consistently, either being too strict or too lenient. Sometimes parents may be unable to support their children emotionally. In addition, it can be tough to manage day-to-day household stressors effectively. 

    Research shows that 1 in 12 children have lived with an adult who has mental health problems.[1] When you are struggling with mental health issues like depression or anxiety, it’s like you’re trying to drive a car with a flat tire. The car can still move, but it’s slow, difficult, and might damage the car more over time. Similarly, parents with untreated mental health issues might have a hard time giving their kids the care and attention they need. This can lead to kids feeling neglected or stressed, and they might use substances to cope with these feelings.


    How at risk are kids?

    In a study by Kaiser Permanente[2] of over 41,000 adolescent records linked to their mothers’ records (fathers’ records were not included), researchers found a significant link between parental mental health and depression in their children.

    According to the study, children whose mothers experienced certain substance use and mental health disorders occurring before the child turns 12 were more likely to develop a substance use problem in adolescence: 

    • Children whose mothers had a major depressive disorder were 68% more likely to develop problems with substances 
    • Children whose mothers had a non-major depressive disorder were 80% more likely to develop problems with substances

    Other research on Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, also shows a link to the development of substance use problems. ACES are stressful or traumatic things that happen to kids. These can include things like: 

    • Seeing parents argue a great deal or get divorced 
    • Experiencing neglect or abuse. 
    • Living with a parent who has mental health issues or substance use problems.

    Kids who go through these tough experiences are more likely to have physical and mental health problems later in life. According to a study by the University of South Carolina, people who experienced multiple ACES were more likely to develop substance use disorders.[3]

    • 2–4 ACEs: 2–4 times higher risk of using alcohol or other drugs, and 2–4 times higher risk of starting substance use at a young age 
    • 4 or more ACEs: 7 times more likely to develop alcohol use disorder, 12 times more at risk for suicide, and 2 times higher rate of heart disease or lung cancer 
    • 5 or more ACEs: 7–10 times more likely to use illicit substances, 7–10 times greater risk for substance use disorder, and 7–10 times more likely to inject illicit substances 

    As noted, parents’ mental health issues can be one of these adverse experiences. If a parent is dealing with depression, it can feel like a dark cloud hanging over the family, affecting everyone. Kids might feel scared, sad, or alone, and they might turn to substances to escape these feelings. 

    Also, if parents don’t manage their mental health well, they might accidentally demonstrate unhealthy ways of coping. They may engage in yelling or withdrawing. Still others may use substances themselves to manage their mental health symptoms. Children might see this and think it’s an acceptable way to handle problems, which increases their risk of using substances. 

    Getting help and breaking the cycle

    The good news is that parents can get help for their mental health issues. Going to therapy, taking medications, joining a support group, or even talking to a trusted friend or family member can help parents feel better. When parents take care of their mental health, they show their kids that taking care of themselves is important. This helps break the cycle of poor mental health and substance use issues in the family.

    Parents who care for their mental health can show their children how to deal with stress and problems in a healthy way. They can be good role models, teaching kids that it’s okay to ask for help and find healthy ways to cope, like talking about their feelings, exercising, or doing hobbies.


    Parents’ mental health is crucial for raising healthy and happy children. Parents can create a supportive and loving home where children learn to handle problems by caring for their mental health. Not treating mental health issues can lead to inconsistent parenting and increase the risk of kids using alcohol and other drugs. Getting help and showing kids how to cope with problems in a healthy way can make a big difference, helping to ensure a brighter, healthier future for everyone.