Alumni, Community and Student Engagement Initiatives



Children of parents who are chemically dependent are prone to developing externalizing symptoms, such as attention problems, aggression, delinquency, and/or low academic performance.  Also prevalent among the children of parents who abuse drugs are manifestations of poor social and intellectual functioning. Several scholars have examined how genetic and environmental factors, such as parental attitudes, act as predictors of future drug and alcohol use in the children of substance abusing parents.

Related outcome studies have mainly focused on a child’s level of risk for becoming chemically dependent. These studies have found a significant relationship between parental alcohol/drug habits and the subsequent increase in adolescent use. Additionally, substance abuse in parents may influence the severity of drug dependence in children. However, despite the links between parental drug and/or alcohol use and children’s future use, Zucker, Wong, Putler, & Fitzgerald (2003) found that resilience in these children proved to be a protective factor that countered the risk of future drug and/or alcohol use.

Researchers have shown that the influence of parental attitudes on children’s drug seeking behaviors may be as important as current parental substance abuse. When parents discover that their children are using drugs and do not intervene, this dynamic facilitates continued drug use. These findings provide evidence that the interactions between children and their parents can impact future substance abuse. Researchers also found that the way children perceive their parents and their substance abuse may be correlated with their own future substance use.

The Staggering Costs of Addiction

The yearly costs of chemical dependency, including medical care, premature death, unemployment, criminal justice involvement, and addiction treatment, is estimated to be over 165 billion dollars and 50,000 lives per year (Landau et al., 2000). According to national statistics, over 12 million children are currently estimated to be living in homes where at least one parent has used an illicit psychoactive substance (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA, 2004). Children of parents who abuse drugs are directly impacted by the implications of parental addiction and its affects on the family environment.

According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (SAMSHA, 2004), families of substance abusing individuals have higher degrees of relational conflict. Children in these families are often exposed to chaotic environments that offer little stability or emotional support, thus rendering them more vulnerable to experiencing emotional and physical abuse or violence. Additionally, families with parents who abuse drugs show decreased family cohesion and family organization and are more likely to be isolated from their extended family and community.

Working with the Addiction Population

Susan Kotulsky M.A.

You know when you belong in your career when you are thrilled to show up to work and more energized when you leave!

For me, that’s the feeling I have working in a Residential Treatment Facility for clients getting “clean and sober” for 30 days. In my per diem role, I am responsible for providing therapy to the clients and their loved ones, as well as, facilitating a therapeutic Family Group every other week. I went to Fairfield University wanting a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy with the long-range goal of starting a private practice. This position gives me the knowledge, skills and abilities towards that goal while I work on my licensure credentials.

In this role, I am given a wonderful opportunity to gain rich experiences with a diverse population and presenting problems. The population is varied in age, socio economic backgrounds, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender. While the presenting problem is the substance abuse on the family relationships, there are other systemic patterns going on. Family relationships are often fragile and sometimes non-existent. My education has prepared me to be helpful to the family by recognizing systemic issues, validating and supporting each member of the family, lowering intensity and trying out new patterns of interaction in session.

A potential downside was I only have access to the client for 30 days! If I am lucky I will see them three maybe four times. It confuses me when I get a client later in life, a couple times in rehab and they tell me they NEVER had family therapy before? How is that possible! With the help of my supervisors, I worked on turning this downside around by identifying clear goals of my role and what I would like to accomplish as a therapist in a few sessions. My number one goal is joining with them and creating a therapeutic environment where therapy may be a beneficial option for them in the future.

How does one measure therapeutic success for these clients? I am still learning however I look for the same energy I have towards therapy. Currently, I measure it by asking my clients if their session has been helpful and how could it be more helpful. I also measure it by their willingness to come to a next session or their desire for resources for therapy once they leave. My degree gave me an amazing foundation to be of service to the community. As I am discovering on this exciting journey is there is so much more to learn, skills to develop and abilities to enhance.

Susan E. Kotulsky graduated Fairfield’s MFT program in May 2009 and is currently working per diem for Horizon’s in Bridgeport, CT.  Horizon’s is an inpatient substance abuse facility for individuals with a primary diagnosis of substance dependence.