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Alcohol and other drugs use and parenting

Drinking alcohol or using drugs does not make someone a ‘bad’ parent. Many Australian parents use alcohol and other drugs  in a low-risk way. Other parents use alcohol and other drugs more heavily and cope well, doing the best they can in difficult circumstances.

However, many families Child Safety works with can use alcohol and other drugs in a way that negatively affects their ability to parent and in some cases leads to a child being harmed. The effects of problematic alcohol and other drugs use can have immediate or lasting impacts on the child’s safety, wellbeing, development and behaviour.

Further reading

Read about the ways a parent's alcohol and other drugs use can harm children in the Working with children section.

To understand the dangers and risk posed by a parent’s alcohol and other drugs use, have up-front and frank conversations with parents. This involves looking at more than what and when they drink or use. Practitioners need to consider:

  • the parent's story about how alcohol and other drugs has impacted their life
  • what was happening for them when they first used alcohol and other drugs and how this helped them
  • how they have used alcohol and other drugs to cope and survive
  • the triggers and reasons for their drinking or use—in the past and now
  • what their current use, behaviours, patterns and lifestyle looks like
  • how it impacts on their parenting and bond with their child
  • how children feel and see their parent's alcohol and other drugs use
  • options for treatment and recovery.

Keeping children at the centre of your work

A child is always at the centre of your relationship and work with a parent. Your ability to be curious will mean listening deeply and asking questions so you can understand a parent’s story in more depth.


A parent's story informs your assessment of what a child needs and guides you to the right healing and recovery options. The more you understand their story, the easier it will be for you to confidently assess what a child needs from their parent and how able the parent will be to meet the child's needs.

Of everything Crystal Oertle remembers from the darkest days of her heroin addiction, the memories that haunt her the most, she says, involve her children. Crystal would leave her son at a skateboard park unattended for hours at a time while she made dope runs. On one of those occasions he was badly bitten by a dog and, bleeding, terrified, and alone, was rushed to the hospital by a concerned stranger. Often Crystal met with her dealers with her toddler daughter in tow. And she drove high with both kids. "I put them in danger many times".

While this is a US-based story it is relevant to the Australian context.

(Crystal Oertle (2015) - I was a heroin-addicted mom).

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