Parental substance misuse is reported to endanger the health and psychological development of children and adolescents. The aim of the present study was to estimate the number of children currently affected by substance use disorders (SUDs) of any adult living in the same household.
Data came from the 2018 German Epidemiological Survey of Substance Abuse (ESA) among 18-64-year-olds (n = 9,267) and from population statistics. DSM-IV diagnostic criteria were used to assess SUD (abuse or dependence) related to tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, cocaine or amphetamine. Based on the number of household members, the number of children below the age 18 years and the information on SUD status of the respondent living in this household, the number of children in households with at least one member with SUD was estimated.
In 2018, there were 13,597,428 children younger than 18 years living in Germany. Of these, 5.2–7.9% (686,482–696,279) were estimated to live in households where at least one adult had an alcohol-related disorder, 5.0–7.4% (674,065–690,792) in households where at least one adult was tobacco dependent and 0.38–1.05% (93,229–142,141) in households where at least one adult had a disorder related to the use of illicit drugs. The total number of children in close contact with SUD adults was estimated at 7.4–11.2% (1,000,725–1,522,667).
The large number of children affected by adults with SUD has implications for identification and prevention. Substantial variation in estimates, resulting from differences in methods, definition of exposure and exposure to whom, calls for international standardization in order to make estimates comparable.