Emerging Minds

The impact of parental substance use on the child

About the course

This course provides you with an introduction to the impact of parental alcohol and other drugs (AOD) use, or substance use, on children.

It provides a definition of substance use, and aims to improve understanding of the effects of parental substance use on children, highlighting the potential impacts on children’s relationships, physical health, and social and emotional wellbeing.

A significant proportion of parents who present to adult services will also have substance use issues. This foundational course will help you to incorporate child-aware practice in adult services when working with parents affected by substance use. 

Whether you’re a professional in the AOD sector, or a generalist practitioner in adult-focused services, these understandings will be beneficial to your work with adults and children.

Who is this course for?

This course will benefit practitioners working in the AOD sector, and professionals working in adult-focused services with parent-clients who use substances. It recognises the interrelated nature of substance use and mental health concerns, financial difficulties, family and domestic violence, homelessness, poverty and child protection issues.


This course is not designed to equip you with the skills for crisis response, risk assessment or safety planning where parental substance use is an issue. It assumes you have a basic understanding of these areas. Instead, the courses will explore an approach that will help you to focus on the children in the families you work with.

Learning outcomes

As you progress through this course, you will work towards understanding:

  • the nature and prevalence of alcohol and other drug (AOD) use in Australia
  • some of the risks to children’s social and emotional wellbeing associated with parental substance use
  • a view of parental substance use that enables child-focused approaches
  • the importance of identifying and responding to issues of parental substance use in ways that prevent immediate and long-term consequences for children’s social and emotional wellbeing.


It is estimated that this course will take you one hour to complete, including reading material and watching videos.

You can undertake the course across multiple sessions at your own pace. The last screen you visit before logging off will be bookmarked, and you will have the option of returning to that screen when you next log in.


As you work through the course, it is important to be aware of your own emotional responses. Please follow the self-care tips below and seek help if needed:

  • We do not recommend undertaking the entire course in one sitting. Give yourself some breaks. Even if you don’t feel that you need a break, it’s a good idea to take one anyway and come back later.
  • Be aware of your emotions as you progress through the course, and take action if you are starting to feel stressed or upset. For example, consider taking a break and doing something for yourself that you enjoy.
  • Be aware of your emotional responses after you complete the course.

If at any point you find you are struggling, please talk with your supervisor, seek help, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or SANE Australia on 1800 18 7263.


For the purpose of this course, the term parent encompasses the biological and adoptive parents of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up a primary or shared responsibility in raising that child. 

Social and emotional wellbeing refers to the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others. It incorporates behavioural and emotional strengths and is a facet of child development.1

Social and emotional development involves the development of skills required to:

  • identify and understand one’s feelings 
  • read and understand the emotional states of other people 
  • manage strong emotions and how they are expressed 
  • regulate behaviour 
  • develop empathy
  • establish and maintain relationships.2


This course draws on the latest research, clinical insights, and the lived experience of our child and family partners. We’d like to thank the professionals and families who played an integral role in shaping this course, generously offering their time, wisdom and unique perspectives.

A quick guide to Emerging Minds Learning

Watch the following video for a quick guide on how to navigate Emerging Minds Learning courses.


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2012). Social and emotional wellbeing: development of a Children’s Headline Indicator. Cat. no. PHE 158. Canberra: AIHW.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2009. A picture of Australia’s children 2009. Cat. no. PHE 112. Canberra: AIHW.


Ready to start learning?

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