Our Research

Phase 1

  • We interviewed 23 professionals who work with families impacted by substance use disorder (SUD):

    • What do they feel children and their sober adult caregivers need?

    • What community resources are available?

    • What resources are needed that do not exist?

  • Highlights of the results are provided below.

  • Results were presented at the 14th International Family Nursing Conference (August 2019), the inaugural Community Creative Achievement Day held by Winona State University-Rochester (April 2020), and the 30th Annual Conference of the National Association of Social Workers – Minnesota Chapter (September 2020).

  • The abstract for the scientific presentation at IFNC 2019 is here.

  • The primary manuscript has been submitted for publication.

Phase 2

  • Is in the planning stage and will involve 2 studies.

    • Study 1 will focus on understanding the needs of children and caregivers impacted by SUD in the family, by conducting in-depth interviews.

    • Study 2 will will explore the experiences of families during times of crisis and transition, using focus group methodology.

Phase 3

  • Will involve community organizations in developing resources, education, and best practices to reduce the impact of a person’s SUD on children, their caregivers, and other family members.

Highlights of our Phase 1 Research Results

Supporting Children and Caregivers Affected by Substance Abuse (SCCASA)

Purpose:  We studied the needs of children and their caregivers in families impacted by abuse of alcohol or other drugs.  This is also known as substance use disorder (SUD).


Background:  SUD is a family disease. Children impacted by SUD are especially at risk for developing life‑long problems, including SUD. Adults (such as grandparents) often end up taking care of the children. These adult caregivers face many challenges.

Methods: We recorded interviews with 23 professionals who work with these families. They included social workers, doctors, teachers, mental health counselors, law enforcement, and others. We used a method called “qualitative content analysis” to identify ideas that these experts had in common.

Results: We found 3 main themes.

  1. The impact of SUD on families depends on circumstances. SUD creates chaos and affects all family members. It increases the risk for neglect or abuse. Because SUD is considered a disgrace, families often feel ashamed and suffer in silence. Some laws treat a person with SUD like a criminal. This affects how families interact and the ways that professionals can help.

  2. The needs of children impacted by SUD depend on age and situation (such as abuse or divorce). Children's basic needs (such as safety, food, and housing) need to be met. They need stable relationships with adults they can trust, and emotional support to cope with SUD.

  3. The needs of adult caregivers who step in to help care for these children depend on factors such as whether they are retired, how much money they have, and how healthy they are. Many of them care for the children alone, with no help. They need help dealing with school, legal, medical, and other complex systems. Caregivers also need emotional support to heal their heartaches, fears, and depression.

Conclusions:  The negative impact of SUD on families can be huge. The professionals we talked with were worried about children impacted by SUD. However, their work often focuses on the person with SUD, not the family. There is no standard approach to helping the children and caregivers. They need better support, but the problems are complex and it has been difficult to come up with solutions.  More work will be needed to solve these problems.