Grandparents Raising Grandchildren of Addicted Parents

There are many reasons grandparents find themselves raising their grandchildren. This article is specifically for grandparents raising grandchildren of addicted parents. In other words, they’ve stepped up because their own adult child is incapable of raising their own child as a result of their addiction.

I’m writing this because the ramifications for all concerned – grandparents, the grandchildren, the addicted children – as well as the potential for the cycle of addiction to continue or the trauma for a child whose parent finds sobriety, takes them back, but then relapses and returns them to their grandparents, are huge. Huge.

Diverse ChildrenAs with others in a family with a loved one with addiction, the stigma, secrecy and shame can be staggeringly crippling for grandparents and their grandchildren who find themselves in this position. In my view, this is one of the least understood or addressed examples of secondhand drinking | secondhand drugging, which refers to the negative impacts of a person’s drinking or drugging behaviors on others.

So here are some suggestions to help grandparents who find themselves raising their grandchildren because their child is addicted to drugs or alcohol. This information will help you better understand things like, why your child continues their drug or alcohol use in spite of what it’s doing to their child, what your grandchild may experience as a result of being born to a drug or alcohol addicted mother who was actively using while pregnant, where to find help and support for yourself, how to set boundaries with your addicted adult child and so forth.

Before you continue, however, please understand you cannot do this all at once. Skimming through this article may feel daunting and the suggestions impossible to do, so take your time, take breaks, come back to it when you’re ready to continue.

Learn as Much as You Can About the Brain Disease of Addiction, Secondhand Drinking/Secondhand Drugging and Addiction Recovery

This will help you answer the question, “How can they do this to their own children?” It will also help you better understand the impacts on you and your grandchildren (i.e., secondhand drinking / secondhand drugging).

Find Support for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren of Addicted Parents (Including General Support for Raising Grandchildren)

General support around raising grandchildren:

  • AARP’s GRANDFACTS – state fact sheets for grandparents and other relatives raising children that provide information about the range of support services, resources, programs, benefits, laws and policies available to help them successfully fulfill their caregiving role.
  • Grandparents Raising Grandchildren – find grandparent programs in your state and get information about benefits, assistance, and more.
  • AARP’s Guide for GrandFamilies – things to know if you’re just starting to care for a grandchild.
  • – offers a national legal resource in support of GrandFamilies within and outside the child welfare system.

Support around coping with your child’s (your grandchildren’s parents’) addiction:

Understand What May Have Happened to Your Grandchild if Their Mother Was Using While They Were En Utero

This is not to scare you but to prepare you for how you can address issues that come up along they way, because according to the CDC’s Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders information page, “research shows that early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development.”

You might also want to download this free report, “22 Things Parents Must Know About Kids With FASD That Will SAVE Heartache, Hassle, and the Emotional Fallout from Trial & Error.

Understand Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Another aspect of all this is what your grandchild may have experienced as a young child, regardless of whether their mother was using drugs or alcohol while pregnant. It has to do with what are called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Two excellent resources are ACEsTooHigh and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Newsroom, as well as the CDC website explaining the ACEs Study, major findings and similar information.

Bottom Line

Know – the mere fact your grandchild has you – a loving, caring adult – in their lives goes a long, long way to building their resiliency in spite of what all they’ve faced thus far. Not only that but the 21st century neuroscience research shows the brain is “plastic” – it can heal, it can re-wire, it can thrive – which of course, means your grandchild can, too!

© 2015 Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.
Lisa Frederiksen

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  1. This is, as you say, HUGE material, Lisa. Grandparents having to take the care baton from their children happens all too frequently within the realm of substance and emotional/mental situations. And I’ve always had great respect for the grandparents who step up to the plate and stabilize a nasty set of circumstances. And let’s not forget the grandchildren, who may be in varying states of shock. You provide quality resource information (as always) that will make a positive difference in many lives. It’s appreciated…


  2. Pingback: Grandparents Legal Rights|Keys To Visitation

  3. I was wondering if you had any articles on the life for the baby born. I was born to an addict but very blessed to be raised by my grandparents. I know nobody with the same circumstances and just wanted to see how they felt. Or how ir affected their lifes later. Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Blanca,
      Thank you for writing. There are no articles like that on the BTC website, however you may find going to an Adult Children of Alcoholics meeting or two helpful as you will find other people there – they may not be exactly in your position but have experiences that are similar.
      Another possibility is to browse the ACEs Too High website for articles like those you’re searching for.
      I wish you all the best,

  4. I have a friend that close to having a nervous breakdown. She is raising her 18 month old grandson due to her daughter being addicted to drugs. I’m looking for her some support groups. Can anyone advise, point me in the right direction? Please.

  5. Our situation of raising our grandchildren, 3 under the age of 6y/o is so not understood by so many. Everyone says “the children are lucky to have us.” “Don’t know how you do it.” This is family and friends saying it, but offer no to very little help. Then when it gets to the point that we as a parent to the addict, needs to cut the tie with our child so we can focus on the grandchildren, you get looks and just know they’re thinking “how can you turn your back on your child.” The answer is “how can we not!?” They don’t realize the hell we’ve gone through and now at 51, our life is gone, at least the life we planned. We’ll be parenting our grandchildren until retirement, no “freedom” for us. The resentment is so huge! Many times wondering, how can we do this… Could write a book! We tried to look for support groups and tried starting one, which flopped. Being the grandparents, we don’t have a parent to watch the kids, we are it.

    • John, I totally understand where your coming from. I raise my 7 year old grandchild. The mother has been a drug addict/prostitute for years and gets “clean” every so often but it never sticks. We have cut ties ourselves. And you are right, a lot people don’t understand but for your own sanity, it has to be. These “addicts” want everything to just be forgot about and prance back in and out of the kids lives like nothing ever happened. It would be so nice to be a Normal grandparent, but it doesnt appear to be in the cards. So sorry that this situation is happening way too much.

  6. so thankful to have read John’s comment from Aug 15, it is exact. My family was there for the many court appearances to get guardianship for 2 grandchildren born positive to my daughter & her boyfriend both meth addicts, daughter prostitutes herself on the internet for drugs, boyfriend collects SS for his meth induced paranoid schizophrenia. CPS in the county they lived in, did not care. No running water in their 5th wheel trailer, my grandson at 4 months was at the bottom of the lowest percentile for height and weight…daughter was on total life support for 6 weeks due to loss of pulmonary function-meth/pot/cigarettes use. she coded. was sectioned the next day-that is my Grandaughter. Fought for them in court. After guardianship granted me, my brothers and the childrens God Parents faded off…disappeared. I am so alone at 56..I LOVE my grandkids, they are my life. But am experiencing serious manipulative behavior from my 4 year old Grandson. I see and hear my daughter…he is a polished liar already…or is it me? I am scared.

  7. Have a younger brother hooked on heroin and my parents have blown a ton of cash on rehabs and bailing him out of jail. Can’t believe how much his addiction has destroyed them. Not even the same people. My problem is they’re trying to save my brother and my nephew. At this point only one is worth saving… sounds harsh but it’s only a fact. 6 yrs of disappointment. Too many things to list… How do I get them to John’s point 8/16/2016? They love my nephew…. he loves them…. but at some point he needs to be the primary focus. Wanted to buy the baby while he was still in womb… he’s only 2 1/2 . the mother is a pos as well. Another long crap story…. this kid doesn’t deserve this. My parents are just to blind to see this I guess. They’re gonna set their grandson up for failure. feeling hopeless ???

  8. I have a lot of comment to give but need advice right now ! I have my three actual now two threw foster care the county has allowed my 14yr old to stay with his bio dads house as he has manipulated my grandson against us only got to him threw my addicted daughter to see him after not being in his life for 14 yrs my grandson was beaten and mentally abuse by step dad and now mentally abused by bio dad . Have him in therapy and trauma therapy he’s in a program threw the county as bio dad influenced him to be bad and got in trouble bring pot to school to sell and trying to take a phone away from some boy he’s a really good influence on him .. I asked the worker to place him in a foster home away from his bio dads influence so he could get the help he needs but who’s looking out for the child in (Child Protection) nobody listens to me . There’s a lot more to the story but I’m so sad that I have an addiction daughter and these so called dads come out of the woodwork and say that’s my son really where have you been all his life he’s just a meal ticket for you now and child protection they just don’t listen

  9. I am a grandparent raising my grandson because of parents that are addicts. I have had legal gaurdianship since he was born . I am in the process of adopting. His biological father has seen him 2 times only because it was xmas . I am having trouble with the idea of letting the father see the child. He has never done a paternity test or asked to help in anyway. He is not on birth cert. he and his father have abuse and addiction issues and i dont want to have my grandson affectted with that. He has asked to see the child and i dont want to do the wrong thing for this child.

  10. 1 year ago we went from just the 2 of us…to 5! We got relative placement of A brand new grandson…just days old..a 2 year old grandson-who we barely knew…and a 5 year old special needs granddaughter. To say our world’s were turned upside down is an understatement. I find it so hard to understand how my daughter can put drugs before her children…how she can continue to use knowing each positive test puts her further away from them.
    I just don’t understand…

  11. Hi Lisa I’m raising my two grandsons age almost 4 and 5 My grandsons are getting older their father hasn’t been around in a year and their mom is in rehab. Ive been making up a lot of excuses for the mom is working and moving to a new place to live. I’m feeling like we need to have some kind of communication. Please let me know how to deal with this situation I’ve had the kids now for three years.