Undeniably, there are times when our kids are growing up that we can’t wait for them to move out. However, when that day actually comes, the effect on parents can be devastating. As a result, empty nest syndrome and substance abuse sometimes go hand in hand.

What is Empty Nest Syndrome?

While empty nest syndrome isn’t a clinical diagnosis, it can be a difficult time for some parents. The experience of sending your child out into the world and into independence brings mixed emotions. On one hand, you raised a capable, independent child, and that’s something to be proud of. But on the other hand, this child has been your primary focus and concern for 18 years or more, and you may experience feelings of sadness and loss when they fly the nest.

Empty Nest Syndrome and Substance Abuse

Some parents find themselves feeling isolated and lonely when their children leave home for good. After almost two decades of cooking for them, doing their laundry, pestering them and taking care of their many needs, you’re suddenly faced with a quiet house. You have to acknowledge that your child no longer needs you like they used to, and you don’t get to see them every day anymore.

A popular topic in the 1970s, empty nest research from that era suggests that parents coping with empty nest syndrome are vulnerable to depression, marital problems and identity crises. It’s no secret that major life changes can lead to substance abuse, addiction, and dependence, and the connection between empty nest syndrome and substance abuse is mentioned in a number of studies from this era.

Is Empty Nest Syndrome a Myth?

In the 2000s, a resurgence of research about empty nest syndrome and substance abuse, depression and other negative consequences of an empty nest largely debunked prior research.

While empty nest syndrome is a concern for some parents, a lot has changed since the idea of empty nest syndrome took hold in the American psyche. More mothers work outside the home these days than in the 1970s, offering a role beyond that of a mother. Additionally, parents are much more involved in their children’s lives now than they were 30 or 40 years ago, and with the advent of the Internet, social media and video conferencing, modern parents feel far less removed from their children’s lives and are more likely to be in touch on a daily basis.

The Good News About Empty Nesters

Newer research shows that while some parents experience a sense of loss when the kids leave home, the empty nest period is actually one of increased life satisfaction and better relationships. Furthermore, according to the American Psychological Association, some research is finding that when empty nest syndrome does occur, it may be the fathers, rather than the mothers, who have the roughest time of it.

More recent research into empty nest syndrome has also found that an empty nest improves parent-child relationships. A 2008 University of Missouri study found that many of the changes in the parent-child relationship that occurred after the children moved out were positive. These included parents relating to their children as peers and more open relationships between parents and their adult children.

Are You Suffering from Empty Nest Syndrome?

It’s inevitable that for some parents, empty nest syndrome and substance abuse go hand-in-hand. If you’re one of these, it may be time to change your way of thinking about your empty nest. Once the children are grown and gone, you have an opportunity to find and engage in hobbies, travel and get involved in the community. If you’re struggling with empty nest syndrome, a counselor can help you overcome your negative emotions, find purpose in life without the kids and embark on an exciting new chapter in your life.


  1. http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr03/pluses.aspx
  2. http://munews.missouri.edu/news-releases/2008/0220-proulx-empty-nest.php