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Kids Of Parents With Substance Use Disorder Could Need Years Of Therapy

BOSTON (CBS) -- They are the youngest victims of the nation's drug crisis: children of parents with substance abuse disorders. They become more susceptible to long-term behavioral and mental health issues.

Twelve-year-old Annie Bourassa from Gloucester is just one example of what the impact can be. But she is also an example of how treatment can help some children heal.

Annie Bourassa (WBZ-TV)

Annie has come a long way since Marc and Phyllis-Ann welcomed her into their lives. At just three years old, she was removed from the care of her biological mother over alleged substance abuse and neglect. The toll has been profound.

"At first, she was hitting and lashing out verbally, and yelling, and screaming," recalls her mom.

Annie is living with reactive attachment disorder, a serious condition known as RAD, stemming from the severe neglect she suffered before she was adopted. Children with the condition find it difficult to build healthy relationships and attachments with new caregivers, even when they're showered with love.

"When you consider the trauma, and you consider what she went through," says her dad, "It's not something that's going to go away in any brief period of time."

Marc and Phyllis-Ann

Annie received years of treatment at Bridgewell, a Massachusetts non-profit organization where Dr. Jackie Devine is a psychologist. Devine says RAD often presents as extreme behavioral issues and she is seeing more and more children with the condition because of the current drug crisis. Those children require intensive therapy for trauma and long-term stability.

"The child needs to have healthy relationships and consistent relationships," explains Dr. Devine.

Annie's parents often tell her that they are not going anywhere and that has been critical for her progress. Today, she's an outgoing sixth grader with a big heart.

"I want to help people with physical difficulties and disabilities," says Annie, " And be there for them."

And Annie's parents say they are committed to helping her no matter how long it takes.

Experts say the best way to prevent long-term consequences of RAD is for children to begin treatment right away.

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