It can be very difficult for a child to go without a parent for a long period of time, no matter what the situation, if that child is used to the parent being around. Children need consistency and may not understand why the parent needs to be away. In the case of addiction disorder treatment, it can be difficult to explain what’s going on. Young children may not be prepared to understand the nature of addiction even if it’s explained in simple terms.
Addiction is a mental illness that can cause a lot of chaos and conflict in the home. At the point of addiction, the substance of choice may seem to change the afflicted individual and cause them to disrupt the peace of the home and drop the ball on personal responsibilities, up to and including caring for children. At this point, it’s both very difficult for the person to quit without professional help and very necessary for professional treatment to occur.
Many people who suffer from addiction are parents. Addiction can happen to anyone, no matter what personal responsibilities they may have. This doesn’t make them bad people, but it can make seeking treatment more difficult and complicated. If the addiction is severe enough that residential rehabilitation is recommended, it means staying in a treatment facility 24 hours a day for several weeks. Children may only be allowed to occasionally visit.
There are some rehabilitation centers that allow children under a certain age to stay with the addicted parent in the facility under some circumstances. However, this is rather uncommon, and most children of an addicted parent will need special care before and during the rehab stay.
This is even more difficult for single parents. If the other parent can’t care for the kids, where do they go for help? These parents might have to rely on relatives or look for programs that allow their children to stay in the center with them. Many rehab centers have daytime childcare services, which can take a lot of pressure off relatives or friends who want to take care of the kids but can’t miss work for several weeks. This is often preferable to other daycare centers as the children are close to the parent in treatment, and daycare can be very expensive – possibly a significant hardship on top of the cost of treatment.
Despite these fears, it’s important to focus on the fact that addiction hinders one’s ability to be a good parent. Once treatment is complete and recovery has begun, the increased functionality and presence on mind will be much better for the children overall.
Once childcare has been arranged, it’s a good idea to have a talk with the kids before rehab begins. Kids are very perceptive and observant, and by the time addiction is present and rehab is needed, they have likely already figured out that something is not quite right in the home. It’s best to be as honest as possible with them, though very young children may not be able to understand and it may not be appropriate to get into the details of what’s going on.
For children 5 and under, it may be best to tell them that the parent is sick and needs to go away to get better. It’s important to assure them that the parent is in no danger and will be in the care of doctors who will make sure the parent stays safe and healthy. If the children are older and likely to have noticed the substance abuse, it may be appropriate to explain further that the parent’s drug or alcohol use is happening because of an illness and treatment is needed in order to stop.
The children will likely need extra support during this period.
Family therapy may also be available to help family members communicate their feelings to one another about the addiction and any other issues that might be contributing to the problem.
Finishing rehab does not mean the addiction has been cured; as a chronic disorder, there is no cure, but it can be effectively managed. There is still a long road ahead of addicted individuals as they adjust to day-to-day life without their substance of choice. They’ll be dealing with temptation and cravings for a long time, possibly for the rest of their lives. Many people end up relapsing at least once. One study published by the National Institutes of Health found a 62 percent remission rate for individuals addicted to alcohol after treatment. It’s important to keep in mind that relapse is not a failure, but a common part of the path to recovery.The addicted person needs support and love after the rehabilitation program, but it’s also important to continue to take care of the person’s children. There may be some residual anger or resentment toward the parent or feelings of distrust. If the addiction had been going on for long enough, the addicted parent may even seem like a different person when sober. As the addicted individual should continue to attend counseling and/or support group meetings, the kids may need to continue therapy or at least continue to be checked on in terms of their emotional wellbeing.
Kids who are old enough may also be encouraged to be more involved in the post-rehab treatment of the addicted parent, including going with them to support group meetings and learning how to be supportive and avoid enabling behaviors. However, it’s important that this involvement be the children’s choice and not forced upon them. The wellness of the addicted person and their kids is important, and all parties need support and love to get through this difficult time.
Addiction disorders disrupt and hurt the entire family. An addicted parent’s behavior while under the influence can be disturbing or even traumatizing to a child, and the other parent will often have to deal with the aftermath. Other family members may have watched this for a long time, feeling helpless. Addiction treatment is therefore the beginning of the healing process for the entire family unit. Everyone needs to receive care for the distress that led up to the addicted person being admitted to rehab, especially children, who are more vulnerable than adults.