When a Parent is in a Drug Rehab Center

3 min read · 6 sections
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.
What you will learn:
For parents what do you need to know before going to treatment.
Learn what to expect during treatment as a parent.
Expectations for parents and their families of aftercare and recovery.

Addiction & Parents

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 drug or alcohol 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.

Barriers to Treatment for Parents

One of the top barriers to treatment for parents to attend rehab is because of the difficulty of making arrangements for children. This is part of the reason why only 2.6 million out of the 23.5 million people with substance abuse problems in the US receive treatment. Many addicted parents fear that their children will end up placed in foster care if they seek addiction treatment. Even after getting clean, it can be difficult to get back custody of their children, and being removed from their parents can be a disturbing and even traumatizing experience for kids.

Why Some People Delay Rehab

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.

How to Explain Rehab to Your Child

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.

Rehab Length of Stay

The length of time the parent will need to stay in rehab varies depending on the type of substance used and the severity of the addiction. Detox to treat the symptoms of withdrawal may take a few days to weeks. Inpatient and residential rehab programs may last for around 7-10 weeks, though overall treatment, including outpatient care and aftercare, is recommended to be much longer. One 2006 study suggested that those addicted to methamphetamine should be in active treatment for an average of 410 days. The residential programs themselves, however, do not usually last for more than a couple months. A good rehabilitation center will focus on combating shame in the addicted parent. There’s already a lot of shame and stigma around addiction, but this can be much worse for parents, particularly women, who may feel that they’re failing their children. It’s therefore very important that addiction treatment specialists and the addicted individual’s family are supportive and avoid shaming language.

Communication & Family Therapy

The children will likely need extra support during this period.

Open communication is especially important. The temporary caretakers should take care to check in with the kids regularly to see how they’re feeling and if they want to talk about the absence of their parent or the knowledge of the parent’s addiction disorder. It’s important to remember that children are not the ones who should be required to support the parent. If a child is not comfortable visiting or speaking with the parent during the treatment program, they should not be forced to do so. If there appears to be significant distress, it may be necessary to bring the child to a mental health professional. If the kids are comfortable with it, most of the time they will be allowed to visit the parent regularly at the treatment facility. All family members are usually encouraged to visit and call to support the addicted person as well as participate in educational workshops designed to educate clients and their loved ones about addiction and how to cope after the rehab program is completed.

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.

Possible workshops and training sessions may include:

  • How to keep temptations and craving triggers out of the home
  • How to avoid enabling behaviors
  • Better family communication techniques, such as active listening
  • Techniques to build a healthy lifestyle
  • Stress reduction training
  • Coping with grief and loss

After Rehab

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.

Medical CheckupThe 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.

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