Family Rehab Programs: Going to Rehab When You Have Children
A substance abuse problem not only affects the individual abusing drugs or alcohol; it affects every aspect of the person’s life, including relationships, family, and children.
For that reason, treating people with children requires a distinct approach. People in recovery benefit from having their sons and daughters involved in the therapeutic and rebuilding processes. All facilities allow parents to stay in contact with their children—whether it’s through emails, FaceTime chats, or visitations. Some facilities offer family education as part of the recovery journey. And some facilities host organized family days. To that end, drug rehab centers employ creative and comprehensive methods to make recovery a bonding and healing experience for families.
Addiction and Family: Causes & Impacts
Parents abusing substances at home with their children is a problem. In the United States, about 1 in 8 children age 17 or younger live in households with at least one parent who has a substance use disorder (SUD).1
Many factors can contribute to a parent or a guardian using drugs or alcohol. Raising a child (or a teenager) is a stressful experience in and of itself. If combined with other factors, such as financial difficulties, pre-existing mental health conditions, and relationship difficulties (or not having a partner with whom to share responsibilities), a frustrated and depressed parent can resort to drinking and taking drugs to find some escape.
The damage caused by a drug addiction in the family can run very deep. Children who come from addiction-affected households have more difficulties in school, social environments, and family functioning than children who come from households without addiction. They are also more likely to develop mental and substance use disorders themselves.1
Ways to Get in Contact With Us
If you believe you or someone you love may be struggling with addiction, reach out. Call or text us, and let us help you determine a path to treatment.
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Fear of Losing Children Shouldn’t be a Barrier to Seeking Treatment
Parents often avoid seeking help for their addictions because they’re afraid that their children will be taken away from them.
A 2015 survey found that 73.3% of women reported that they were afraid of being identified as substance abusers. One of the scenarios they were most afraid of was losing custody of their newborns or older children.2
However, some research has found that the threat of losing their child can motivate parents to seek treatment.3
The truth is, several factors may ultimately determine whether a substance-abusing parent will lose custody of their child. Every case is different. In addition to substance abuse, other factors that place a parent at risk of losing their child include:4
- A history of childhood abuse and neglect, exposure to negative events, and domestic violence.
- Poor education.
- Teen pregnancy.
- Single parenthood.
- Chronic unemployment.
- Severity of addiction.
- Presence of co-occurring mental health disorders.
Despite the risk of losing custody, seeking treatment for an addiction is usually the right decision for the parent and the child—especially if the parent is involved in a court case. Beyond the benefits to the parent’s and the child’s health and well-being, seeking treatment shows the court that the parent is serious about getting help, and completing treatment increases the chance that the person retains custody of their child.
Take Our Substance Abuse Self-Assessment
Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.
Can My Child Go to Rehab with Me?
Some specialized residential family treatment programs are specifically tailored to the needs of women and their dependent children. These facilities provide different levels of care or supervision for children for individuals and employ child-development specialists, therapists, and psychologists, and certified child care personnel.5 Some offer onsite day care services; others might even provide educational or residential services and a safe place to stay while the children’s parents go through treatment—though it should be noted that there are few facilities that offer such services.
Providing for Parents
There are drug rehab centers that offer services geared toward parents that often ask mothers and fathers to include their children as participants in the treatment process and sometimes in therapy sessions. This provides an opportunity for parent and child to discuss the difficulty and trauma caused by the addiction, but in a safe and controlled environment more conducive to positive and healthy outcomes.
Caseworkers at rehab facilities may offer to help arrange outside safe and stable accommodations, child care, or education services for the children of parents seeking care at that treatment center. Caseworkers may reach out to responsible family members (such as grandparents, uncles and aunts, or godparents) if a spouse or significant other is not available to provide care. They may help orchestrate a temporary plan where the child goes to day care or school during the day and stays with a friend or relative at night.
Having a plan for children, where there’s no history of abuse or neglect, gives parents peace of mind so they can focus on their treatment and getting better.
Another option for parents might be outpatient care. Outpatient care allows a person the freedom to return home after participating in counseling sessions and meetings, thereby permitting a parent to spend time with children after a certain number of hours of treatment at the rehab center.
As part of treating an addicted mom or dad, a drug rehab center incorporates elements of family therapy into the program, which helps parents talk to their children about substance abuse. The conversations focus on the psychological reasons behind the abuse and the effects of the addiction. Discussing such topics in the context of a family dealing with a substance abuse problem is never easy, but the therapist facilitates the conversation to the point where every voice is heard.
Family therapy provides a neutral space for family members to talk about their issues, which is often lacking in the lives of families impacted by substance abuse.6
The therapist creates a space where emotional topics can be discussed and hidden concerns and feelings can be expressed and acknowledged. Family members may discover that others share their feelings, and they may feel empowered by gaining a broader perspective of the issue. These insights can lead to change within the family.6
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, children often need age-appropriate programs prior to being put in therapy with other family members. The child’s and parent’s problems may be addressed at the same time, but in different groups. The child may also attend support groups, which could be offered by the treatment program, a school, or a faith community. They need a safe environment to discuss abuse, neglect, or violence.6
Helping Parents Be Better Parents
Regardless of what form of therapy is used, one of the primary goals of the therapeutic process is to help people thrive in society. For moms and dads, the definition of “thrive” is to become a responsible parent. In the same way that other therapy programs might focus on helping people re-enter the job market, a rehab program for parents prioritizes helping a father or mother learn how they can be the best possible parent to their children. This may include some prep work to get a stable job, but the primary aim is to improve and develop life skills that are most relevant for raising children.
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- Lipari, R. and Van Horn, S.L. (2017). Children Living With Parents Who Have a Substance Use Disorder. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Stone, R. (2015). Pregnant women and substance use: fear, stigma, and barriers to care. Health and Justice, 3(2).
- Neger, E. and Prinz, R. (2015). Interventions to Address Parenting and Parental Substance Abuse: Conceptual and Methodological Considerations. Clinical Psychology Review, 39, 71-82.
- Suchman, N., McMahon, T., Zhang, H., Mayes, L., and Luthar, S. (2006). Substance-abusing mothers and disruptions in child custody: An attachment perspective. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 30(3), 197-204.
- Jackson, Valera, M.S. (2004). Residential Treatment for Parents and Their Children: The Village Experience. Science & Practice Perspectives, 2(2), 44-53.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy.