Addiction and Custody Issues

Written by Jonathan Strum

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

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Last Updated - 04/05/2023

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Updated 04/05/2023

When a parent goes to inpatient rehab, they may be concerned about losing custody of their children while in treatment. This is especially true for single parents who do not have another parent or a trusted adult to take care of the children while they are away.

While this may be a concern, the reality is that going to treatment and recovering from addiction often improves parenting abilities and reduces the likelihood that children will need to be removed from their parents. If you or someone you love is in this situation, it’s helpful to learn more about addiction and custody issues. It’s also important to understand why going to treatment is the best option for parents who live with an addiction.

Addiction vs. Abuse

There are some key differences between addiction and abuse. Not every parent who uses drugs or alcohol is addicted. The term abuse (or misuse) refers to the use of drugs with the intent to get high or cope with a problem like stress, anxiety or depression.

On the other hand, addiction refers to a chronic brain disorder that causes a person to compulsively seek out drugs despite negative consequences. It is possible to abuse drugs without developing an addiction. However, once a person becomes addicted, it is difficult for them to stop using drugs on their own, as brain changes make them vulnerable to relapse. Not every parent who misuses drugs has an addiction, but over time, repeated drug abuse can cause an addiction to develop.

Losing Custody for Depression and Anxiety Due to Alcoholism

Unfortunately, abusing alcohol to cope with symptoms of anxiety or depression can cause alcoholism to develop. Alcoholism, which is referred to as an alcohol use disorder in the medical community, causes lasting changes in the brain and leads a person to continue misusing alcohol.

In some cases, people may develop an alcohol use disorder because they begin drinking to cope with a mental health condition. Mental health disorders like depression often occur alongside an alcohol use disorder and can increase a person’s risk of developing alcoholism. According to research, about 30% of individuals with depression will have an alcohol use disorder at some point during their lives. Additionally, around 20% to 40% of people with anxiety disorders have an alcohol use disorder.

Unfortunately, a mental health condition like depression or anxiety can indirectly lead to loss of child custody if a person uses alcohol to cope with mental health symptoms. Once an alcohol use disorder develops, a parent may have difficulty maintaining employment or caring for children because they become focused on using alcohol. Some parents may even drink simply to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

In this case, seeking treatment for both mental health and alcohol addiction can help you to cope. A formal treatment program can offer detox services to make it easier for you to get through withdrawal symptoms and give up drinking. These programs also provide you the opportunity to participate in individual and group counseling, which can help you learn ways to manage mental health symptoms and cope without turning to alcohol.

How Child Custody Is Awarded

There are multiple ways that alcohol addiction and custody issues can overlap. For example, substance abuse is common in families involved in the child welfare system and can be a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect. In some cases, a court may terminate a parent’s custodial rights and place children in foster care. This may occur if parental substance abuse places children in danger or significantly interferes with a parent’s ability to care for children.

If a child is placed in foster care by the child welfare system, this doesn’t mean that a parent has permanently lost custody. The government believes that children should remain with their families whenever possible, and if a parent shows a commitment to sobriety and completes treatment, children can be returned to their care.

Another scenario in which addiction can impact child custody decisions is in divorce court. When parents are divorcing, the court is tasked with making decisions regarding child custody and visitation. A court makes custody decisions based on the best interests of the child.

In deciding what is best for a child, the court considers not only the wishes of the child and the parents, but also the mental and physical health of the parents. A judge may determine that it is not in the child’s best interests to be placed with a parent who has an alcohol addiction.

Demonstrating a Commitment to Sobriety

If a parent has lost custody because of alcohol addiction, they will need to demonstrate a commitment to sobriety if they want children returned to their care. This means they will need to show evidence that they have completed or are engaged in ongoing addiction treatment. The court may also require the parent to submit to random urine screens to demonstrate ongoing sobriety.

In some cases, a parent may be court-ordered to complete a drug and alcohol assessment. In other cases, they may have to agree to be a part of ongoing monitoring through the court to ensure that substance misuse is not having a negative impact on the children.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab Centers

If you’re looking for alcohol addiction treatment, there are two overarching types of treatment: inpatient and outpatient. An inpatient treatment center requires patients to live on-site at a facility while undergoing treatment. Meanwhile, outpatient treatment centers allow patients to continue living at home while reporting to a facility for appointments.

Outpatient care is appropriate for those who need to continue living at home, perhaps because of the need to work or care for a family while completing treatment. This level of care is appropriate for people who have a safe living environment and are committed to recovery, even in the face of triggers that can occur while living in the community. Some people may prefer an inpatient program that removes them from triggers that exist in the home environment.

If you’re exploring treatment options and struggling to decide between inpatient vs. outpatient rehab, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you need to continue to live at home to care for children or report to work? In this case, outpatient rehab may be a more feasible option.
  • Do you have a safe living environment? If the answer is no, or if you’re living around people who are still using substances, you may require the structure of an inpatient program until you develop stronger skills for managing triggers.
  • If you choose inpatient care, are you prepared to make arrangements for your children while you are away?
  • What are your financial resources like? While insurance may cover some of the costs of rehab, outpatient programs tend to be cheaper and come with fewer out-of-pocket costs.

Apply for Child Custody After Rehab

If you’ve lost custody of your children and would like them returned to your care after rehab, you will need to petition the court to request a custody change. You’ll need to be prepared to demonstrate that it is in the best interests of the children to be returned to your care. This means that you will need to provide evidence that you successfully completed rehab and engaged in all recommended levels of therapy.

Beyond showing successful completion of rehab, you will need to demonstrate that you followed all recommendations of your rehab program upon discharge. For example, after outpatient care, your treatment team may recommend that you engage in aftercare services like follow-up counseling appointments and support group meetings. Participating in aftercare demonstrates to the court that you are committed to remaining free from drug and alcohol use.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Center in Colorado

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol abuse and addiction, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake can help. Located in Colorado, our full-service addiction treatment center provides evidence-based care for those who need to complete rehab in order to reunify their families. We offer a full range of addiction treatment services, including medical detox, inpatient and outpatient rehab and aftercare programming. Contact us today to discuss your situation confidentially with one of our addiction professionals and learn about programs that can work well for your needs.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is drug addiction?” July 13, 2020. Accessed July 17, 2022.

Castillo-Carniglia, Alvaro; Keyes, Katherine; Hasin, Deborah; Cerda, Magdalena. “Psychiatric comorbidities in alcohol use disorder.” The Lancet Psychiatry, December 2019. Accessed July 17, 2022.

Oliveros, Arazais; Kaufman, Joan. “Addressing Substance Abuse Treatment Nee[…]Child Welfare System.” Child Welfare, 2011. Accessed July 17, 2022.

Cornell Law School. “Child Custody.” Accessed July 17, 2022.


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