How does parental substance abuse affect children?

While many parents during a divorce are focused on gaining custody of their children, there are some situations where one parent has to worry about possibly losing custody due to a substance abuse problem. Understanding how having a parent with a substance use disorder affects the children can give you better insight into how the courts interpret what is in the best interests of the child.

In some situations, a parent’s substance abuse problem can mean that the parent is not able to respond to the child’s needs or provide a stable home. This can result in a variety of emotional, developmental and academic problems, ranging from difficulty bonding with the parent to showing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Older children may find themselves forced into more of a parental role if the parent is not able to take care of other children in the household. If the children are left for long periods of time without supervision — a common problem in households with substance use issues — it can create a safety issue and increase the chances of children getting involved in delinquent behaviors.

Divorces can be extremely adversarial, and it’s not uncommon for one parent to accuse the other of having a problem with drugs or alcohol to try to damage the other parent’s standing in the courts. However, if the accusations are true, it can have a dramatic effect on the custody arrangement. If you have a substance abuse problem or have struggled with addiction in the past, it’s crucial to be as honest as possible with your lawyer during your custody dispute so that he has the information he needs to help you choose the best course to protect your relationship with your children.

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway, “Protecting Children in Families Affected by Substance Abuse Disorders,” accessed July 14, 2015

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