How to Seek Out Addiction Treatment while Caregiving for Children

Dad carrying child

It can be difficult to seek addiction treatment while caregiving for children. Children most effectively function on consistency and may have difficulty understanding why the parent or caregiver needs to be away. Addiction can be defined as a mental illness that can cause chaos, and conflict in the home [1]. The substance of choice can change the personality and behavior of the abuser.

One of the main reasons that individuals delay getting treatment is due to the fact that it is difficult to arrange childcare through a friend, relative, or in conjunction with a facility. Approximately 2.6 million of the 23.5 million people diagnosed with substance abuse problems receive treatment [1]. Many parents fear that their children, will be placed in protective care or foster care if they seek addiction treatment.

Seeking Childcare While in Addiction Treatment

Approximately 14% of addiction treatment facilities provide treatment programs for both mothers and their children [2]. Oftentimes addicted individuals are required to place their children with family or friends while in treatment.

Some parents choose to do treatment on an outpatient basis for addiction so they can care for children. Both men and women do seek treatment for an addiction, but they ways in which both genders enter treatment differs.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, men tend to enter programs due to social institutions, such as the criminal justice system, or employment requests. Women tend to enter treatment due to a referral from a healthcare provider or professional counselor [4].

Women tend to show more specialized care when in treatment over men. These include childcare options, more group sessions, supportive, network-based therapies, and alternative therapies that focus on music, art, and body movement [4].

Women are typically more apt to identify issues and seek out help, compared to men. Some theories around this is that men may refuse to see issues or addiction within himself, or feel that their culture does not allow men to ask for help.

Unique Challenges Women With Addiction Face

Women are more likely than men to deal with childcare issues while seeking addiction treatment. Women who seek treatment, typically only stay in treatment facilities for less than 30 days [4]. Women may feel a need to tend to their families and may drop out of treatment. In a study published by the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, researchers found that women were more likely to be homemakers and living with a spouse who abused drugs and/or alcohol [4].

Mom and childWomen may struggle to seek treatment feeling as if they are going against the behaviors of others. Women who experience drugs tend to have more difficulties than men. Females typically use drugs more than men, and tend to focus on harder drugs than men used [4].

Most of the time, women are smaller than men. Women’s bones are lighter, and typically have smaller muscles, which means women’s bodies are made up of smaller tissues. If those who are smaller take larger doses of a drug, their bodies can be overwhelmed [4]. This can lead to altering brain chemistry that can result in higher compulsive behaviors.

Another study pulished in the Trends in Pharmacological Sciences found that females seem to much more aware of the rewarding properties of drugs, and believe that estrogen might be the enhancer [4]. This suggests that in women, if estrogen allows a female to feel higher levels of pleasure, women might be more likely to develop an addiction as females brains can be flooded with higher signals leading to increased cravings.

Addressing Caregiving Issues

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 12% of American children live with at least one parent or guardian who is dependant on drugs or alcohol, or abused within the previous 12 months [3]. This being said, there are a range of treatments to choose from for parents. Some facilities work with helping parents and offer a range of addiction services.

These could be medical, psychiatric, and assistance with co-occurring disorders [5]. Detoxing is typically done at a hospital or facility and then treatment for the addiction can begin, either outpatient or residential. Inpatient treatment centers can last from 28 days to 12 months, depending on treatment plan and resources. Many inpatient programs use the 12-step program and multimodal therapies.

Another option for treatment is outpatient treatment. This is typically ideal for parents as it allows parents to continue to care for their children while working on recovery. In outpatient therapy individuals will attend classes, group and individual therapy [5]. Sober and transitional living can offer a safe place to recover.

It allows the person to seek treatment, but come and go as needed to work, care for family, or attend treatment meetings. Typically this type of housing is done in conjunction with an outpatient program. Other options are family therapy, individual therapy, and sober supporting activities to aid the parent in recovery from addiction.

Dad and childParents in treatment need additional support to stay in recovery. Counseling, peer support and therapy, psychosocial services such as access to housing, transportation, and occupational training. Some parents may also need physical protection, or legal representation depending on family dynamics and co-morbid issues [3]. The length of time an individual stays in treatment depends on the type of substance abused as well as duration of addiction.

Many rehabilitation centers will focus on the shame and stigma around addiction, especially addiction and parenting [1]. It is imperative that children receive extra support and that temporary caretakers check in with the children and family not in treatment regularly. It is also important for supportive family, friends, and children to visit, call, or write to the parent as often as possible while the addicted parent is in treatment.

In conclusion, it is important to support the entire family when an addicted parent is seeking treatment. Programs that focus on the family, not just the individual helps the family move together in the recovery process.

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Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons, MSW, LCSW, CEDS, is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) who works with individuals and families in the area of eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons works in the metropolitan St. Louis area and has been practicing in the field for 11 years. Libby is also trained in Family Based Therapy (FBT) to work with children-young adults to treat eating disorders. Mrs. Lyons has prior experience working with the United States Air Force, Saint Louis University, Operating Officer of a Private Practice, and currently works with both Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute within their Eating Disorders Program and Fontbonne University



The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 29, 2017.
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About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Addiction Hope in January, 2013, after experiencing years of inquiries for addiction help by visitors to our well regarded sister site, Eating Disorder Hope. Many of the eating disorder sufferers that contact Eating Disorder Hope also had a co-occurring issue of addiction to alcohol, drugs, and process addictions.