How Inpatient Drug Rehab Works for Parents

Tim Sonnet

Medically reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, MFT

July 1, 2019

Article Contents

How Impatient Rehab Works For Parents

Article Contents

When it comes to having substance abuse problems, it is important to remember that there are others in addition to oneself affected by the disease. In fact, the people most often affected by a substance abuse issue are direct family members including spouses and children.

For parents dealing with substance abuse issues, looking into inpatient rehabilitation programs can be not only intimidating but downright scary. Entering into an inpatient rehabilitation program not only means leaving behind what one knows and is used to, but for parents also means separating from their children, at least for a short time. While this can be a frightening thought, it is important to think through all options for childcare and reconciliation after attending a rehabilitation program, as getting help can be the key to saving and maintaining a relationship between parent and child.

Custody Options

Many parents fear what will happen to their children while they are away, attending an inpatient treatment program. Will they lose custody of their child while attending an inpatient drug rehab facility? Who will care for their child?

Because drug addiction is such a serious issue, there is a chance a parent will lose custody of their child while attending rehab, especially in the case of single parents. However, it is important to remember that the Department of Child and Family Services always aims to keep families together if possible and if that is in the best interest of the child.

The reality of the situation is, if a child’s primary caregiver is facing drug addiction, the child is being put at risk. This type of negligence does have the potential to affect custody, especially when the behavior is prolonged. This is why it is vital for parents to seek help for their substance abuse problems sooner rather than later. Reaching out for help and entering into a rehabilitation program has the ability to show any agency or court involved in the child’s custody that the parent is serious about getting better. In addition, this sets a good example for the children involved, as they are able to see that their parent is getting help.

The question of whether a parent will lose custody of their child due to attending inpatient treatment is hard to answer simply. Parents may or may not lose custody of their child when attending inpatient rehabilitation. Or, a parent may lose custody of their child temporarily, but will later have a chance to prove they can responsibly care for their child again.

The Child’s Well Being Comes First

There are certain aspects of a situation that could cause a parent to lose custody of their child. For instance, if a parent is arrested for a substance abuse related issue, they may lose custody. If negligence is reported to the Department of Child and Family Services before help is sought, custody may be lost. Lastly, if the parent is going through a divorce and their ex-spouse accuses them of substance abuse, they may lose custody if the courts find there is evidence to support the claim. To avoid these situations, it is important for parents to seek help as soon as possible when facing substance abuse problems.

When it comes to regaining custody of a child, each situation is unique once more. If regaining custody is a potential for a parent, the court responsible for the ruling will typically direct the parent on what they need to do to prove they are fit. Most often, this includes completing a rehabilitation treatment program, being able to prove recovery has been successful, and most importantly, testing completely clean of any illicit substances. The timeline for regaining custody of a child varies from case to case, including the time taken for treatment, the severity of the addiction, the level of neglect the child suffered, and if an arrest was made in the case.

Before Inpatient Drug Rehab

When a parent is thinking about entering into an inpatient drug rehab facility, it’s important to: find someone to watch their child, and inform their child about what is going on (to whatever extent is appropriate).

Unfortunately, attending inpatient alcohol rehab is a little more difficult for parents of children who are still underage. Very few inpatient alcohol rehab facilities have daycare available for patient’s children, and even if one is present at the rehabilitation center being attended, there is still the question of where the child stays overnight. If possible, children can attend a daycare program during the daylight hours and at night can stay with a friend or family member. Older children, of course, have the option of going to school during the day and then being watched by a friend or family nights and weekends.

If the parent looking into inpatient rehabilitation is not a single parent, their spouse may be able to care for their child while the other parent is attending inpatient treatment. In addition, the courts involved in the case may decide or weigh in on the decision as to where the child will stay while the parent is in rehab.

Many parents are hesitant to enter into an inpatient alcohol rehab center, as they fear they are leaving their child and are a bad parental figure. This is simply untrue. Attending a rehabilitation program proves to everyone involved in the situation that the parent is doing all they can to get better. They understand where things have gone wrong and are determined to try and fix it, even if it means being away from their child for a period of time. In addition, even if attending rehabilitation means parent and child separating for a time, the parent getting help through a rehabilitation program is an effort to ensure they do not need to be separated again in the future.

Once childcare is determined for the duration of the parents stay at an inpatient facility, it is important for the parent to talk to their child or children and explain to them what is going on in a way that is appropriate for their age. Explanations will need to change based on what children are able to understand. Parents need to keep in mind that children are typically more observant than they are given credit for. They are perceptive, especially when it comes to problems within their family unit. While they may not understand that a rehabilitation program is what is necessary for their parents to feel better, it is likely they will have an idea that something is wrong within the home. For very young children, it may not be appropriate to share any details of what is going on. Instead, parents will often tell young children that mommy or daddy is sick and needs to go away for a little while to get better. Reassure children that this is not their fault, and seeing a doctor will help parents get better sooner, so they can come back and spend more time together.

Explaining what is going on to children who are older can be a little trickier, as they are able to understand more, and oftentimes will have picked up on the addiction more so than younger children. At this point, it may be in the parents’ best interest to be honest with their child about their addiction and to explain that rehabilitation is necessary to help them get better and stop abusing drugs or alcohol.

During Inpatient Rehabilitation

After entering into a program, it is important for parents to do all that they can to focus on the program itself and getting better for their children. Inpatient rehabilitation stays typically do not extend past two to three months at most, though there are cases where longer stays are needed.

Shame is a topic that is typically addressed within rehabilitation programs for parents. This is because shame is often felt by parents facing addiction to a greater degree, as they have children who are depending on them and who they are responsible for. Parents will oftentimes feel like they are failing their child by having a substance abuse problem, and guilt over attending rehabilitation and leaving their child is often felt.

During treatment, it is possible that children will not want to see their parent or visit them at the rehabilitation center. It is important that they are not forced to go visit their parents, but if their distress over the situation is significant, therapy and counseling should be sought for the child to address underlying issues. Substance abuse has the potential to affect children greatly, even without the parents’ knowledge. Addressing any concerns about the emotional health of the children involved in the situation can help to mitigate the potential emotional consequences of their parents’ substance abuse problem. Therapists are able to clearly and unbiasedly explain the situation in a way children will understand, and they can help children work through their emotional concerns in a healthy manner.

Family counseling within the rehab program may also be offered, and all family members willing to attend should do so to show support. Older children may be present during these family counseling sessions as they have a better comprehension of what is going on. This helps promote open communication between the parent facing substance abuse problems and their child.

After Inpatient Rehabilitation

Remember, just because an inpatient rehabilitation stay has been completed, does not mean things will just go back to ‘normal.’ Recovery is a process that continues even after leaving the rehabilitation center. Parents should be aware that once leaving rehabilitation they will be once again exposed to a variety of triggers that they experienced before entering rehab. Learning to cope with cravings and triggers can take some time, so parents should try not to rush things in their recovery. Relapses are also an aspect of recovery, so in the event of a relapse it is important to remember the things taught in rehab, and it is important to try again.

The relationship between parent and child is bound to change some after the parent attends rehabilitation. The child may have feelings of confusion, anger and even distrust towards the parent. After leaving rehab, there will be a period of time where children have to process through those emotions with their parent, as well as getting to know their parent again, as they may seem like a completely new person after rehab.

It is wise for both parent and child to continue attending therapy after the parent returns from inpatient rehabilitation. Family counseling may also be a good idea, to promote communication between parent and child.

Older children, of course, have more of an understanding of what is going on and why. This means they can be more involved in their parents’ recovery. This includes both individual and family therapy, attending and participating in support group meetings with their parents, and receiving education on how they can be supportive of their parent during recovery, and how to avoid being an enabling influence on their parent.

Involvement of a child in a parents recovery should never be forced. This can have the opposite effect of the one intended, resulting in parents pushing their children further and further away. Involvement should always be an open door, and there should always be open lines of communication between parent and child throughout the recovery process.

In Conclusion

Attending an inpatient rehabilitation program, whether for drug or alcohol addiction abuse issues, can be frightening as a parent. Not only do parents have to accept the fact that they need time to focus on themselves, but they also have to accept not being their child’s primary caregiver for a period of time. The first obstacle for parents to tackle when thinking about attending an inpatient rehab is finding someone to care for their child while they are away. There are a variety of ways to ensure a child is cared for while their parent is attending rehabilitation. Once custody is determined, parents can complete their rehabilitation stay focusing solely on themselves and their illness. After completing a rehabilitation program, reconciliation between the parent and child may begin. It is important to give this process time, as it may take a while for the child to trust their parent again, but reconciliation and creating a healthy parent-child relationship is much more realistic after the parent has attended rehab and addressed their substance abuse issues.

This page does not provide medical advice.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Tim Sonnet

Medically reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, MFT

July 1, 2019

Questions About Treatment?

Elevate Rehab offers 100% confidential substance abuse assessment and treatment placement tailored to your individual needs. Achieve long-term recovery.

Treatment Resources

Popular treatment programs