Do You Know How To Deal With Drug Addicted Parents?

Do You Know How To Deal With Drug Addicted Parents?

What is it like, growing up with drug-addicted parents? Do you have an addicted father, an addicted mother, or both?

“My children’s father is an addict,” my patient stated over the phone. She didn’t know what to do about it, so she continued putting up with his erratic behavior, which was scaring the children. What can be done about a parent’s addiction?

Children expect their parents to provide a sense of safety and reliability. They want to be able to count on their parents for the basic necessities of life. Children should be able to play, learn, and live their lives without even thinking about things like housing, food, water, and safety.

Substance addiction is a mental health, or behavioral health, condition. People who struggle with substance use disorders deserve our attention, understanding and protection. Yet children of addicts must also be protected from harm related to drug addicted parents.

We should help them by making a connection and being available when they are ready to ask for our help. Harm reduction methods can help to keep addicted people safe until they are ready to stop substance misuse and take the next step in seeking recovery.

However, when the safety of others, especially children, is in question, we must also take action to protect their safety. Would we allow a drunk pilot to take off with an airliner filled with passengers? Why would we consider allowing children to get in a car or live in a home where their safety is at risk, due to an impaired parent?

What is the first step in handling a drug addicted parent, such as an addicted dad?

If the mother is substance-free, raising children, and there is an addicted father in the home, the mother must choose her course of action based on her unique situation. Is the father abusive or putting the children at risk of harm?

In some cases, the mother may have near complete control of the situation, raising the children, and also handling the addicted father. The mother may be able to help the children understand addiction and why their father is not acting like himself.

Other cases may be more problematic. If a mother fears for her children’s safety, or her own safety, due to the addicted dad, and his substance abuse, she should seek help. Ideally, the mother should arrange for the father’s care as well as protecting the home and her children’s safety.

What can be done about an addicted mom and her drug abuse?

Women are also at risk of becoming addicted to substances, such as opioids, alcohol, or other drugs. While a mother’s top priority is usually the protection of her children, addiction leads to changes in the brain, rearranging a person’s priorities for survival.

It is possible for the priority of continued substance use to take place above the protection of the family. While this seems as if it would be a moral failing on the part of the mother, it is simply a symptom of active addiction.

For example, imagine if a mother worked as a doctor in a busy hospital. What if she becomes infected with tuberculosis from a patient in the hospital while working? The infected mother is now at risk herself from TB, and she will put her family at risk when she goes home.

If this physician mother was unaware of her exposure, she would not be personally at fault for accidentally exposing her family to danger. The risk of infection would simply be a characteristic of the disease itself.

We may view addiction similarly. When a mother is addicted and places her drug use ahead of the safety and care of her children, it is a characteristic of the mental health condition known as addiction. When the risk is identified, action can be taken to protect the children until the condition is brought under control.

How can children be protected from immediate risk from their addicted parents?

In some cases, the addicted parents must be removed from the home to maintain the safety of the children. What if the addicted parent leaves the stove on, a candle lit, or encourages the children to get into the car with them?

When both parents have an addiction problem, there may be the issue of custody. Is there a family member who is able and willing to take temporary custody of a child or children?

When people think of having a person committed to a mental health facility because they are a danger to themselves or others, they think of the Baker Act. “Baker acting” means calling the police, and possibly a doctor, to have the person committed to a psych ward for up to three days, or seventy-two hours.

Is the Baker Act the best course of action for getting help for drug users? According to drug and alcohol attorney, Mark Astor, the Baker Act is not necessarily the best way to get an addicted parent out of the house and into a safe environment.

When an alcoholic dad, an opioid-addicted mother with a substance use disorder, or any type of addicted parent is Baker-Acted, the family loses control of the situation. The state may take control of the person’s mental health care, and the addicted person may lose their freedom long-term due to being Baker-Acted for parental substance abuse.

What is the alternative to Baker-Acting an addicted parent?

Another consideration is that three days is not nearly enough to provide adequate addiction treatment in a facility. When the person comes out, suffering from drug withdrawal and still in active addiction, they are likely to continue using drugs.

Additionally, after forced psych ward admission, the person may be angry and resentful of family members involved in initiating the Baker Act event. Family ties and trust may be broken, making future progress more difficult if the drug problem continues.

Mr. Astor recommends considering the Marchman Act, which is a long-term compulsory addiction treatment law in the State of Florida for helping addicts struggling with active drug addiction. Other states have similar laws to help get a loved one into drug rehab. An addicted parent can be committed to a rehab facility for up to six months.

Six months is typically enough time for the addicted parent to overcome resentments and make significant progress in addiction recovery. It is also enough time for the other parent to work on building safeguards for the family, such as moving to a new location, or changing locks on the doors, if needed.

When a parent becomes addicted, is divorce a necessary consequence?

Substance use often leads to dangerous behavior and behavior that is not acceptable within a marriage. Just because an addiction leads a person to have an affair does not mean that the spouse should have to continue in the marriage.

Sometimes a parent’s addiction leads to divorce, and sometimes it doesn’t. It all depends on the specific situation and the people involved. There are also differences in cultures and religions, where some people have a higher threshold than others for considering divorce.

The young children of an addicted parent do not have to lose a parent just because their parents are divorced. After the addicted father or addicted mother seeks help and enters addiction recovery, the parents may reconcile to the extent of co-parenting successfully.

Two parents living together, married, is not required for the two parents to raise their children together, coordinating the parenting effort. It is, of course, of the utmost importance that parents do not undermine each other in front of their children.

What about addicted parents of adult children?

All parents hope that their children will one day take care of them when they are older and unable to care for themselves. For addicted parents, that day may come sooner than expected.

It is important that an adult with an addicted parent does not enable their parent. I once heard a story from a woman who was pregnant, and in recovery herself, in which she complained about having to go buy a beer for her alcoholic dad.

The story was sad, and I felt terrible that she had to go through that, struggling with her own recovery, and going through pregnancy, and on top of everything, having to deal with an alcohol-addicted father. Yet, my first thought was that she should have refused to buy him a beer.

We are used to treating our parents as authority figures, and also experts in life. When our parents tell us to do something, we may assume that father knows best, or mother knows best.

Yet, when addiction takes over, we must separate our treatment of our parents from the programming of our upbringing. The once-responsible parent’s brain has been hijacked by addiction.

Harm reduction can save the life of an addicted parent.

While we may practice harm reduction with addicted parents, keeping them safe and looking after them until they are ready to accept help, we should not enable them. Buying alcohol for an alcoholic mom or an alcoholic dad is not a good idea.

It is also possible that a parent may be addicted to heroin, fentanyl, or cocaine. Children of an addicted parent should not provide drug money or access to funds to buy more drugs. Providing a home for an addicted parent is a nice idea, unless it puts others in the home in danger.

Every case of an addicted parent is unique and must be addressed specifically to the circumstances. While allowing a heroin addict mom or heroin addict dad to stay at home while they are behaving themselves, a crack mom or crack dad may be more likely to steal and sell items in the house for drug money.

Kicking an addicted mom or addicted dad out on the streets to fend for themselves is not usually the best course of action. This tough love option can put an addict parent at great risk. If possible, adult children should try to ensure that the drug addicted mother or drug addicted father has a safe place to stay.

Is Suboxone substance abuse treatment safe for an addicted parent?

For opioid addicted parents, buprenorphine is the gold standard of care. Buprenorphine is the active, main ingredient in Suboxone Films and Suboxone tablets.

If you have a parent addicted to heroin, fentanyl, or pain pills, consider bringing your opioid addicted mom or opioid addicted dad to a Suboxone doctor for evaluation. There is no shame in starting Suboxone treatment to get off of dangerous opioids.

Suboxone therapy protects an opioid addicted parent from deadly overdoses, as well as from cravings and opioid withdrawal sickness. In fact, opioid addicted parents of young children are often able to return to normal functioning in the home, while on Suboxone treatment.

Parents who quit opioids by starting Suboxone treatment typically describe feeling as if they never had an opioid addiction in the first place. Of course, it is important to follow through and complete at least one year of treatment to give the brain a chance to heal from the opioid addiction.

In addition to taking prescribed Suboxone, the addicted parent must also attend some form of psychotherapy. The purpose of therapy is to address the underlying psychological issues that led them to drug use in the first place.

Also, it is to look for triggers that may increase the risk of relapse, and learn how to live with them. Some triggers can be avoided, such as driving by the drug dealer’s house. Others, may be harder to avoid, but therapy will help with learning to live with pervasive addiction relapse triggers.

Is it possible for an alcoholic mom or alcoholic dad to continue drinking safely?

At first, the thought of a broken home with an alcoholic parent brings up images of a tragic situation. We may imagine the angry, abusive drunk father coming home from the bar, ready to physically abuse his wife and children. Physical child abuse is, of course, criminal and never acceptable.

Or, we may imagine the drunk wife who is passed out on the couch, while her children run around the house, out of control. Parenting while drunk is never a good idea.

However, there is an alcohol addiction treatment tapering protocol, known as pharmacological extinction. Basically, this means that an alcoholic parent can gradually reduce alcohol consumption, with the help of the opioid blocker, naltrexone.

Here is how works. The patient takes a naltrexone tablet one hour before having a drink. Naltrexone helps to reduce cravings and compulsions for alcohol, so the patient does not feel the need to keep drinking. On non-drinking days, the patient does not have to take naltrexone.

This technique of pharmacological extinction with naltrexone is commonly known as The Sinclair Method, or TSM. It is named after the doctor who discovered it, Dr. David Sinclair.

There are different stages in the life-cycle of the addicted parent.

Often, addiction starts early in life, maybe in the teenage years or 20s. An older addicted parent may have had an addiction challenge earlier in life and is now going through a relapse.

Relapse is a part of addiction that can happen to anyone with an addiction. There is no foolproof medical treatment, psychotherapy technique, or spiritual practice that can provide guaranteed, permanent protection against relapse.

However, when the addicted parent is ready to start on the road of recovery, there are many options available in all of these areas, including medication-assisted treatment, therapies, such as CBT and psychoanalysis, and peer support, such as 12-step, Alcoholics Anonymous, and non-12-step groups.

Each individual will discover that they have unique needs that will take time and exploration to discover and work out. In addition to therapies to help the addicted loved one, family therapy, or family counseling, is also an important treatment option to consider.

During the stages of addicted parenthood, when the children are young, many people are concerned about the psychological scars left on the young person, and the possible need for extensive therapy later in life. Yet, the fact is that human beings are resilient, just as the human body and central nervous system are also resilient.

Recovery from the trauma of growing up with a parent’s addiction is possible.

Surprisingly, many people who lived as children in homes with an addicted parent were able to grow out of the emotional trauma caused by their parent’s addiction. While therapy may be useful, it is not always necessary. The effects of substance abuse on children will vary from one family to another, and from one individual to another.

Later in life, when an adult discovers that one of their older parents is struggling with addiction, it is important to offer support and provide harm reduction wherever possible. For example, an opioid addicted mother or opioid addicted father will benefit from having Narcan (naloxone) spray available.

Narcan is used to reverse an opioid overdose, and it is important that anyone who has a loved one who misuses opioids, or takes prescribed opioids, has Narcan nearby in the home. Also, it is important that other people in the home are given basic training on how to use Narcan.

For alcoholic moms and alcoholic dads, an adult child may want to take their parent to the doctor to get a prescription for naltrexone. Even if the alcohol-addicted parent continues to drink, they may be able to get their drinking under control by taking naltrexone before having the first drink of the day.

Fortunately, there are many options to help the addicted mother or addicted father. There are harm reduction options for people when they are in the pre-contemplation stage of not being ready to stop drug or alcohol use. And, there are treatment and support options available for them when they are ready to accept help to reduce or stop their substance use.