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Can Parents Lose Child Custody for Drug Use?

Last Updated: July 14, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Parental addiction affects children’s development and well-being, but treatment can help parents recover and strengthen parent-child bonds.

Parental addiction can significantly affect children’s development, which may lead to long-term consequences. In cases involving rehab and child custody, understanding the challenges families face and prioritizing the child’s well-being is critical. Addressing these issues can help families navigate the journey toward recovery.

Article at a Glance

  • Parental addiction can have significant impacts on children’s emotional, cognitive and social development.
  • Factors influencing child custody decisions in cases involving rehab include the severity of the parent’s substance use disorder, the child’s age and preferences, the parent’s ability to provide a stable home and the impact of addiction on the child.
  • Child custody arrangements in rehab situations can include temporary custody, joint custody, supervised visitation and modification of existing custody arrangements.
  • Enrolling in a rehab program can greatly improve a parent’s chances of keeping or regaining custody by demonstrating their commitment to recovery and providing tools and support to maintain sobriety.
  • Addiction treatment can help strengthen parent-child bonds by rebuilding trust, exploring the causes of addiction, developing coping strategies and building a strong support network.

How a Parent’s Addiction Impacts Their Children

Parental addiction can profoundly impact children’s well-being leading to problems with emotional, cognitive and social development.

Emotional Development

When children are exposed to a parent’s substance abuse, it can create emotional instability that negatively impacts their self-esteem, mental health and academic performance. Children may also sometimes experience:

  • Behavioral issues, such as aggression or withdrawn behavior
  • Feeling insecure and unsafe in their homes
  • Neglect 
  • Physical or emotional abuse 
  • Attachment disorders 
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Social Development

Parental addiction can influence children’s social development. Children may experience:

  • Social isolation 
  • Problems forming healthy peer relationships 
  • Difficulty developing essential interpersonal skills such as trust, communication and empathy

Cognitive Development

Long-term exposure to parental addiction can also impact a child’s cognitive development leading to struggles with:

  • Academic performance 
  • Problem-solving 
  • Decision-making

Research has shown that children of parents with addiction issues may also be more likely to develop an addiction themselves.

Factors Influencing Child Custody Decisions in Rehab Cases

The court system considers several factors to determine the child’s best interest in cases involving child custody and rehab. These factors include:

  • The severity of the parent’s substance use disorder: The court will consider the parent’s substance abuse, the duration of the addiction and treatment attempts. If a parent is committed to participating in a reputable rehab program, the court may be more likely to grant them custody or visitation rights. 
  • The child’s age, needs and preferences: Younger children may need more supervision and care, which could be challenging for a parent in rehab. In comparison, older children may prefer to live away from the parent undergoing treatment. The court will prioritize the child’s needs and consider their preferences if they are of an age to express them when making custody decisions. 
  • The parent’s ability to provide a stable and nurturing home: The court considers the living arrangements, financial stability, support system and overall capacity of the parent to maintain a secure and loving environment for their child.
  • The impact of the parent’s addiction on the child: If the child has been exposed to substance abuse, neglect or harm due to the parent’s addiction, it can greatly impact the custody decision. In some cases, the court may require the parent to participate in therapy, parenting classes or other forms of education before custody rights can be granted. 

Types of Child Custody Arrangements in Rehab Situations

Child custody arrangements in rehab situations differ based on each family’s unique circumstances. These arrangements include:

  • Temporary custody: If a parent requires inpatient rehab treatment, temporary custody can be given to the other parent, a grandparent or another trusted family member providing the child with a stable living arrangement until the parent completes rehab.
  • Joint custody: A joint custody arrangement may include the parent in treatment maintaining their legal rights and decision-making abilities for the child but temporarily giving up physical custody.
  • Supervised visitation: Supervised visitation during rehab allows the parent in treatment to maintain regular contact with the child while ensuring their safety. This could include video calls or in-person visits at a neutral location.
  • Modification of existing custody arrangements: In certain situations, the court may revise an existing custody agreement due to the parent’s rehab situation. This could involve changing visitation schedules or the primary custodial parent. The court may also consider terminating parental rights if the parent risks the child’s safety and well-being.

How Rehab Can Impact Parental Custody

A parent struggling with substance abuse or addiction may face significant challenges in keeping or gaining custody. However, enrolling in a rehab program can greatly improve a parent’s chances.

Completing a rehab program can provide a parent struggling with addiction with the necessary tools and support to:

  • Earn the court’s confidence in the parent’s ability to care for their child
  • Regain control over their lives
  • Maintain sobriety
  • Understand the impact of addiction on the family dynamics

After completing rehab, courts may require ongoing proof of sobriety and compliance with treatment recommendations, such as attending counseling sessions or support group meetings. 

How Addiction Treatment Can Help Strengthen Parent-Child Bonds

Addiction affects individuals and their relationships with those who care for them. Often, children may suffer from neglect and emotional or physical abuse due to a parent struggling with addiction. Addiction treatment is pivotal in parents regaining control over their lives and providing their children with a more stable and secure home environment.

Through therapy, counseling and support groups, rehab can help parents in many ways, including:

  • Rebuilding trust and strengthening their relationship with their children
  • Exploring what led to their addiction
  • Learning strategies to cope with cravings and prevent relapse 
  • Developing communication and relationship-building skills
  • Building a strong support network of professionals and people with similar experiences to help parents navigate the challenges of family life after addiction

Evidence-Based Treatment at The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper

The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper is a reputable addiction treatment facility committed to providing comprehensive recovery programs for those seeking help in their battle against addiction. The dedicated staff works with you to navigate child custody issues and collaborate with legal professionals to show your commitment to achieving and maintaining sobriety. 

We provide evidence-based, individualized treatment programs that address the root causes of addiction, including individual and group therapy and family support programs that form a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to start your journey to addiction recovery and strengthen your relationship with your child.


Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.

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Lander L, Howsare J, Byrne M. “The impact of substance use disorders on families and children: from theory to practice.” Soc Work Public Health,  July 27, 2013. Accessed April 19, 2023.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. “Determining the Best Interests of the Child.” 2020. Accessed April 19, 2023.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.