Fighting for Family: Conquering Addiction and Regaining Custody

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

Table of Contents


For parents struggling with substance abuse, one of the most challenging consequences is the risk of losing custody of their children, a heartbreaking reality of addiction.

Even in the depths of addiction, there is hope for redemption, the opportunity to reclaim oneself, and the ability to be a parent to one’s child.

This article explores a journey that is both heart-wrenching and hopeful, serving as a reminder that it’s never too late to choose recovery and rebuild the precious bonds of family.


The Impact of Addiction on Parenting

Addiction is a multifaceted condition that involves compulsive substance use or behaviors, even in the face of negative consequences.

Stopping an addiction is not solely a matter of willpower.

There are changes in the brain that make it challenging to quit, even when the individual has the desire to do so.

When it infiltrates a family, the impact can be deeply destructive.

Relationships often strain under the weight of broken trust, unfulfilled promises, and erratic behavior.

Addiction can severely compromise a person’s ability to parent and effectively provide a safe environment for their children.

Parents battling addiction often struggle with inconsistency, unpredictable behavior, and impaired judgment, leading to neglect or inability to meet a child’s basic needs.

The focus on acquiring and using the substance may overshadow the attention to children’s emotional, physical, and developmental needs.

Additionally, the home may become unsafe due to drugs, alcohol, or related paraphernalia, and children may be exposed to dangerous situations or individuals.

In severe cases, a parent’s addiction can escalate to emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.

The consequences of such an unstable environment can damage a child’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being, necessitating the involvement of child protection services to ensure their safety.


The following graphs represent information from two data systems – the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) and the Treatment Episode Data Set Admissions (TEDS-A).

Incidence of Identified Parental Alcohol or Drug Abuse as a Reason for Child Removal in the United States, 2019

*This image was taken from National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare


  • Approximately 8.7 million children, aged 17 and under, reside in households where at least one parent struggles with a substance use disorder, as noted by Lipari and Van Horn in 2017.


  • Additionally, Clemans-Cope et al. (2019) estimate that about 623,000 parents are grappling with opioid use disorder who live with their children.


  • In 2019, it was found that substance-use-related concerns were the reason behind nearly 38.9% of cases where children were removed from their homes.



The Legal Process of Losing Custody


Child Protective Services (CPS) and the court system play a critical role in parental addiction cases.

CPS is often the first point of contact when there are concerns about a child’s safety.

They are responsible for investigating reports of abuse or neglect, conducting home visits, and evaluating the overall living conditions.

If CPS determines a child is in immediate danger, they may initiate an emergency removal.

On the other hand, the court system reviews the evidence collected by CPS and hears testimony from involved parties to make a legally binding decision about custody.

The court considers various factors, such as the child’s safety, the severity of the parent’s addiction, and the parent’s willingness and ability to seek treatment.

Throughout this process, both CPS and the court aim to prioritize the child’s best interest, balancing the need for safety with the potential benefits of maintaining familial relationships.



The court uses a range of factors to determine whether a parent’s addiction poses a threat to a child’s well-being.

Primarily, the court looks at evidence of neglect or abuse, which Child Protective Services investigations, police reports, medical records, or witness testimony may substantiate.

This could involve instances where a child’s basic needs for food, shelter, education, or medical care are not met, or when the child is directly exposed to harmful substances.

The court also considers the parent’s past substance abuse, efforts toward recovery, and overall mental and physical well-being.

The child’s age, vulnerability, and the presence or absence of another competent caregiver in the home may also play a part in the court’s decision.

Above all, the court’s main priority is to ensure the safety and best interests of the child.



The process of removing a child from an addicted parent’s custody typically begins with a report or suspicion of child neglect or abuse.

This could come from various sources such as schools, hospitals, neighbors, or other family members.

Once a report is made, Child Protective Services (CPS) or a similar agency investigates the situation.

If they find evidence that the child’s safety is at risk due to the parent’s addiction, they might temporarily place the child with a relative or in foster care.

The case is then brought before a judge, who reviews the evidence and hears arguments from both sides.

If the court determines that the parent’s addiction poses a significant risk to the child’s well-being, they may decide to terminate parental rights temporarily or permanently.

The goal is always to act in the child’s best interest, considering their safety and well-being above all else.


The Emotional Toll of Losing Custody

Losing custody of a child due to addiction can trigger a myriad of emotional reactions in parents.

Feelings of guilt, shame, and regret often dominate as they confront the reality of their addiction and its impact on their children.

They may grapple with deep sorrow from the loss of daily contact and the parental role they once held.

There’s also a significant amount of anxiety and fear about their child’s well-being and the uncertainty of future reunification.

In some cases, the pain of losing custody can exacerbate the addiction as the parent may turn to substances as a coping mechanism for their intense emotions1.

However, this loss can also serve as a powerful catalyst for change, motivating some parents to seek help and start the path toward recovery.



Children who are separated from their parents due to addiction often face significant psychological impacts.

The sudden change in their living situation can evoke confusion, fear, and uncertainty.

Some may blame themselves for their parent’s addiction or the subsequent separation, leading to guilt and low self-esteem.

They might also struggle with feelings of abandonment and a deep sense of loss, even if they understand the reasons for the separation.

The trauma of witnessing a parent’s addiction and the disruption of separation can result in behavioral issues, academic problems, and difficulties in forming healthy relationships.

Longer-term, these children are at a higher risk of developing mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and they may be more likely to struggle with substance abuse themselves in adulthood2.

It is vital that these children receive adequate psychological support to help them navigate these complex emotions and challenges.


Path to Recovery and Seeking Treatment

Finding the path to recovery from addiction starts with an individual acknowledging the existence of a problem and expressing a sincere desire to make a change.

This critical first step can often be the most challenging, as it requires self-awareness and acceptance of the addiction’s consequences.

Once this hurdle is overcome, professional help should be sought immediately.

This assistance may come in various forms, such as detoxification programs, residential or outpatient rehabilitation, counseling, therapy, and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

These programs provide a structured environment where individuals can address the physical and psychological aspects of addiction, learn coping strategies, and develop a recovery plan.

Alongside professional help, making healthy lifestyle changes like regular exercise, nutritious diet, and quality sleep can contribute to recovery.

Finally, mending damaged relationships and building a robust support system are integral for sustained recovery.

It’s important to remember that recovery is not a destination, but a journey filled with its challenges and victories.

With the right support and tools, recovery from addiction is possible.



Addiction treatment is vital not only for the individual struggling with addiction but also for their families, communities, and society at large.

At its core, treatment aims to help individuals stop using substances, avoid relapse, and rebuild their lives in a healthy, productive manner.

It addresses the complex interplay of physical, psychological, and social factors that contribute to addiction, enabling individuals to understand their triggers, develop coping strategies, and heal underlying issues.

Moreover, treatment provides an opportunity to mend damaged relationships and reconnect with loved ones, which is essential for parents striving to regain custody of their children.

It’s also crucial for breaking the cycle of addiction, reducing societal costs related to healthcare, crime, and lost productivity.

Most importantly, effective treatment restores hope, empowering individuals with the skills and resilience they need to reclaim their lives from addiction and move towards a healthier, fulfilling future.



The path to recovery plays a crucial role in improving a parent’s chances of regaining custody.

Courts and Child Protective Services aim to ensure a child’s safety and wellbeing.

When a parent demonstrates substantial progress in recovery, it signals a reduction in the risks associated with addiction, such as neglect or exposure to harmful substances and environments.

Successful completion of a rehabilitation program, continuous sobriety evidenced by drug screenings, and active participation in therapy or support groups showcase the parent’s commitment to change.

By embracing recovery, parents can also improve their mental health, parenting skills, and ability to provide a stable living environment, all of which are key considerations in custody decisions.

Therefore, a consistent, sincere journey toward recovery can greatly bolster a parent’s case for regaining custody.


Legal Steps to Regain Custody in Recovery

Regaining custody after losing it due to addiction often requires a comprehensive plan demonstrating substantial change and commitment to sustained recovery.

The first step is to comply with any court orders or requests made by Child Protective Services.

This often includes enrolling in and completing a substance abuse treatment program.

Regular drug screenings may also be required to provide evidence of sobriety.

Parents may also be asked to participate in parenting classes or therapy to address underlying issues contributing to addiction and to develop healthier parenting strategies.

Ensuring a stable living environment and a consistent income is crucial to demonstrate the capability of meeting a child’s necessities.

Regular, positive visitation (if permitted) can demonstrate a commitment to rebuilding the parent-child relationship.

It’s also beneficial to have a strong support system in place.

Throughout the process, cooperation with social workers, lawyers, and the court is paramount.

Every case is unique, so the path to regaining custody may vary.

However, the ultimate goal is to show consistent, long-term change and the ability to provide a safe, nurturing environment for the child.


Step Description
1. Comply with Court Orders Compliance with all court orders is crucial. This can include attending mandated therapy or counseling sessions, enrolling in and completing a substance abuse program, and any other directives from the court.
2. Regular Drug Screenings Parents may need to participate in regular drug screenings to demonstrate continued sobriety and commitment to recovery.
3. Attend Parenting Classes Completing parenting classes can demonstrate the parent’s dedication to improving their parenting skills and providing their child with a safe, stable environment.
4. Secure Stable Living Conditions Parents must show they can provide their child a stable, safe, and nurturing environment. This includes stable housing and reliable income.
5. Positive Visitation Regular, positive visitation with the child (if permitted) can show the parent’s commitment to maintaining a relationship with their child and their ability to provide appropriate care.
6. Building a Support Network A strong support system, including family, friends, and support groups, can demonstrate the parent’s ability to seek help and maintain their recovery.
7. Cooperation with Authorities Cooperating fully with social workers, attorneys, and the court is crucial throughout the process of regaining custody.


Rebuilding the Parent-Child Relationship

Rebuilding the parent-child relationship after a period of addiction and separation can be a challenging yet rewarding process.

The key is to approach it with patience, understanding, and consistency3.

Start with open and honest communication, acknowledging past mistakes, and expressing a genuine desire to make amends.

This can help to rebuild trust over time.

Establish a regular, reliable routine for visits or communication, providing the child with a sense of security and predictability.

Engage in activities your child enjoys to create positive shared experiences and foster connection.

Therapy can be incredibly beneficial, including individual therapy for the child, family therapy, or both.

A professional can provide guidance and tools to navigate complex emotions and challenges.

Show interest in your child’s life, listen actively, and validate their feelings to make them feel seen and valued.

Lastly, ensure that you are modeling healthy behaviors and emotional management, as children often learn through observing their parents.

Remember, every child’s experience and reaction to this process can vary, so it’s essential to remain sensitive to their needs and pace.


Celebrating Victories and Embracing a New Chapter

Successfully regaining custody after battling addiction is indeed a cause for celebration.

It marks a significant milestone on the journey to recovery, reflecting the parent’s hard work, determination, and resilience.

It symbolizes the restoration of a family, providing a chance for renewed relationships and healing.

However, it’s essential to recognize that this achievement is not the end, but rather another step on the path to recovery and personal growth.

It signifies a renewed commitment to maintaining sobriety, providing a nurturing environment for the child, and continually working on strengthening the parent-child bond.

This triumphant moment serves as a reminder of the individual’s strength, ability to overcome life’s challenges, and the transformative power of love, perseverance, and hope.


Our evidence-based treatment approach at Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, utilizes scientifically validated methods to support and facilitate the recovery process effectively.

If you or a loved one is struggling with Addiction, please get in touch with us for a free and confidential assessment today!



[1] The Impact of Substance Use Disorders on Families and Children: From Theory to Practice

[2] Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population

[3] Repairing Relationships After Substance Use Disorder

Published: 7/14/2023

Contributor: Julie Miller


Let us help you start your journey to recovery.

Get compassionate evidence- based and trauma focused substance abuse treatment in Arizona.

More Resources

Share across social: 


Julie Miller

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Julie is a recovery advocate, with over two years sober. She is a recovery speaker who believes people can change for the better. Her mission is to write factual, helpful information about addiction, treatment, and recovery. She believes that no one should be left in the dark about the process at any stage of their recovery.
lionel estrada lisac clinical director

Clinical Reviewer, Clinical Director

Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach to addiction.

Articles written prior to August 2023 were also clinically reviewed by Karen Williams, LPC 

Related Resources

Get Started Now

Call and speak with one of our caring team members about Addiction help for you or a loved one.