What It’s Like to Parent in Recovery
Taking care of a child and treating a substance use disorder puts parents in recovery on double duty
At six months pregnant, I sat on the terrazzo floor of my Miami apartment, packing up the last of my books and trinkets. My parents begged me to leave my boyfriend and drive alone to Boston. He was struggling in his recovery from a substance use disorder and the fallout was intense.
I was conflicted. If he stayed, he had limited health care resources and would be stuck dangerously near his old haunts. If he came with me, our lives would be consumed by the complicated care required to properly treat this chronic, potentially deadly condition. Plus, we were only three months away from becoming parents, a complicated life change in its own right. I decided to take my chances, and together we moved to Massachusetts to start our family, and he began his recovery.
According to a 2017 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) study, 12.3% of American children under age 18 live in homes where at least one parent has a substance use disorder. Due to barriers like lack of health insurance or the availability of programs, only 18% of people with substance use disorders are fortunate enough to get treatment. There are more than 70,000 overdose deaths annually in the United States. Many children are orphaned or affected by untreated substance use disorders. Sesame Street even introduced a new Muppet character, Karli, who lives in foster care because her mother is in treatment for opioid use disorder. To comfort other kids like her, Karli shares her struggles and explores healthy coping techniques for stress with her human friend, Salia, whose parents are also in recovery.
People with substance use disorders often come from long legacies of substance issues. Addiction is a family disease. Many people with substance use disorders have suffered multiple traumas and have a higher number of adverse childhood experiences like abuse and neglect or household challenges like mental illness or divorce. Their risky behavior can lead to additional traumatic events and health issues in adulthood like DUIs, overdoses, losing custody of children, or having a higher risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis C. These can make…