As a Family Law Professional, you’ll likely work with families struggling with the consequences of a parent’s alcohol use disorder (AUD). About one in four children in the U.S. is exposed to alcohol abuse in their families. That’s more than 28 million children. While pursuing child custody when alcohol is involved, it’s essential to consider what’s best for the children’s health and safety.
One way to promote the best situation for everyone is through remote alcohol monitoring. A comprehensive testing system supports a parent’s recovery while giving the other parent — and judge — proof of sobriety.
Effects of a Parent’s Alcohol Use on Children
Alcohol abuse by a parent can disrupt a child’s normal development. AUD tends to lead to inconsistencies at home. A parent’s behavior can vary wildly depending on whether they have alcohol in their system and how much. Children might witness anger, parental conflict, violence, age-inappropriate content, unemployment, and financial troubles. Children often internalize these problems and feel responsible for the parent’s addiction, which can lead to shame, guilt, and role reversal. All of these issues result in higher rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health consequences.
Children of parents suffering from AUD also face a high risk of abusing alcohol or drugs themselves. There are genetic and environmental risks. Children might have a familiarity with alcohol, which can lend itself to drinking at an early age. Or, the behavioral and emotional issues they develop without coping mechanisms might lead to drug and alcohol use.
Physical Illnesses and Injuries
The consequences are not purely behavioral, though. Children of parents abusing alcohol have higher rates of illnesses, which are believed to be stress-related. These illnesses include asthma, other respiratory issues, gastrointestinal problems, and headaches.
There’s also a clear link between a parent’s AUD and child neglect and abuse. Parents who abuse alcohol might not consistently provide food, a clean home, clean clothing, and school supplies. Long-term neglect can have a physical, behavioral, and emotional impact.
Children can suffer mental and physical injuries because of emotional abuse and physical violence. Parents who are impaired by alcohol have reduced inhibitions and control. They may do or say things to or around the children they normally wouldn’t, including becoming physically aggressive or violent toward the children or other household members.
School can be challenging for children of parents suffering from AUD. At the very least, they may be too tired and preoccupied to concentrate. Their grades can fall. Children of parents who abuse alcohol have higher rates of learning disabilities, repeating grades, truancy, delinquency, expulsion, and dropping out.
Growing up with a parent suffering from alcohol dependence can have long-term emotional consequences for children. Many of these children, even as adults, mistrust others due to a lack of consistency by authority figures. It can be difficult for them to establish healthy personal relationships.
Benefits of Remote Alcohol Monitoring for Families
Parents who share custody when one of them suffers from AUD benefit from finding ways to support the parent’s alcohol recovery, enable healthy parent-child relationships, and keep the children safe. One possible strategy is a remote alcohol monitoring system.
Alcohol monitoring enables children to spend time with both parents instead of allowing the family structure to erode entirely. Because an intoxicated parent can’t safely care for their children, a judge might order supervised parenting time or refuse to grant them any at all. Thankfully, it isn’t necessary to keep children away from the parent in recovery. Instead, a judge can order alcohol monitoring, or a parent can volunteer to use an alcohol testing device to prove they are sober during their parenting time and that there’s no concern for the children’s safety. When a judge can be confident of the children’s emotional and physical well-being with the recovering parent, they can order shared parenting time.
Soberlink is a comprehensive alcohol monitoring system that offers facial recognition, tamper detection, and Advanced Reporting™ for parents struggling with sobriety. Alcohol monitoring agreements help parents create stability and rebuild trust within the family. The parent in recovery might test daily or only during their parenting time, with identity confirmation included with each submission. Depending on how the co-parents structure the monitoring, the other parent can receive test results immediately. They know right away if their children are safe or if they need to intervene.
When a parent agrees to alcohol monitoring, they’re holding themselves accountable. They’re taking a concrete step towards maintaining their recovery for themselves and their children. Both accountability and surety of the children’s safety create peace of mind for everyone involved.
How Alcohol Monitoring Upholds the Best Interests of the Child
Family courts across the U.S. decide parenting time based on the best interests of the child. This includes analyzing the children’s physical health and safety, emotional well-being, and development in each parent’s home. Generally, it’s in a child’s best interests to have relationships with both parents. But a judge’s decision becomes tough when a parent accuses the other of alcohol abuse.
An alcohol testing device gives a family court judge evidence that the parent in recovery is remaining sober. A judge can be sure of the children’s safety. This is a critical first step in winning and keeping parenting time. A recovering parent’s consistent commitment to sobriety can also lead to a more equitable share of parenting time.
Remote testing results also let parents know when it’s necessary to intervene. A parent with positive test results might not be at a stage in their recovery where they can routinely care for the children alone for long periods.
Claudia Black, an expert in addiction, says families dealing with alcohol abuse learn three rules: don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel. Alcohol monitoring can start to repair the damage caused by these rules by getting parents to communicate with their children about AUD in an age-appropriate way. It also can be a step toward family counseling. Therapy is another strategy that parents can use to support the recovering parent, rebuild trust, and improve parent-child relationships.