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When Addiction is a Problem

The parenting plan will need to address addiction, for the safety of the children.
(3 minutes 36 seconds read time)

Debra Carter
Dr. Carter is a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, Florida Supreme Court Certified Family Law Mediator, and a Parent Coordinator.
As a coParent, it is very important to be on alert for signs of addiction in yourself or the ex. The coParents’ parenting plan will need to address addiction for the safety of the children.
Addiction can take many forms. People can be addicted to alcohol, smoking, drugs, gambling, food, or sex. Some people have addictive personalities; these people can become addicted easily. Some people never overcome addictions, while others can recover and be good parents.
A parent who still uses drugs may need drug testing prior to any parenting time or may need to use a supervised visitation center to see the children. A recently recovered alcoholic may need a referral to both counseling and Alcoholics Anonymous. The coParent may wish to attend Al-Anon or another such support group.
You should know the signs of addiction, not only to recognize a problem with your ex, but also to be alert for problems that may crop up in yourself. Divorce is a stressful time. It is easy to self-medicate with alcohol or prescription drugs, or to feel better by gambling or having sex with multiple partners. Knowing the signs of addiction can help you to reach out for help before it is too late.
Here are some signs of addiction:
• Mood changes or mood swings — happy one moment and depressed the next
• Unexplained (and unintended) weight loss
• Pupils of the eye are larger or smaller than usual
• Sleep schedule is very different than usual — sleeping more, less, or at different times; hard to wake up from sleep
• Runny nose without any other signs of a cold or allergy
• Having more money than usual and then having little or none
• Lying, sneaking out of the house, hanging up the phone quickly when you come near
• Stealing
• Suddenly and urgently needing to leave the house
• Drug paraphernalia — scales, papers, needles, etc.
Be alert for these signs, not only in you and your coParent, but also in your children. Addiction among teenagers is a very real problem. Studies have shown that children whose parents divorce when the children are teenagers are more likely to be involved with drugs.
The problem with addiction is that it is much easier to see it in someone else than in yourself. This is because one of the primary symptoms of addiction is denial. Denial is the voice in your head that says, “I don’t have a problem. I can stop anytime.” This is your first warning bell. Can you really stop anytime? And not start again? Think about that for a while. Denial comes in many different ways. Some are things the addict says to himself, some are things others say.
One may say, “I have to drink (take drugs, gamble, etc.) every day for it to be a problem.” Not true. It’s a problem if it causes problems. Are you late to pick up the children? Forgot to attend the parent-teacher meeting? Slept through the school play? Chronically late to work after the weekend? If these were caused by the addictive behavior, there is a problem.
“My ex drove me to take drugs.” Blaming others is the easy way out. Not my fault; she made me do it. But it’s simply not true. Every person is in charge of his own behavior. If I pay off my ex’s gambling debts, he won’t gamble again. This is called enabling behavior. It enables, or helps, the person continue in the addictive behavior.
“Drinking isn’t a problem if I can keep my job.” The problem is not just keeping a job. The problem is all the things needed to be a good coParent: problem-solving, being on time, being present, and bringing your whole self to your role as a parent.
If you or your children are referred for counseling or a family support group such as Al-Anon, take a deep breath and go. There is scientific evidence that children who attended counseling showed reduced marijuana, alcohol, and other illegal drug use and number of sexual partners during the teen years, compared to teens who did not attend counseling.
Other studies show that teenagers whose mothers attended counseling, even if the teenagers did not go themselves, had fewer symptoms of mental health problems and were less likely to use or abuse alcohol, marijuana, and other illegal drug use.