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When a Parent Goes to Rehab, Will They Lose Their Child?

Last Updated: April 22, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

The reality is that if a mother or father is misusing substances, and substance misuse places their children in danger, the state could assume custody of the children for their safety and well-being. If a parent does lose custody, the goal is often for parents to complete addiction treatment and be reunited with their children.

When you have children, they’re probably the first thing on your mind when you’re thinking about getting addiction treatment. On the one hand, you want to be the best parent you can, which means getting help for addiction. On the other hand, you’re worried about leaving them behind to seek treatment. So, can a parent lose custody for drug or alcohol abuse? Learn the answer so you’re better prepared to handle rehab and child custody.

Going to Rehab When You Have Children 

While most parents with addictions understand that they need to get treatment for the sake of their children, fear of losing their children is a major barrier to seeking treatment. The truth is that going away for residential treatment doesn’t mean you’ll lose custody of your children. In fact, you’re more likely to lose custody of children if you fail to seek treatment and continue to misuse drugs or alcohol. 

If you have custody of your children, you have a right to temporarily place them with a relative so that you can seek treatment. In the long run, your children will benefit from you taking time away to go to rehab, because after you complete treatment, they’ll be left with a sober parent. 

How to Prepare for Rehab If You Have Kids

Losing custody due to addiction doesn’t have to be your reality. If you decide to seek treatment to overcome the negative effects of addiction, you will need to do some planning to keep your children safe in your absence.

Consider the following steps for preparing for rehab when you have kids:

  • Make arrangements for your children to stay with a trusted relative while you’re in treatment.
  • Ensure that you have informed your children’s school or daycare providers that they will be staying with a relative temporarily, and make arrangements so that the relative can pick the children up from school.
  • File a consent-to-treat form at your child’s doctor’s office or file for power of attorney to give your relative permission to seek medical care for your children in your absence.
  • Ensure that your child’s temporary caretaker has access to needed materials, such as your child’s health insurance card and any medications your child takes.
  • Have an age-appropriate conversation with your child about what is going to happen. Older children may be able to process the fact that you’re going to rehab, whereas younger children may do better with you telling them that you’re going to the hospital for a bit to get better.

Can You Lose Custody For Going to Rehab?

If you’re misusing drugs or alcohol, and you’re worried about losing your children if you seek treatment, it can be helpful to know that in many cases, CPS and the court system support parents in seeking treatment. Child welfare experts are generally in agreement that parents with addictions should seek comprehensive addiction treatment services, and they also agree that children should be reunited with their parents once they engage in treatment.

What this means is that seeking rehab is actually likely to result in your children being kept in your care. If they’ve already been removed, entering a treatment program increases the chances that they’ll be returned to your care.  Ultimately, failing to seek treatment may result in children being removed, whereas entering rehab increases the chances that your children will stay in your custody.

If you seek treatment before substance misuse begins to significantly interfere with your parenting, CPS may never even become involved, and you’ll be free to place your children with a relative or another appropriate caregiver while you go to rehab, without any oversight from the state. 

Georgia’s Child Custody Laws

Child custody laws can vary from state to state, so it’s important to be aware of the laws in your state. In Georgia, as in many other states, the court considers parental substance use when determining what is in the child’s best interests. This means that if parents are in court for divorce or custody proceedings, a judge may determine that it is not in a child’s best interests to remain in the custody of a parent with an addiction. 

If you become involved in the child welfare system, and substance misuse is placing your child in danger, you may lose custody, at least temporarily, until you can demonstrate that you have sought treatment and that drug and alcohol misuse no longer places your children in danger. Georgia child welfare policies stipulate that child welfare caseworkers should consider parental substance misuse when making decisions pertaining to child safety and custody. 

Best Ways to Regain Custody After Drug Abuse Treatment

When you’ve lost custody because of substance misuse, you can take steps to regain care and custody of your children after completing rehab. For example, if you’re involved with the child welfare system because of drug or alcohol addiction, and children have been removed from your custody, state policy stipulates that a parent may be reunited with their children when they have completed a treatment program and produced negative random drug screenings for at least 12 consecutive months.

To regain custody of your children, you must be prepared to: 

  • Demonstrate that you have successfully completed a treatment program
  • Sign a records release for the court, so they can review documentation from your treatment program
  • Submit to random drug screens and consistently test negative

Simply put, the best ways to regain custody after drug abuse are to complete a treatment program, remain committed to sobriety and comply with any recommendations of the court or the child welfare system. If you can demonstrate to the state that you have recovered from addiction and can safely care for your children, regaining custody is a possibility. In fact, the state prefers to reunite children with their families of origin. 

Finding A Treatment Center Near You

If you’re a parent exploring addiction treatment options, The Recovery Village Atlanta is here to help. We offer a range of treatment options, including medical detoxresidential, and partial hospitalization. Contact us today to learn more or to begin the admissions process. Our Recovery Advocates are happy to answer any questions you have about seeking rehab as a parent and begin the admissions process with you.


Grant, Therese; Graham, Chris. “Child Custody and Mothers with Substance[…]ith Substance

Use Disorder: Unintended Consequences”&g[…] Consequences.” Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute, June 2015. Accessed November 25, 2022.

Justia. “2020 […]sitation.”  Accessed November 25, 2022.

State of Georgia. “Georgia Division of Family and Children […]Policy Manual.” November 2020. Accessed November 25, 2022.