Can Parental Substance Abuse Impact Child Custody?


According to American Addiction Centers, in 2017, 19.7 million Americans age 12 and older battled with substance use disorder. In the same year, 74 percent of adults who had a substance use disorder struggled with alcohol use disorder and about 38 percent of adults battled with an illicit drug use disorder. What’s more, 1 out of every 8 adults in 2017 struggled with both alcohol and drug use disorders simultaneously.

Looking at the statistics above, it’s safe to say a good percentage of adults struggling with alcohol and drug use disorders are parents. So the question is, will their substance abuse problems come up in family court? Will their drug or alcohol problems be a factor in child custody? In a word, “Yes.” In fact, it is very common for drug or alcohol addiction to be a critical factor when there is a child custody dispute, but the facts must be carefully considered and balanced against parental rights.

Substance Abuse & Parenting

According to, “A parent’s substance use disorder may affect his or her ability to function effectively in a parental role.” The site goes on to explain how ineffective or inconsistent parenting can be due to physical or mental impairments caused by drugs or alcohol, reduced capacity to respond to the child’s needs, difficulty controlling anger and emotions, disruption in the healthy parent and child attachment, spending limited funds on drugs or alcohol instead of food or other necessities, and spending time seeking out drugs or alcohol.

“Family life for children with one or both parents that abuse drugs or alcohol often can be chaotic and unpredictable. Children’s basic needs—including nutrition, supervision, and nurturing—may go unmet, which can result in neglect. These families often experience a number

of other problems—such as mental illness, domestic violence, unemployment, and housing instability—that also affect parenting and contribute to high levels of stress.”

Your Child Custody Case

If your child’s other parent is struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, we encourage you to contact one of our attorneys to discuss how it may play a role in your child custody case. If your child’s safety and welfare are at risk, the judge needs to be made aware of it. Contact our office at (702) 904-9898 to get started.