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Help for mothers in need of addiction treatment


Pam is a single mother of two beautiful little girls, Patty and Penny. Patty is a curious, but affectionate 6-year-old. Penny is a very smart 4-year-old, but prone to temper tantrums. Pam works nights at a convenience store and struggles to make ends meet. She was never much of a drinker and always tried to focus all of her energies on her two daughters.

Feeling tired all of the time was normal for Pam after her second child came along. A co-worker on the night shift had introduced her to some pills a few years ago that helped her stay awake. The pills worked so well that she needed to drink wine after her shift to fall asleep. The pills and the drinking quickly eroded her savings and the bills were piling up. She also began passing out at night, leaving her daughters to put themselves to bed. She went to 12-step meetings, but her children disrupted the group so she stopped. She tried cutting down and quitting on her own, but she could not.

Pam felt trapped and helpless, but getting help seemed out of the question. She had to earn the rent money and look after her girls. She also worried that someone might report her to the authorities if she was honest about her drug and alcohol use or that she might lose custody of her children.

The statistics

Pam’s concerns were valid. Eighty percent of children placed in foster care have parents with substance use disorders. But being placed in foster care does not guarantee a bright future, as a large percentage of those in state custody suffer abuse while in the system. In addition, many are placed in homes out-of-state, resulting in estrangement from their parent(s) and families. Only about half of foster children ultimately reunify with their parent(s).

People with substance use disorders have distorted thinking and decision-making. Pam’s fear of the foster care system prevented her from seeking voluntary treatment, which put her and her daughters at even greater risk of entering the foster care system, a risk that grew the longer Pam stayed in her addictions. Pam’s continued use also placed all of them at risk for accidents, overdose, abuse, neglect, imprisonment and death.

Help is available

Pam also did not realize that she and her girls had options. Public programs exist for mothers with substance use problems, most often at the state and county levels. Programs vary locally, but the following are available in most areas.

  • Detoxification: There are centers that offer inpatient detoxification with child care services, but it is usually advisable for children to stay with a trusted friend or family member for the brief (five- to seven-day) detoxification process.
  • Intensive residential family treatment: Residential treatment programs for families are generally four to 12 months long and are not based on ability to pay.
  • Intensive or partial outpatient family treatment: Many outpatient treatment programs offer child care and the hours accommodate those with full- or part-time employment.
  • Recovery housing: Sober living for single mothers offers temporary structured living environments in which residents share household chores and child care as they ease back into their roles at work. Sober living is optimal for the first six to nine months or so after intensive substance use treatment.
  • 12-step and support meetings: Meetings that cater to recovering parents offer child care so that parents can participate fully in their chosen program of recovery.

For children who do end up in the foster care system, all hope is not lost. Reunification is the goal of these programs, but reaching that goal is only possible for parents who stay clean and sober.

About us

Women who use drugs or drink are often doing so in an effort to ease the pain from past trauma or overwhelming stress. The Sovereign Health Group understands the unique needs of women at our many locations nationwide. Sovereign Health of Arizona uses state-of-the-art treatment strategies to restore and maintain mental health and physical well-being at our women’s Chandler center. To find out more, please call our 24/7 helpline.

Written by Dana Connolly, Ph.D., Sovereign Health Group staff writer

For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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