• calendar19th Nov 23 11:00 pm
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Divorce And Substance Abuse: Protective Measures For Children

According to a publication through Johns Hopkins Medicine, more than 20 million Americans age 12 or older have a substance abuse problem. People with addictions may spend up to 50 percent of their income on drugs or alcohol, even as much as $1,200 per day, according to Addiction Group. When factoring these numbers in with the other impacts of substance abuse on a marriage, it becomes easier to understand why many marriages to spouses with substance abuse problems end in divorce. However, parents dealing with divorce and substance abuse must also consider how the divorce may affect their children and whether they may also develop a substance abuse problem. If you are considering divorce because of substance abuse or for other reasons, consider contacting an experienced Denver divorce lawyer at the Colorado Divorce Law Group by calling (720) 593-6442 to schedule a free consultation.

What Are Four Things That Influence a Child’s Reaction to Divorce?

There is no such thing as the perfect time for divorce, nor is there a perfect age for a child to be when his or her parents’ divorce. Whether the child is an infant, an adolescent, or an adult, the child will likely feel some impact from the separation. However, the following factors can influence how a child may react when his or her parents are divorced:

  • The amount of conflict between the parents
  • How the parents adjust to the divorce
  • Support the child gets from parents, extended family, and others
  • The child’s personality

The child’s ability to handle stress and the child’s age and developmental level can also influence the child’s reaction to the parents’ divorce. If a couple has multiple children, they should consider that each child may have a different reaction due to personality differences, ability to handle stress, and differences in age and development.

How Does Divorce Impact a Child or Teen’s Use of Alcohol or Drugs?

Divorce and substance abuse have a closer connection than many people are comfortable acknowledging. The National Library of Medicine reports one study of former or current alcohol users between the ages of 18 and 39, which found that nearly 42 percent had parents who divorced during the user’s childhood. The same study also found that the average age of first alcohol use was 14. Another National Library of Medicine study of teenagers found that those whose parents were divorced had a higher rate of substance use by age 13.

Another consideration that many parents may not realize is that teenagers often feel their parents’ impending divorce years before their parents decide to separate. These teenagers often begin using drugs or alcohol as many as two to four years before their parents split. If parents know that their marriage is struggling, they may want to begin talking to their children sooner rather than later to encourage their children to find healthier coping mechanisms.

What Are Three Protective Factors in a Child’s Life That Might Keep Them from Using Drugs?

There are several protective factors, things that parents can do to reduce risk factors, that might keep a child from using drugs or alcohol. Divorce and substance abuse affect the entire family, so knowing how to reduce the risk and what to watch for is important. There are three protective factors that may be more beneficial than others.

Understand How Substance Abuse Starts

People do not just wake up one morning with addictions. Substance abuse often starts small and grows into something much bigger over time. For some, substance abuse begins by using addictive illegal or prescription drugs for recreational purposes. For others, the habit may begin by taking prescription medication for legitimate reasons and gradually beginning to abuse the medication. Some substance abuse problems come from seeking to be intoxicated with every use, leading to more and more use of the substance each time. Some addictions begin because the individual is trying to self-medicate an injury or a mental illness.

The initial use of a substance may simply be experimental or an attempt to fit in with friends who also use the substance. What often happens is that the user discovers that the substance numbs uncomfortable feelings of resentment, anger, frustration, pain, sadness, or shame. Parents can attempt to prevent their children from using drugs or alcohol by giving them other outlets for their feelings, such as talking to a therapist and being involved in positive activities. Parents can also pay careful attention to any prescriptions for their child, such as how often they refill the prescription, how often they take the medication, and the dosage.

Avoid Temptation and Peer Pressure

Peer pressure does not disappear when minors become adults. However, the saying goes that people become most like those they spend the most time with, and that can apply strongly to adolescents who are figuring out who they are. This means that, if a child or teenager is spending time with people who use or abuse substances, the chances that the child or teenager will also use or abuse those same substances increases.

Parents can help prevent this by getting to know their children’s friends and encouraging their children to spend time with people who have healthy habits and do not pressure them to use drugs or alcohol. Encourage healthy relationships with positive influences and limit time spent with those who may make substance use look acceptable. If your spouse has a substance abuse habit that you want to protect your child from, a lawyer from the Colorado Divorce Law Group may be able to help.

Know and Understand the Risk Factors

Parents who divorced because the other parent has or had a substance abuse habit should know and understand the risk factors. Mental illness and addiction issues can both be genetic, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The closer the genetic relationship, such as parents or siblings, the greater the chances of inheriting the mental illness or addiction. When parents acknowledge their child’s risk factors, they can take steps to mitigate them.

Consider Two Additional Protective Factors

While the three factors above may be the most important, to help their children avoid drug and alcohol use or abuse, parents should also consider these two factors:

  • Seek help for mental illness. If parents suspect that their child has a mental illness, they should seek testing and treatment early to prevent the child from self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.
  • Live a well-balanced life: Aside from good nutrition and hydration, a well-balanced life also includes having healthy friendships, engaging in positive after-school activities, and balancing school and part-time jobs with other parts of life so the child will not feel overwhelmed and turn to drugs or alcohol to relieve stress.

How Can I Reduce the Effects of Divorce on My Child?

Regardless of age, children will be affected by their parents’ divorce. There is no way to avoid impacting a child by divorce, but it is possible to reduce those effects and avoid connecting divorce and substance abuse for your children. Consider the following ideas:

  • Avoid negative talk about the other parent. Do not speak negatively about your former spouse to your children or allow others to speak negatively about your former spouse, especially in front of the children.
  • Do not confide in your child. Whether it is frustration over child or spousal support or an issue with visitation, confide in a therapist, counselor, friend, or relative, not your child. No matter how old your child is, your child should not be forced to hear the details of your divorce.
  • Do not make your child choose a parent or take sides. Disagreements are between your former spouse and you. Allow your child to love and spend time with both parents without feeling guilty or pressured to choose one over the other.
  • Take it slow when introducing new partners. When you begin dating again, take your time to get to know someone before introducing a new partner to your child.
  • Care for your own needs. Set a good example for your child by eating well, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and seeing a therapist if you need help dealing with your feelings. This will help you be better able to meet your child’s needs as well.
  • Engage in quality authoritative parenting with household structure and stability. You may be tempted to loosen up the rules or try to be the “fun” parent so your child will want to spend more time with you. However, your child will benefit far more from knowing your expectations and the consequences of not meeting those expectations.
  • Encourage supportive sibling and extended family relationships. The more support your child has from loved ones, the better the child will learn to cope with changes in family structure.
  • Practice cooperative parenting. Unless there is domestic violence or abuse, working together with your former spouse to parent your child will show your child that you are still a family, even if you are no longer married.
  • Do not use your child as a messenger. Use texts or email if you need a neutral method of communicating with your former spouse. Do not rely on your child to pass information back and forth.
  • Do not fight or argue with the other parent in front of your child. Your child likely saw or heard plenty of fighting before your divorce. Show an improved relationship by keeping arguments private.
  • Adhere to established custody and visitation schedules. Give your child security and stability from a routine by following the set custody and visitation schedules as closely as possible.

Contact a Divorce Attorney for Help Today

You may have many reasons to be concerned about divorce and substance abuse, from having a family history of substance abuse to knowing that some kids simply turn to this option under peer pressure or stress. If you are considering divorce from a spouse with a substance abuse problem and have concerns about your child’s potential for turning to substance abuse, consider contacting an experienced divorce attorney with the Colorado Divorce Law Group at (720) 593-6442 to schedule a free consultation. They may be able to help you find local Denver resources to protect your child from some of the negative impacts of divorce.