Alcohol use combined with domestic violence: a problem for families July 30, 2014
by Tracy Kiesler

Domestic abuse is a broad term covering many different types of abuse. Verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, spiritual, and financial abuses are all categorized as “domestic abuse” or “domestic violence.” Any of these types of abuse are extremely challenging to live with and survive, much less thrive. Unfortunately a coping skill that one might use to cope is escape through drinking or drug use. When the person doing the escape through drug or alcohol use is a mother it puts the child or children at even further risk of damage from the abusive situation. Children suffer emotionally, behaviorally, psychologically, and socially when living with domestic violence. Gallup has been tracking Americans’ drinking behavior for more than seven decades. One of the major changes they have seen is an increasing percentage of Americans saying alcohol has caused problems in their family. When first asked in 1947, 15% of Americans said alcohol had been a cause of family problems. On July 27th 2014 Gallup posted poll results of 36% percent of Americans reporting alcohol being the cause of family problems.…

Due to states adopting or revising their fetal protection statutes there has been a huge increase of pregnant woman serving jail or prison time due to their drug or alcohol abuse. This means more children are being placed into foster care while their mothers serve time. Unfortunately the chances of finding true recovery from addiction while in prison aren’t very likely. There may be state our county run programs offered while in the facility. These programs offer some structure and education while the mother is incarcerated. However according to Every Silver Lining has a Cloud author Scott Stevens “Corrections is in the corrections business, not the treatment business. They are uniquely unqualified to deliver a meaningful program. The jails that have any success rate with programs at all either farm them out to community based resources or they claim a success based only upon whether an offender re-offends. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. An individual approach with a participant who isn’t coerced into it is not a corrections offering.” He further states “There is little practical reintegration with the community once an inmate leaves. Reintegrating offenders and giving them substance use programs while incarcerated are popular buzz words and sound bites but have little evidence behind them.”

Recently Wisconsin has revised its child abuse law. According to the framers of the new bill the purpose is to “provide a just and humane program of services to children and unborn children and the expectant mothers of those unborn children”. The statute defines “unborn child” as a “human being from the time of fertilization to the time of birth”. In accordance to the statute when a mother “suffers from a habitual lack of self-control” in the use of alcoholic beverages or controlled substances “to a severe degree”, a court may “determine that it is in the best interests of the unborn child for the expectant mother to be ordered to receive treatment, including inpatient treatment.” Treatment may also include medical, psychological, or psychiatric treatment.
This is a step in the right direction for getting addicted mothers the help and support they truly need to recover. The wording of “lack of self-control” covers the fact that many mothers aren’t addicts/alcoholics yet but might be abusing drugs or alcohol. Once a person crosses from abusing to the active disease of addiction a whole new method of recovery is required. “Abusers can quit but don’t want to, Alcoholics want to quit but can’t”. Scott Stevens, Every Silver Lining has a Cloud.

The practical wording and intention of the statute doesn’t address the fact that families are being torn apart by the separation of treatment. The chances of a successful recovery increase with rehabilitation. So while treatment is considered the best option for the addict, it leaves her children feeling abandoned in the foster care system. The numbers of sober living facilities that allow the mothers to have their children with them are surprisingly low. There are only 150 facilities nationwide.

Filmmaker Shelia Ganz explores the dilemma of addicted mothers in her documentary On Life’s Terms: Mothers in Recovery.–2 She follows the story of five mothers trying to recover from addiction in a gender specific residential treatment program. Rachel, 22, who escaped domestic violence; Lisa, 41, served time for selling drugs; Lisa R., 38, is determined to make it after relapsing; Leslie, 31, was doing online prostitution; Julia, 27, became addicted the first time she used methamphetamine. All of these women are driven by the desire to maintain custody of their children. The documentary explores the challenges and stigma addicted mothers face to recover from their addiction, and gain the life skills they need to be successful mothers and keep their families intact.

This community issue is certain to continue to challenge the judicial system, as well as the recovery world. Of the women who are incarcerated today, 66% of them have children under the age 18. Read about Shelia Ganz’s efforts to make a difference in keeping families together at . You can learn more about the difference between treatment vs. mistreatment from Scott Stevens first book What the Early Worm Gets.