Parents who abuse drugs and alcohol are in deep trouble - unless they're rich and famous.


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, February 24, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at

Take Your Kids with You to Rehab - If You're Rich

News item: Charlie Sheen and wife in drug treatment - kids are with wife in rehab!

I used to have a job taking kids away from their poor parents.

Not exactly - I participated in proceedings where children were taken from their parents. Fresh out of law school, I worked for the New Jersey public defender's office representing indigent parents in family court. In more than half of these cases, they were under the court's supervision due to a substance problem.

If you had a history of substance abuse, or if your family were called into court by the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) for any reason, but substance issues arose - you were doomed. You would never get out from under DYFS's and the court's supervision. Never.

I represented mothers whose kids were taken from them at birth, and who never had the child in their home. I represented mothers who were forced to separate (and eventually divorce) an alcoholic husband. Otherwise, the court required such stringent supervision of the husband's presence in the home, the mother simply could not cope with the added pressure.

I represented a woman whose husband, thus forced from the home, committed suicide.

Of course, you would try to get the parent into treatment. And, very occasionally, after years, a child might be returned to a model woman with a perfect recovery record. By then, their child or children had spent years in a foster home - although the mother would have been visiting them.

When such a case of redemption occurred, the court genuinely congratulated the parent. But the general attitude towards such parents was extremely judgmental and disapproving.

And if both parents were substance abusers - forget it. As a mother, you would have to get divorced, Then go through years of treatment and supervised contact with your children. Fathers in these circumstance would only be allowed brief supervised visits at DYFS's offices (DYFS was chronically stressed and behind schedule, and I doubt the situation has improved).

Which brings me back to the Sheens. Rich, famous people don't have kids taken from them - unless they're in a divorce situation and their rich, powerful spouse petitions the court to monitor, suspend, or eliminate their parental role.

Remember, Cindy McCain was caught falsifying prescriptions for painkillers from her overseas charity while she not only had small children at home - but was adopting another! Since husband John was not interested in making an issue of something that would damage him politically, he was happy to have the matter brushed under the table.

Charlie Sheen and third wife Brooke Mueller are currently both in rehab - she for a drug addiction, while Sheen entered treatment to "prevent" a further eruption of his historical addictive problems. The couple has two young children. According to TMZ , Mueller's rehab facility allows children, and "Brooke's kids are with her right now, along with the nannies and a counselor."

To do otherwise would be heartless!

That Sheen feels that he needs to be in protective custody suggests he is not very confident in his sobriety. According to a friend: "Charlie is just tired and worried about his wife, his court case and his kids. This is a pro-active measure because he knows himself." Sheen's insecurity about staying off drugs or alcohol would be played up mercilessly in the courts in which I practiced.

The court case concerns charges by Mueller that Sheen abused her. Need I say how an indigent court would react to such spousal abuse charges? They would eliminate any shred of a claim that the parents were capable of providing a suitable home.

Unlike the situations I witnessed, Sheen (who stars in the hit TV show, Two And A Half Men) and his wife are being congratulated: "CBS, Warner Bros. Television and Chuck Lorre support Charlie Sheen in his decision today to begin voluntary in-patient care at a treatment center." And they don't seem to be suffering any penalties as parents.

I got some of this information from an entertainment Web site, DimeWars . The post on Sheen entering treatment lists these related articles:

The post ends on a congratulatory note: "Goof (sic) for Charlie Sheen and Brooke, prevention is always better than cure!" (2/24/2010 3:26 AM) (The last sentiment, of course, makes no sense, since Brooke is in treatment, and Charlie is long past prevention.)

Sigh - I guess no one said life was fair - or equal.