Drug and Alcohol Addiction and Divorce

Many couples have problems with drugs, alcohol, and other addictions that contribute to the breakdown of the marriage.

A Growing Problem. Drug and alcohol addiction is a growing problem throughout the United States. From narcotic arrests, alcohol-related fatalities, to the percentage of dependency and neglect cases that are methamphetamine related, drug and alcohol problems permeates many communities. The national percentages of alcohol-related fatalities was 38% to 41%. Methamphetamine (meth) use is an increasingly critical problem.

If Addiction is Alleged in Family Law Cases. If alcohol or drug addiction is alleged in a family law case, the Parties and the Court have several options. If drug addiction is alleged, a Party may request or the Court may require drug testing to determine whether addiction or use is involved. The typical types of tests are urine analysis (UA), breath analysis (BA), and hair follicle testing. If alcohol addiction is alleged, the Court may order that the individual use a digital alcohol detector, like the Alcohawk™ Alcohol Detector, which is available at Sams Club or Brookstone, etc. at a reasonable cost, $60-80, prior to exchanging the children. The Court may also appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate and make a re4commendation to the Court as to what is in the children’s best interests or require a drug or alcohol evaluation. One caution with any drug or alcohol evaluation is that some tests are more subjective than others (i.e. do you think you have an addiction problem? versus have you ever lost a job because of drug use?).

With any drug testing, it is important to understand what the control procedures are at the drug testing laboratory (i.e. are the tests supervised?) and what types of drugs are being screened for. Most drug testing laboratories have several types of “panel” tests for different drugs. Each drug test has cutoff levels established by the government for screening and confirmation. It is important to inform the drug testing agency of any medications the individual is one since medications may interfere with the test or give false positives. Testing may be able to screen out any prescription drugs or over the counter medications that may interfere with an instant drug screen. However, there are currently very few prescription or over the counter medications that will give a false positive for marijuana, cocaine or PCP.

Urine Analysis (UA). Urine Analysis (UA) is one of the most inexpensive drug tests available. The cost is usually $30-40 and provides “instant” test results. If the UA needs to be confirmed, the turnaround time can be 2-3 days. Depending on the type of drug, a UA can detect use from 2-10 days. Some people believe that taking mega doses of vitamins or drinking lots of water will “flush” out their system. These strategies are not always successful and depend in part on the sensitivity of the test.

Many testing agencies are taking countermeasures to detect cover-up attempts. See See Drug Testing Quarterly’s Adulteration of Urine Specimens. Typical tampering includes flushing, substitution and adulteration of urine samples. If a tester attempts to consume excessive amounts of water to internally dilute the urine, the laboratory may consider the sample invalid due to the dilution of the sample. Substituting clean urine or using prosthetics that dispense smuggled urine have all been attempted by individuals being drug tested. Some people also try adulteration which is the secret addition of a masking substance to the urine. These additives work by either interfering with the laboratory test or by destroying the drugs present in the urine. Drug testing agencies have identified several “red flags” to identify common adulterants. For the drug testing agency, observing the collection of urine, checking urine temperature, and proper testing all help to ensure accurate urine samples.

Breath Analysis (BA). A breath analysis (BA) is also inexpensive, $4-5 per test and provides instant results. Some people try chewing gum or smoking to try to “fool” the BA test. Again, these strategies are not always successful and depend in part on the sensitivity of the test.

Hair Follicle Testing. Hair follicle testing costs approximately $100-120 and the test results take 2-10 days to be returned. Hair follicle testing can detect use for up to 90 days and in some cases up to a year’s worth of drug use. The hair testing cutoff levels will separate a one-time user from a habitual user. However, it may be difficult to distinguish between a habitual user and a one-time user who used recently in large amounts. Continued testing may be needed. Passive exposure or a small one-time use will not likely show up.

Hair follicle testing is not easily prone to adulteration because the test looks at the internal cortex of the hair. If there are concerns about recent use of drugs, a combination of UA and hair follicle testing may be needed because it can take 3-5 days to grow hair that would show very recent drug use.

A typical standard six (6) panel drug test screens for cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamines, opiates, phencyclidine, and marijuana.

If Tests are Positive for Drug/Alcohol Use. The Court may order supervised parenting time or stop parenting time altogether. The individual may be required to show a clean drug test or provide a negative breath analysis before starting parenting time. The Court may also suggest some form of treatment program.

Drug/Alcohol Treatment. Types of treatment may include day treatment, intensive outpatient, intensive residential care, medically managed inpatient care, opioid replacement therapy (like methadone), short-term intensive residential remedial treatment, therapeutic communities, traditional outpatient, and transitional residential care. A traditional outpatient treatment program has licensed counselors seeing clients on a regular basis, usually 9 treatment hours per week. While many people are familiar with what day treatment or traditional outpatient care might look like, there are several types of treatment that are less well known.

Medically managed inpatient care at a hospital includes 24-hour nursing care, physician management and the availability of all other resources of the hospital. Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT) is a treatment for heroin or other opiate addiction that uses a substitute drug to decrease addiction. Most programs use methadone as the substitute drug of choice, but Buprenorphine, LAAM (levo acetyl methadol) and naltrexone are also being used.

Short-term intensive residential remediation treatment assists substance abusers who fail to maintain sobriety while on parole or probation. The program includes both residential (housing) and intensive outpatient treatment.

According to national statistics, women are much more likely than men to be in treatment for ‘hard’ drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, and less likely to be there for alcohol or marijuana abuse. Men most typically are referred to treatment through the criminal justice system, 39% compared to 25% of women. Women initiated treatment themselves or were referred by a family member or friend most frequently (37%).

SOURCE: Adapted from a post at Colorado Family Law Blog