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Sending your child to substance abuse treatment requires your full emotional support

Every parent or caregiver needs to feel safe and certain when finding the appropriate addiction treatment facility to care for a loved one, particularly their child or adolescent. Here is some expert advice to consider when choosing the appropriate substance abuse program.


Do consult professionals when selecting substance abuse treatment services

Selecting an appropriate treatment agency is a difficult choice for parents. There are many different types of substance abuse treatment. There are residential or inpatient programs that allow your child to live on site while they are participating in treatment. Outpatient services consist of individual and group services that are scheduled regularly. Twelve-step programs like AA or NA are considered recovery support services, not treatment. The first step is for parents to consult experts in the field, such as a child and adolescent therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. Find out what your insurance coverage pays for. It is important to ask about mental health services that also are offered. A great majority of individuals with a substance abuse problem also need treatment for a mental illness. This treatment should occur simultaneously. The appropriate type of treatment and intensity of treatment and whether or not mental health services are scheduled will be determined once your child or adolescent receives a comprehensive assessment

Do participate in the treatment to optimize success

When your child or adolescent enters treatment, ask about the availability of family treatment sessions and family education. Ask the staff how you can best remain involved in the process. If the treatment services are residential, ask for the orientation manual and the timeframe for family visitation. Meet with the business staff and get an understanding of costs associated with care, including continuing care and relapse prevention groups. Make sure to include other family members who your child or adolescent wants involved, not who you think should be involved. Respect choice. Once your child and/or adolescent comes home from a residential program, make sure your home is an environment that supports recovery. As a family you can learn healthy ways to resolve conflict without arguing.

Do be financially prepared

Understand that substance abuse treatment is not free and ensure that you have the means to pay for services through health insurance, a prepaid debit card, personal funds or other financial options. Once you decide to enroll your child in treatment, you should continue services through the end of treatment, based on your child or adolescent’s clinical need. Remember addiction is a medical disease. So, just like treatment for any chronic disease, positive outcomes happen when individuals follow treatment recommendations and family members actively participate until the end of care.

Do realize that once treatment is completed, it’s not the end of the journey

When your youth or adolescent is discharged from treatment, realize that continuing care is important for the recovery of your child. It is important for him/her to engage in support groups and healthy activities that will keep them involved in non-drug/alcohol related. This will involve your participation to support their healthy decisions without making them feel pressured or not trusted.

Do be sympathetic and supportive if there is a relapse

People in recovery sometimes relapse. That doesn’t make them bad, or weak or ungrateful. Addiction is a disease, just like a cancer that is no longer in remission. It is important for you to be supportive and go through the process again of getting them into treatment, supporting them while in treatment, helping them make healthy choices and being there to catch them if they fall.


Do not be unrealistic or impatient

Remember recovery is a lifelong process. Not a task that individuals can memorize once and repeat daily. It involves constant growth and in certain areas regression prior to growth. To learn how to properly communicate and socialize with yourself and with friends and family takes time, practice and support. Teach your child or adolescent how to build nurturing relationships by nurturing- not preaching or judging.

Do not expect huge changes in family relationships in short periods of time

Work daily at rebuilding trust and safe ways to communicate. Find out a good time to talk and stick with your “family date night” where you have one night of the week to enjoy a family dinner or meal to share success and celebrate your new lives together.

Do not set too many goals too suddenly

Before your child or adolescent comes home from residential treatment or completes outpatient treatment set up an appointment to have a family session to build a reentry plan that includes family goals prior to discharge from treatment. Explore, with the help of professionals, what a healthy goal would be for all family members to build toward a healthier relationship collectively.

Do not talk out of both sides of your mouth

Support recovery by demonstrating healthy behaviors as a parent and caregiver. Please remember that all of us learn best when we have an example of what we expect demonstrated to us by our daily practice. In other words, be an example to your child or adolescent and practice what you preach.

Do not hold on to painful memories

Learn how to rebuild healthier relationships by building healthier futures. If you as the parent or caregiver are having a difficult time “letting go,” of painful memories, seek your on counseling sessions or Twelve step programs specifically for parents and caregivers. Try not to rewind those emotional tapes with your child or adolescent. This could end up very harmful and could cause relapse. Try to remember that an individual in new recovery has a very difficult time “forgiving self.” Constant reminders of the times your child or adolescent disappointed you does not help build new beginnings and better relationships.

Jumping cartoon

Perhaps this article can help parents and caregivers feel a little more comfortable when selecting a substance abuse treatment service for your child or teenager, or young adult. Caring for your loved one and helping them build a life in recovery is a partnership that requires healthy parent involvement. This is a journey, so all the support and encouragement you can get is beneficial to making it successful.

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Photo Credits: Father and Teen Daughter Portrait by Flickr: D Sharon Pruitt, Pink Sherbet Photography; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Nancy Hamilton, MPA, CAP, CCJAPPresident and CEO at Operation PAR Inc.

With over 34 years in substance abuse prevention and recovery, Hamilton is an nationally renowned expert in the delivery of trauma informed care and effective family-centered treatment. Teaching families how to build their personal Family S...

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