Seeking Treatment

Realizing that your child needs help for a substance use disorder can be overwhelming.

Making the decision to get help for your child’s addiction to alcohol or another drug is one of the most important in your life.

It’s helpful to know that when people struggling with a substance use disorder get the proper care and treatment they need, recovery is achievable and can be sustained.

As a chronic health condition, a substance use disorder or addiction requires support and continuity of care, so it’s important to seek help from a skilled professional with expertise in treating youth addiction.

While the hope is that your child will readily and quickly agree to treatment, don’t despair if they say “no” or wants to think about it.

There will inevitably be other opportunities to raise the subject again.

Despite what you may have heard, your child does not need to “hit rock bottom” or “has to want help,” in order to enter treatment.  When they’re ready, kids with substance use disorders can use many ways to ask for help – some are very obvious, but some may be extremely subtle.

If your child expresses even a little willingness to engage with treatment — whether it’s a consultation with a health professional, attending an AA or NA meeting, or going to more intensive youth-centred programs — it may be all the invitation you need to begin the conversation and get them the help they need.

A Message of Hope

First and foremost, it is important to understand that there are many options to help your child if they are demonstrating signs of problematic substance use. By engaging with professionals who know what to look for, and what course of action would be best for your child, you are helping to move your teen along the continuum of wellness.

We understand how difficult it might be to stay positive through this process, but both you and your child need to know there is light at the end of that tunnel. This is a journey – one that you, your child, and your family take together.

Keep listening, keep moving forward and keep up that hope that your child will return to a place of health and overall wellbeing.

Accurate assessments are an important first step in diagnosing substance use disorders as well as any psychiatric conditions.

Assessment of your child – some important facts to know: 

  1. Adolescents develop states of addiction much faster than an adult.
  2. Adolescents turn to alcohol or drugs because of peer pressure to conform to the norms of the group, bullying, etc. while adults develop addictions because of problems in the family relationship, loss of employment, etc.
  3. Emotions which are normal at one age can be abnormal in another.
  4. The incidence rate of concurrent mental illness is much higher in adolescents than in adults.
  5. Gender differences increase dramatically through the adolescent age span.
  6. Screening tools are often used and called assessment instruments.   A comprehensive assessment instrument should be tailored to the needs of adolescents (including histories in personal/social relationships, legal, psychiatric, medical, spiritual, and educational) and provide an introductory treatment plan.  

Each young person’s situation is unique and ideally requires a unique solution.

Addiction and mental health treatment is a provincial responsibility, which is usually assigned to a ministry of health or ministry dealing with child and family services.

Services and their delivery patterns and methods vary from province to province. They can also vary depending on where parents live, as well as their financial abilities, thus we cannot provide “the” perfect treatment services assessment tool. 

Look for a program that is Teen centric – not program centric

Most treatment services in publicly funded organizations are delivered on a group basis. This approach is considered to be efficient because the service numbers are higher than if treatment was delivered on a one-to-one basis. Typically outcomes that are measured include “unique individuals served” or the like; none of which deal with the quality and outputs.

Choose a program with a comprehensive and integrated approach

Program services must address all aspects of the adolescent’s life, including his role in the family, school, juvenile justice, mental and physical health, and the relationship to the community.

Family involvement in the treatment process 

The involvement of the entire family in the treatment has shown to improve results. The results of study after study on the issue of family support during treatment and during the aftercare indicates clearly that the more the family is involved in the treatment of the adolescent the more the parents are putting the family structure to an independent review. It’s important to know that results of that review might indicate that others in the family might also need treatment.  

Treatment matching in a continuum of care model

A continuum of care model in which individuals move to seek the service that they need at that point in time be it:  assessment, detoxification, stabilization, treatment interventions of varying intensity, whether in a residential setting or in a walk-in clinic and aftercare.   The model focuses upon varying degrees of severity within which three interrelationships can exist:

  1. Acuity = a dimension of short duration but of urgent risk or adverse consequences associated with an index of use.
  2. Chronicity = a dimension that looks at the worsening or the enduring of conditions.
  3. Complexity = the degree of co-occurrence of the acute and chronic indices

Look for a program with qualified staff

The field of addiction treatment is prone to attract individuals who have completed treatment programs and who now feel the need to assist others.  The wisdom of an individual as a result of a lived experience mean that the treatment provider is only a few years older than the adolescent,  and any challenges to the authority of the treatment provider might trigger personal/emotional responses as opposed to using his or her training and diffusing situation.

Look for a program that is evidence based

There are a number of practices or interventions in addiction treatment that are considered of questionable results. To benefit from the latest research results and improvements in addiction treatment programming you should ask the treatment provider if they use evidence-based practices. A reliable database for evidence-based interventions has been developed by the National Institute of Health in the US.  

Choosing a Treatment Centre

Depending on where you live, there may be several different options, private or public available to you. What’s important is that you find one that will treat your adolescent as just that, an adolescent.

Whatever decision you make as a parent for your child, it is important to understand that remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical. 

Important questions to ask a Treatment Centre

  1. Do you use a Comprehensive (alcohol, and drug, and mental health disorders) and Semi-structured Assessment process?
  2. Do you monitor, measure, evaluate and report on the services you provide?
  3. Do you necessitate the entire family’s involvement in the treatment process?
  4. Are mental health problems routinely assessed?
  5. Do you use nationally recognized assessment instruments to make a diagnosis?
  6. Are special efforts made to engage and retain youth with a concurrent disorder,  ie., a psychiatric disorder and a substance use disorder, including in aftercare plans?
  7. What are the special efforts that you have made and continue to implement to engage and retain youth with addiction and concurrent disorders?
  8. What kind of assessment does the program conduct of the adolescent’s problems admission during the stay, and after discharge?
  9. What evidence you have that your program is effective?  

Here’s a list of resources to help you find options for treatment:

Best Practices across the Continuum of Care for the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder

Finding Quality Addiction Care in Canada: Drug and Alcohol Treatment Guide.

Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder for Youth 

Compiled with the assistance of Glenn Barnes, MHA, LL B, Consultant, and former President & CEO, Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centres in the city of Ottawa.