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    Need to Get Your Child Help for Substance Use? Start By Getting an Assessment

    If your son or daughter has recently made the decision to seek treatment for their substance use, it’s a huge milestone for both of you — but it can be difficult to know where to start. While you may feel happy and hopeful that your child wants help, the steps to getting there may seem overwhelming, and the treatment options may seem endless. The following information will guide you through the initial steps of getting your child into treatment suited to his or her particular circumstances. The first thing your child will need to get is a substance use assessment.

    While treatment programs for drug or alcohol use are often portrayed as ‘one-size-fits-all,’ this is far from the truth. There are many treatment (or “rehab”) options offering a wide variety of services depending upon who they serve. Therefore, it’s important that your child is assessed comprehensively to ensure that they are referred to the right type of treatment for their situation, their substance of choice, their mental health, their age, their gender, and their goals.

    Ideally, this assessment should be conducted by an Addiction Psychiatrist or an American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) certified professional. A comprehensive assessment includes:

    • An exploration of your child’s past and current substance use
    • Health history and current physical well-being
    • Thinking patterns, emotions and behaviors as well as probing for other mental health issues
    • Readiness and interest in changing their relationship with substances
    • How substance use has created problems or poses the potential for future problems or concerns
    • What recovery looks like for your child with a focus on the environment that could impact any movement toward wellness

    In addition to these topic areas, look for a practitioner who uses “standardized diagnostic testing” as part of the assessment. The results will be used to determine the type of care your son or daughter needs, including the intensity and duration of treatment.

    How do I get a substance use assessment for my child?

    The first step to setting up an assessment for your child is to find a clinic or professional who provides this service. To do this, you can contact your Single State Agency for Substance Abuse Services. Each state has one of these agencies (either standalone or as part of a larger department), and they exist to provide information and support to those with substance use disorders. Your child’s pediatrician or primary care provider, local mental health clinics in your community (especially those what offer intensive outpatient programs for substance use, your insurance company and Psychology Today are other possibilities.

    Once you have found a provider that offers substance use assessments, you will need to contact them to arrange an intake (the first contact with a clinician, at which paperwork and other administrative tasks are completed). Usually, the medical professional will then conduct a brief screening before a full assessment is completed. This screening is used to determine the extent of the problem and if a full assessment is needed. If a full assessment ia warranted, the nature of the problem will be explored in more detail, in addition to a diagnosis, and specific treatment recommendations for addressing the problem.

    Who pays for an assessment?

    Most insurance companies will cover the cost of an assessment, although it’s important to consider your deductible and co-pay when calculating your outlay. If you are worried about the costs of assessment, you should contact your insurance provider to check what coverage they offer. Remember that, under the Parity Act, insurance companies are required to provide policy holders with mental health and substance use treatment equal to that provided for other medical and surgical needs. However, the way in which this works for substance use assessments may vary between insurance providers, insurance plans and clinicians.

    What if I don't have access to getting an assessment?

    Depending on where you live (and many other factors) an assessment from an Addiction Psychiatrist or an ASAM-certified professional may not be available. If this is the case, there are some alternatives. You can look for a licensed mental health or drug abuse counselor with clinical experience working with adolescents and young adults, or a general mental health counselor. Ideally, the person conducting the assessment should have at least a master’s degree in the mental health field (such as a social worker or mental health counselor). Overall, the most important thing is that you work with a professional to assess the situation and figure out the next steps in your child’s care, and not struggle through it alone.

    What is a reassessment?

    Assessment is not just one event, and should be an ongoing process throughout treatment to deal with any changing needs and identify what is and what is not working. This is particularly important if your child has other mental health issues or is struggling with treatment. Also, if your child experiences a relapse, a reassessment should be conducted to identify any underlying and/or unidentified problems that may have contributed to the relapse, and to help clinicians create a new recovery plan to help your child move forward.

    Last Updated

    September 2023