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Some parents choose to use incentives or leverage to get their teen or young adult into treatment. An incentive ties treatment to something a loved one wants. For instance, “If you complete treatment and remain abstinent, we will help you with a deposit for a halfway house or apartment.”
Leverage usually involves taking something of value away. For example: “If you don’t go to treatment, we won’t cover any more of your expenses like tuition or rent.” Sometimes leverage takes the form of disclosing substance use to someone of significance including a probation officer, coach or significant other. Choosing to use leverage in this way should be done as a last resort and with caution, as often loved ones will react defiantly, and the situation could get worse. It helps to present any leverage in a loving way and to give your teen or young adult a week or two to think about it before going through with whatever you’ve decided.
A conversation using leverage might begin as follows:
“I continue to be concerned about your substance use and would like you to seek a consultation on how to manage your substance use (or go to counseling, an intensive outpatient program, residential treatment, etc…) I know this is something you’ve been opposed to in the past, but the current situation is difficult for all of us and I’d like you to reconsider. If you choose not to seek treatment, I will not pay for college this upcoming semester (or you will have to find alternate housing, lose privileges for the car, etc…) I’d like you to think about it and let me know what you decide by the end of next week.”
This is in contrast to “I’m sick and tired of your substance use so either go to treatment or you won’t not see a nickel from me for college. What’s it going to be?”
Intervening — that is, stepping in and speaking up — is a vital first step in taking action to address a loved one’s substance use. However, media and pop culture have popularized the notion of an intervention as a scenario in which family and friends gather around a loved one to share the impact of the loved one’s substance misuse, usually followed by an ultimatum: go to treatment or else. The “or else” can include cutting the loved one off financially, asking him or her to leave the home and cutting off all communication unless the loved one agrees to treatment. The success rate of this style of intervention is lower than using other evidence-based approaches like Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT), and claims to the contrary are generally limited to getting someone into treatment, with no measures related to the successful completion of treatment.
If there is a danger to self or others as defined by the courts, civil commitment laws can be invoked to mandate treatment. In the U.S., 38 states have laws that permit civil commitment to inpatient or outpatient substance-abuse treatment programs. An additional eight states have a form of involuntary treatment, such as emergency hospitalization due to substance-related concerns. The commitment process varies from state to state, so it’s important to look into what specifically is required for mandated treatment.
Helping a loved one reach the point of being willing and ready to engage in treatment is an important milestone. Keep in mind there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Getting the right treatment for your child is a process, and navigating the current systems in place requires due diligence and perseverance.