How Do I Get Quality Addiction Treatment for My Son or Daughter Struggling with Drugs or Alcohol?

Whether your concern is that your teen is smoking too much pot on the weekends or if your young adult child has an addiction to heroin, realizing that your son or daughter needs outside help to overcome their substance use issue can be frightening and overwhelming. Chances are you have no idea where to begin, or what “treatment” actually entails.

Fortunately, though there is no one-size-fits-all answer and it may take time and research to determine what type of help is best for your child, we’re here to help you navigate the tactical, financial and emotional steps to take to get your son or daughter making pro-healthy choices and on the road to recovery.

How to Get Quality Addiction Treatment for Your Child

Getting Your Child on Board
What if My Child Doesn’t Want to Get Treatment?
How Much Should I Try to Help? I Don’t Want to be an Enabler.

The Basics of Rehab
What Does “Treatment” Even Mean?
Where Do I Even Begin to Look for Treatment for My Child?
Is There Special Treatment for an Opioid Addiction?

Things to Watch Out For
What If My Insurance or My Child’s Insurance Refuses to Pay for Treatment?
What If I Don’t Have Any Insurance or Can’t Afford to Pay for Treatment?
What Should I Be Wary of When I’m Looking for Treatment?
What Do I Do in the Meantime if My Child Can’t Get Treatment Right Away?

Coping with the Journey
How Do I Deal With All of the Emotion of Searching for Treatment, and Stay Hopeful?
What Happens After My Child Gets Treatment?
What if I Need One-on-One Support to Help My Child Find Addiction Treatment?

Pat A.

"I have heard from countless young people that the reason they got into recovery was because of the connection with a parent who fought for them when they couldn’t figure out how to help themselves."

Pat A., Parent & Clinician

What if My Child Doesn’t Want to Get Treatment?

It can be incredibly frustrating for you to so clearly see that your son or daughter needs to get help for substance use or addiction issues, but he or she denies that there’s a problem. Some people will tell you that your child needs to “hit rock bottom” or “has to want to get help” in order for treatment to even be part of the picture. The truth is, for many individuals, this simply isn’t true.

The key is to listen for “change talk” — any expression of a willingness to alter the course of one’s life in any way. Even if your son or daughter expresses just a little willingness to engage in treatment or be honest about the fact that their substance use is negatively affecting their life, it’s a great opportunity to use open-ended questions and have a conversation about it. The key is to help them connect the dots themselves about how taking positive action to seek treatment for their drug or alcohol issues will produce positive results in their life and future. Some parents use incentives or leverage — to either positively or negatively reinforce taking action — to encourage their son or daughter to seek treatment.

Don’t feel dejected if your loved one expresses hope for change one moment and is ambivalent about it in the next. This is entirely normal, and there will be other chances to raise the subject again and have a conversation about it. Remember, that you’re the most important influence in your child’s life. Small, positive nudges over time can add up to a big impact.

Watch Master Addictions Counselor Mary Ann Badenoch, LPC, share guidance for communicating effectively with your son or daughter >>

It can be scary to see your child using drugs or alcohol but refusing help, and parents may try a range of strategies for getting their son or daughter into treatment. Some arrange interventions, others use their child’s school for support, and others use privileges as leverage. Community Reinforcement and Family Training (or CRAFT) is a scientifically proven method of helping parents engage their child in positive change. Remaining positive, understanding and calm can help you to find out more about the situation and ultimately encourage healthier behaviors.

If you are able to explore what might be motivating your son or daughter’s substance use, it can help you understand their needs and emotions better. This may well also assist you in identifying ways in which to encourage healthier behavior, by tackling the root causes.

How Much Should I Try to Help? I Don’t Want to be an Enabler.

It can be very confusing to want to help your child but also to be told that, in doing so, you are “enabling” their drug-using behavior. It’s helpful reframe this concept in terms of focusing on setting limits, emphasizing healthy and positive changes, and ignoring unwanted behaviors.

It is hard understand why your son or daughter can’t just stop using a drug like heroin when they can see it is causing them so much harm. But opioids in particular create major changes in the brain and change the way those who use them think.

When you think of counseling for mental health or substance use disorders, you may not imagine it to be an entire family affair. However, the way members of a family interact with one another can have a significant impact on the outcome of addiction treatment. This is why family therapy can be an incredibly useful tool in helping your child during and after treatment. It can help family members to recognize unhealthy patterns and set standards of behavior.

The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) has pinpointed four key elements of various family therapy models. These are:

  • Family engagement (ensuring family members are involved and invested in therapy)
  • Relational reframing (interventions that focus on relationships rather than individual problems and solutions)
  • Family behavior change (changing the behavior of family members to improve relationships)
  • Family restructuring (changing the way the family orders itself around certain beliefs, rules or values)

However, even if you don’t have access to family therapy, you can still take important steps to be a valuable resource by engaging in conversation with your teen, and taking a non-judgemental approach.

Keegan gives a personal account of everything his family did to help him during and after his addiction. From navigating the healthcare system, to getting him into an inpatient program, to learning all that they could about substance use, his family were vital to his recovery.

What Does “Treatment” Even Mean?

While TV and film usually portray ‘treatment’ for substance use as a residential rehab facility, this is only one of the substance use treatments available to your child. At its core, addiction treatment must help individuals to stop using substances, sustain their abstinence, and to have a productive family, work and social life.

In addition, The National Institute of Drug Abuse identifies a number of key principles that should form the basis of any treatment program. These are as follows:

  • Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior.
  • No single treatment is right for everyone.
  • People need to have quick access to treatment.
  • Effective treatment addresses all of the patient’s needs, not just his or her drug use.
  • Staying in treatment long enough is critical.
  • Counseling and other behavioral therapies are the most commonly used forms of treatment.
  • Medications are often an important part of treatment, especially when combined with behavioral therapies.
  • Treatment plans must be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.
  • Treatment should address other possible mental disorders.
  • Medically assisted detoxification is only the first stage of treatment.
  • Treatment doesn’t need to be voluntary to be effective.
  • Drug use during treatment must be monitored continuously.
  • Treatment programs should test patients for HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases as well as teach them about steps they can take to reduce their risk of these illnesses.

While there may be no ‘perfect’ treatment available and you may experience waiting lists or financial constraints, there are still a number of steps to consider when first looking into getting your teen help.

When your child needs help for substance use, it can be overwhelming and you may not know where to start. As each person’s experience of addiction is different, it can take a lot of research to work out the best options available to find the right substance use treatment for your son or daughter.

Download the Treatment eBook

Find the details all in one place on what treatment entails, where to find it, how to pay for it and how to support your child through the experience.

Treatment eBook

Firstly, as any one treatment will not work for everyone, you will need to do your research about the different types of substance use disorder treatment available. Of course, depending on where you live, your health insurance and many other factors, your choices may be limited. But start by educating yourself about addiction, getting your teen a substance use assessment and reaching out to your social network.

There are many types of treatment available for substance use disorder, which can be confusing. The standard treatment options available are:

  • Outpatient (no more than nine hours of treatment a week, continuing to live at home, many attending school or work during the day)
  • Intensive outpatient (attending 10-20 hours of treatment a week, continuing to live at home, many attending school or work during the day, a better option for those with other physical or mental illnesses)
  • Day treatment/partial hospitalization (4-8 hours of treatment a day, continuing to live at home, can be useful for those with mental illness)
  • Residential (treatment provided in a residential setting, last from one month to a year, the program normally has stages to progress through)
  • Inpatient (treatment provided in specialty units of hospital or medical clinics, detox and rehabilitation, often used for those with serious medical conditions or mental disorders)
  • Medication-assisted treatment (for those with a physical dependence on heroin and other opioids, medication provided in outpatient program) – see below for more

The standard services these programs offer are:

  • Individual counseling (one-on-one counseling to explore personal problems)
  • Group counseling (usually 6-10 people, a discussion about their experiences with substance use facilitated by a counselor)
  • Home based services (services provided in-home)
  • Educational services (schooling for those of school age, reduces disruption to education)
  • Vocational services (development of aptitudes, job skills, resume and work readiness)
  • Life skills (behavioural methods to help individuals cope with difficult periods in the future)
  • Treatment for mental illness (treatment for any co-occurring mental illness, ideally integrated with substance use treatment)
  • Family services (family involvement in setting expectations for treatment and recovery and facilitating communication)
  • Continuing care (treatment prescribed after a particular program ends)

There are also services aimed to support those in recovery:

  • Recovery or sober house (transitional residences for adults over 18 in recovery, provide structure)
  • Sober dorms (for college students in recovery)
  • Recovery high schools (schools that combine recovery support with standard state-approved schooling)
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) (12-step groups, sharing experiences and providing support to stay sober)

Is There Special Treatment for an Opioid Addiction?

Keep in mind that certain types of treatment might be important for certain types of substances. If your child is struggling with opioid use, medication-assisted treatment may well be a vital element to their recovery. The most well-known of the opioids is heroin, but the term also refers to synthetics like Fentanyl and painkillers, such as Percocet, Vicodin and Oxytocin (which are legal if a doctor has prescribed them to you).

One of the reasons it can be particularly difficult to stop using opioids is that opioid withdrawal symptoms are often very painful. Even once the person has ‘detoxed’ and the drug is no longer in their system, this makes them particularly susceptible to relapse. Therefore, medication-assisted treatment is often used to reduce cravings, and reduce the symptoms of withdrawal and the likelihood of relapse.

Medication-assisted treatment, such as methadone, naltrexone (Vivitrol) and buprenorphine (Suboxone) are used to reduce cravings, and reduce the symptoms of withdrawal. As opioid use and misuse can create changes in the brain that lead to dependence, MAT is often necessary to overcome addiction and maintain recovery.

There are many misconceptions about medication-assisted treatment and some seeking this type of treatment may be told that they are simply substituting one drug for another. However, this is not true and this medication will not create a new addiction if it is used according to a doctor’s instructions. Furthermore, this treatment should include therapy or counseling as part of a comprehensive approach.

Naltrexone (Vivitrol)

  • Usually administered via a monthly shot (although it can be taken in pill form)
  • A person must be opioid-free for 7-14 days prior to getting the first shot
  • This is an opiate blocker, which blocks the euphoric effects of using opioids
  • It is important to complete the full course of treatment, as prematurely stopping could increased risk of an overdose (as tolerance is likely to have been reduced)

Watch Dr. Alicia Murray explain why a person can’t “just stop” using heroin and why Vivitrol can help >>

Buprenorphine (Suboxone, Zubsolv, Subutex, Probuphine)

  • Administered daily as an oral pill, a film place under the tongue, or a six-month implant in the upper arm
  • It is used to reduce withdrawal symptoms during detox and as part of a ongoing plan to manage cravings
  • Taking this medication will result in a degree of dependence on the medication, similar to those for acid reflux or insulin
  • Abruptly stopping the medication, therefore, can result in withdrawal and slow tapering off is recommended


  • Administered daily in a pill, wafer or liquid form, usually at a clinic (although some states allow clients to take the medication home after a certain period of time)
  • It is used to prevent the frequent highs and lows associated with drug-seeking behaviors
  • 12 months is considered the minimum treatment time for those on methadone, although some may take this medication for the rest of their lives

Unfortunately, despite being widely endorsed by experts, some treatment facilities, sober living homes or jails will not offer or allow medication-assisted treatment. There is no easy answer for this, but you can continue to look for programs that support your child’s treatment plan and your support and encouragement are essential to your son or daughter’s recovery.

Download the Medication-Assisted Treatment eBook

When it comes to opioid addiction treatment, medication-assisted treatment is the gold standard. Learn about your child’s options, the pros and cons and how to best support your child through treatment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment eBook

Where Do I Even Begin to Look for Treatment for My Child?

Once you have done your research on the type of treatment your loved one needs, the next step is to find a treatment provider. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) maintains the most comprehensive database of treatment providers across the country and has a variety of filtering options, such as type of care, payment options, languages spoken etc. There is also a helpful video tutorial that helps you to use this powerful, but sometimes overwhelming, resource.

Remember, it’s important that you contact the provider to ensure that you find the best treatment fit for your child and your family. You may also find it useful to work with a certified addictions professional at this stage, to assist you in sorting through the options.

Use this step-by-step visual guide to help you sort through the information overload and make positive choices about treatment and recovery for your child >>

What If My Insurance or My Child’s Insurance Refuses to Pay for Treatment?

Navigating the insurance system can be incredibly confusing, especially given the specialized terms often used by providers.

We know how difficult it can be to navigate the insurance system, especially when you are seeking treatment for substance use disorder. To assist you, we have compiled some key questions to ask your insurance provider when you first contact them about coverage for your child’s addiction treatment:

Does my plan cover mental health and/or substance use disorder (SUD) benefits? And how do I find out for my specific plan?
Many plans do include mental health (MH) and substance use disorder (SUD) benefits. If this is the case, the 2008 Parity Act applies.

What benefits do you cover (including treatment settings and medications)?
The first step in finding treatment for your loved one is for them to get a substance use assessment from a medical professional. This will determine the level of care most appropriate for them. Ideally, your insurance will cover all levels of treatment but, if that is not the case, talk to your child’s medical provider about the level of care covered by your plan that is most appropriate for them. If your son or daughter is using opioids, you should also asked about coverage for medication-assisted treatment.

What documentation do I need to provide and what should I keep a list of for reimbursements?
It is important to keep track of all of your communication with your insurance company, including the name of the person spoken to, the dates and summaries of telephone calls and all notices, letters authorizing care, denial letters, explanations of benefits, emails and bills.

What is my deductible and how do any payments I make for addiction treatment, in-network and out of pocket, apply toward that deductible?
Many plans have a deductible (meaning the amount you must pay before a health plan will cover health services). You may have separate deductibles for in-network and out-of-network benefits, but the Parity Act prohibits the use of separate deductibles for medical benefits and mental health/substance use disorder benefits.

There are many common concerns that parents have when they are first navigating coverage for substance use disorder — here are some helpful answers to frequent questions:

What if my insurance company says that my son or daughter’s addiction treatment is “not medically necessary”?
If this happens, as you insurance company to provide the standards used to make their decision. Be sure appeal, specifically stating that you believe the provider is violating federal parity law.

How can I make sure that my child receives quality treatment?
There are certain features you should look for in treatment programs, and also several red flags. There are also questions you can ask before enrolling your child in addiction treatment to ensure it’s the quality treatment they deserve.

Documenting communication with your insurance company is a vital aspect of getting your child the treatment they need. If you need to appeal a rejected claim or go through mediation or litigation, it is essential to have evidence. In addition, as there are deadlines for filing appeals and lawsuits, these documents are useful for dating correspondence. You should also call your insurance company and ask them to provide a copy of your plan or policy, as well as a full record of your claims.

If you call your insurance provider, make sure to note the names of everyone you spoke to, and the dates and times you spoke. Record as many nuances and details of the conversation you can and, where possible, request a confirmation email to maintain a paper trail. If the insurance provider representative says something technical or something you do not understand, you should ask them to explain definitions or details. You should also keep every email, medical bill, payment receipt, and explanation of benefits you receive from the company.

It can be frustrating and scary if your insurance provider denies coverage for your son or daughter’s substance use disorder treatment. Unfortunately, however, many companies automatically deny coverage for addiction treatment and an appeal may be necessary. While this prospect can be daunting, it often pays off; the US Government Accountability Office found that 39% to 59% of internal appeals were reversed in favor of the consumer.

Remember, if you’re denied, you have the right to file an insurance appeal. Every insurance policy holder, or dependent of the insured, can ask for reconsideration if a claim is rejected. However, this process will vary, depending on the type of insurance you hold and the state you live in, so you should contact your insurance company to find out how their appeals process works. Before filing an appeal, the medical professional treating your child has the right to talk directly to the insurance medical director that made the rejected the claim (often called a ‘peer-to-peer’ conversation). Make sure that the physician has had this opportunity and that this contact is documented (as all communication with the insurance provider should be). Remember, an substance use disorder treatment recommendation from your child’s physician is essential to filing an appeal.

In the meantime, if possible, parents need to to make sure that their child is getting the treatment they need. Sometimes, mental health or addiction professionals will work with families to provide a discounted payment plan. Otherwise, be persistent and put pressure on your insurance provide; you are your child’s best advocate.

When your claim is denied, it is important that you file a complaint in addition to your appeal. The more complaints made by policyholders, the more pressure there is for regulators and elected officials to help enforce the law, and ensure that insurance companies cover mental health and substance use disorder treatment at an equal level to which they cover medical and surgical care.

What If I Don’t Have Any Insurance or Can’t Afford to Pay for Treatment?

When your child needs help for a substance use disorder, the last thing you should be worrying about is not having the insurance or money to get them treatment. However, while it might take some patience and persistence, it is possible to find affordable substance use disorder treatment. Here are six steps you can take:

Research Your Options
The first thing you need to do is to determine the type of treatment your child needs. Then you can start to search for providers that offer affordable programs. You can research this using the following resources:

Use the National Database
Use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national treatment locator. Here, you can filter for providers that offer payment assistance or treatment on a sliding scale.

Research State Programs
Most states, cities and even counties offer treatment centers that are free-of-charge. SAMHSA maintains a Directory of Single State Agencies for substance use services that makes it easier for you to determine who to contact.

Look into Programs Offered by Religious Groups
There are many faith-based drug and alcohol treatment programs, such as The Salvation Army, Goodwill, YMCA, Catholic Charities and many others. These are offered in most communities and are almost always free.

Look into Rehab Scholarships
Rehab scholarships are third-party organizations that offer funding for those seeking help from free residential centers. They focus on delivering treatment funding to those without medical insurance, those unable to pay for rehab out-of-pocket and those who do not qualify for a loan. There are many organizations that provide this service, from Second Chance to SAMHSA.

Lastly, it is important to stay wary about predatory and unethical organizations that put profit before their patient’s well-being. Read up on advice about how to identify and stay away from these programs.

Call, Call, Call
Try to make time every day to make phone calls to the affordable treatment centers you have identified. Ask as soon as you can whether a scholarship exists and, if you have insurance, let the facility know what it covers, as there may be reduced payment plans available. Also as whether they can assist you in accessing state, country or city programs that may help with the financial burden of treatment. Remember that the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act mandates insurance companies to treat mental health and substance use care in the same way as all other medical and surgical treatments.

Seek Help From a Counselor
If you are having difficulty find affordable or available treatment, seek out recommendations from local substance use counselors. To find licensed counselors, you can visit Psychology Today to enter your zip code and filter for professionals specializing in addiction and substance misuse.

Seek Help From Others
Encourage your son or daughter to attend a few different meetings for those in recovery, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or SMART Recovery. These are free and you may be able to find out more about treatment options from those familiar with local facilities. Just understand that even if someone in recovery suggests a treatment facility, it might not be the best one for your child in particular. Use these suggestions as starting points.

Get Creative With Funding
Although it can be difficult to talk about addiction, almost everyone knows someone who has struggled with or been affected by substance use disorder. Try opening up to your social network and consider using websites like GoFundMe, IndieGoGo and CrowdRise to crowdfund the money you need. There are also financial institutions like Prosper Healthcare Lending and My Treatment Lender which offer those seeking substance use treatment affordable loan packages.

Get Support For Yourself
While it can be difficult to think of yourself when you are trying to get your child treatment, it is important that you look after your own health and wellbeing. This will put you in the best position to help your son or daughter. Reach out to support groups in your area through Support Group Project or SAMHSA. Alternatively you could chat to others in a similar position on the Substance Abuse Forum, In the Rooms, or by attending online AA meetings. You can also enroll in peer-to-peer Parent Coaching for those caring for children affected by substance use disorder.

What Should I Be Wary of When I’m Looking for Treatment?

There is currently an opioid epidemic that unfortunately has become a lucrative opportunity for various unethical people and organizations to prey upon vulnerable families. At this point, large organizations and venture capitalist companies have also become involved, often putting profits ahead of patients. Some parents have children who have become victims of the ‘patient brokering’ system, a network of kickback schemes in which brokers receive compensation for referring patients to specific treatment facilities — often those who do not provide quality treatment at all.

Learning how to navigate the treatment system can be a difficult process. However, if you do your research, ask for help, network, and ask the right questions, you can be your child’s best advocate.

There are a number of features you should look for in an addiction treatment program:

  • They should have easily-identifiable contact information and a real physical address
  • Their website does not just feature stock photography, but also real-life images of the center and staff
  • They are accredited (this does not automatically mean that they are a quality treatment center, but it is a good sign)
  • They have a full-time staff with addiction counseling credentials
  • They understand, and are qualified to handle, other mental health issues your son or daughter may have
  • The program is gender- and age-appropriate
  • They treat detox medically, meaning that alcohol and benzodiazepine detoxes have medical supervision
  • They practice evidence-based treatments, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) and others
  • They readily provide their day-to-day schedule and can show you a program calendar
  • They include family as part of the process
  • They have a clear step-down or discharge process
  • They are clear and up front about costs, with no hidden costs or surprises
  • They have a no-referral-‘kick-back’ policy, meaning that they won’t pay kickbacks to recruiters for referrals

It is also important to keep in mind the things that you don’t want to see in a treatment program. Here are some red flags for you to look out for:

  • There is no physical address listed, and their website makes it difficult to contact someone at the facility
  • They use lots of stock photography, rather than photos of the actual facility
  • Their only staff are people in recovery (While those who have gone through recovery can be a valuable resource, these should not be the only staff members)
  • They have a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment
  • They overemphasize the environment or the amenities of the facility and spend much less time talking about their clinical services
  • They don’t have a thorough day-to-day schedule of activities or won’t let you see one
  • They don’t have many options for family involvement (If they only offer one-off calls or visitation, it is not likely to be a good program)
  • They’re not clear on the step-down or discharge process
  • Their policy is to discharge your child without any supports if he or she relapses while at their facility (Programs do need to take use of substances during treatment seriously; however, just kicking a participant can be dangerous)
  • They are murky on the costs (There should be no unexpected costs due to urine tests, food or recreational activities)
  • They offer to find you health insurance or waive deductibles
  • They offer to pay for flights and hotels to get your child to treatment (In most cases, this is against the law)
  • They offer to pay for free recovery housing
  • They talk about ‘curing’ your child, especially in a short amount of time (As nice as it sounds, claims of instantaneous recovery are not realistic — addiction is chronic illness that is managed rather than ‘cured’)
  • They claim that they have ‘high success rates’ (Relapse is extremely common and reports of ‘success rates’ are not that meaningful on their own)

It is heartbreaking that parents and families are put in this position, but to help find your child quality treatment, you need to be an informed and educated consumer. Remember to be wary of simply searching online for treatment, and use the above tips to ensure that your son or daughter get the help they deserve.

What Do I Do in the Meantime if My Child Can’t Get Treatment Right Away?

Sometimes there are waitlists to get your child into the type of treatment that’s ideal for him or her. It can be incredibly frustrating when that happens, but it’s important to keep your son or daughter engaged and motivated to receive treatment. In the meantime, there are things that you can do to help reduce harm and prevent your child from overdosing.

An overdose happens when a toxic amount of a drug is taken, depressing the central nervous system and causing breathing to slow or stop. If your child has been drug-free for a period of time, their tolerance is likely to have lowered. This means that they are at a higher risk of overdose, as doses they may have taken regularly before could now be fatal. This may happen if a person detoxes without accompanying treatment, has recently been incarcerated, abruptly stops taking certain medications that aid recovery or has a relapse after a significant amount of time abstinent.

Get Information About Opioids in One Place

Have all of your opioid-related knowledge in one place, including how to reverse an overdose using naloxone and how to support your son or daughter who is struggling with using heroin or other opioids.

Heroin, Fentanyl and Other Opioids eBook

When your son or daughter relapses or overdoses, families feel fear, anger and sadness. However, as overdoses often occur when things seem to be going well, they may also feel confused. There are a number of reasons a relapse or an overdose can happen, but there are also ways to respond positively.

There are a number of reasons that someone may relapse. They may believe that they have gained greater control over their substance use, may not be able to cope with stress, pain or seeing triggers associated with former use. Some also intentional overdose to end their life. The person is at a bigger risk if they are using alone, mixing drugs and alcohol, are ill, or don’t know what has been mixed into the drugs they are consuming.

Medication-assisted treatment could be especially useful, as methadone and buprenorphine can reduce the risk of overdose. There are steps you can take to reduce the risk of fatal consequences while your child is using. Sometimes harm reduction can be very difficult to consider, but you should try to keep in mind long-term recovery goals and keeping your child alive and as well as possible in the meantime.

Above all else, when opioids are in use, you and everyone close to your child should have emergency naloxone (Narcan) on hand. Emergency protocol of any suspected overdose should always be to call 911. However, if someone has overdosed on opioids, administering naloxone can reverse an overdose. You should learn how to use naloxone, read about what an overdose is, understand why they happen, and be able to recognize the signs of an overdose. Remember, they can happen from 20 minutes to 2 hours after drug use.

Symptoms of an opioid overdose include:

  • Clammy, pale skin
  • Blue lips and fingertips
  • Unresponsive to their name or a firm rub against the sternum with your knuckles
  • Slow or erratic breathing or no breathing at all
  • Deep snoring or a gurgling sound (what would be described as a “death rattle”)
  • Slow or no heartbeat

If you think your loved one has overdosed, follow these steps:

  • Call 911 (if you have to leave them to do this, put them in the recovery position).
  • Administer naloxone (known by the brand-name Narcan). Note, naloxone is only effective for an opioid overdose. However, it is not known to cause any harm in the case of overdose from any other substance, so err on the side of caution and administer it.
  • Conduct rescue breathing. If the person has labored breathing or is not breathing at all, tilt the head back, pinch the nose closed and give one slow breath every 5 seconds until the person starts breathing on their own.
  • Comfort and support. Once the person is breathing on their own, place them in the recovery position. Comfort them, as they may be confused, upset or going through withdrawal. Do not allow them to use drugs.
  • Once they have been stabilized, this could be an opportunity to suggest treatment.

For those administering drugs via injection, the use of clean needles is important to reduce the risk of HIV, Hepatitis and injection site infections. Mixing drugs and using alone should also be avoided. Seeking help to cope with the trauma of an overdose can be very important, especially if you witnessed an overdose or stepped in to provide emergency assistance. Try to find counseling or a support group to go to, where you can talk about, and work through, your negative emotions.

Educate your son or daughter about the risks of overdosing once they have been abstinent
If your child has not been using opioids or other substances for any period of time, they are at risk of overdose. When someone is abstinent, their tolerance decreases, meaning that what used to be a regular dose for them could now be fatal. Ensure your son or daughter knows this.

Remind them of the dangers of combining opioids with other substances
Using opioids in combination with stimulants (e.g. cocaine, meth) and depressants (i.e. benzodiazepines, alcohol, sleep medications) puts them at greater risk of an overdose. Ensure that your child knows.

Emphasize how dangerous Fentanyl is
Make sure your child knows about Fentanyl, a drug that is 50-100 times more potent than heroin. It is often mixed in with heroin and pressed into what is perceived as prescription pain pills, and can be deadly.

If your child is injecting opioids via IV, educate them on IV safety
It’s important to have access to clean needles if your son or daughter is injecting heroin or other opioids intravenously, as well as to understand the additional risks posed by this method of using substances.

Watch this video series on how to help your son or daughter minimize the risks of IV drug use >>

Encourage your child not to use opioids alone
If your child is using and does experience an overdose, it is important that they are with people who understand what to do. Encourage them to surround themselves with people who understand the basic medical and legal principles surrounding overdose, including Good Samaritan laws.

How Do I Deal With All of the Emotion of Searching for Treatment, and Stay Hopeful?

You have probably heard a mountain of advice, tips and techniques for communicating with your child. However, you may not have heard specifically about CRAFT.

Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) is a different approach to communication which is scientifically proven to help parents change their child’s substance use. It provides parents with tools to alter the way in which they interact with their child to influence their substance use behavior.

The key principles of CRAFT are:

Behaviors Make Sense
Drug use doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Family members are encouraged to try to compassionately understand what drives their loved one’s substance use, given that in doing so it should become more clear what will help motivate them to cut back on their use or stop.

Active Listening
When a loved one is using substances, it is common to see lecturing, blaming, criticizing, shouting, silent treatment, defensiveness and denial. Active listening, instead, offers a communication tool to help conversations be more productive.

Positive Reinforcement
In a distressing situation, it is understandable to focus on all the things going wrong. However, praising and rewarding healthy, productive behavior, no matter how small, is proven to motivate change.

Natural Consequences
It is normal to want to protect your child from the implications of their substance use. However, it can be extremely helpful for your son or daughter to learn from experiencing these consequences and allowing real-life situations provide boundaries.

Dealing with your child’s substance use can be overwhelming and parents often end up neglecting their own needs. However, it is important to take care of yourself. While self-care might seem indulgent in such a distressing situation, it is not. In fact, it has been shown that self-care encourages positive emotions, helping you to feel happier, more hopeful and more effective at what you do. It can also make you more resilient.

CRAFT can be an incredibly useful set of tools to keep a steady head during the turmoil of trying to find treatment for your child struggling with addiction. But all of the negative emotions that come with this situation, whether they run through your mind constantly or come in bursts, can get in the way of your family, work and social life and some even experience physical symptoms of stress and anxiety, such as stomach aches and upsets, migraines, and insomnia.

However, there are some techniques you can use to help disrupt and calm these negative cycles of thoughts and emotions. Try the following tips:

Don’t try to stop negative thoughts.
Telling yourself to stop thinking about something only makes it harder not to think about it! Getting angry at yourself will only make you feel more negative.

Name the emotion you’re feeling.
Instead of trying to force yourself to stop thinking about your negative thoughts or feelings, try to acknowledge and accept them. Identifying the emotion in itself can often help to alleviate its symptoms and can help you work through your fears.

Ask what caused the feeling.
Our interpretation and perception about certain situations or events have a huge impact on how feel feel about them emotionally. By trying to identify and appreciate the positives in a situation, you can alter your feelings and emotions.

Challenge unhelpful thinking.
Question the thoughts you are having. You can question the content of the thought, how you’re interpreting it or whether it is relevant at the present time.

If you feel overwhelmed take a deep breath, and then another. Practicing controlled breathing can help you to lower stress and anxiety and think more clearly.

It also can be helpful to read Stories of Hope, which document the experiences of those in recovery, their friends, their parents and other family members.

Watch Master Addictions Counselor Mary Ann Badenoch address the exhaustion of feeling like you’ve tried everything to help your child >>

What Happens After My Child Gets Treatment?

It is understandable that you want your child to be ‘cured’ once they have gone through treatment. However, addiction is a chronic disease, and recovery may well involve relapse and ongoing management. Just like practicing any skill, he says, you usually don’t do it perfectly first time. Just like falling down is part of learning how to ride a bike, relapse is a part of recovery. It’s important to learn about continuing care after your child returns from treatment, so that you’re equipped with the information needed to guide your child through the next steps in their recovery.

What if I Need One-on-One Support to Help My Child Find Addiction Treatment?

If you have any questions or need emotional support, assistance developing a safety plan or tips for communicating with your son or daughter, get in touch with our Parent Helpline via phone, text, or email.

You can also sign up for Help & Hope by Text to receive supportive text messages if your child is struggling with opioids.

Other Resources to Help Your Child Find Treatment for Substance Use

Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator
To find treatment for your son or daughter, you can search the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) treatment services locator. Just put in your zip code and use the various filters to find medical professionals near you.

Buprenorphine Treatment Practitioner Locator
If you are interested in finding a physician that is authorized to treat opioid dependence with buprenorphine, use the SAMHSA’s specialized practitioner locator.

Opioid Treatment Program Directory
To find out what opioid treatment programs are available in your state, visit SAMHSA’s specialized treatment directory.

What to Do if Your Teen or Young Adult Has a Problem With Drugs
The National Institute on Drug Abuse has a wealth of information on types of treatment, tips, things to look for, and more.

Mary Ann, Master Addictions Counselor

"Sometimes we're so focused on the end goal that we miss all of the subtle changes along the way. Sometimes it's good to celebrate the little victories, even if your loved one is still using."

Mary Ann B., Master Addictions Counselor