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When parents find out their teen is abusing drugs or alcohol, the family’s immediate focus is generally on getting help for the teen. But parents are often in great need of help themselves. They may need advice on what to say to their teen, how to evaluate whether he or she needs professional treatment and where to find the appropriate substance abuse treatment program if one is needed. A new toll-free telephone helpline is providing that assistance.
The Parents Toll-Free Helpline, 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373), is staffed by clinical social workers with practical experience in substance abuse prevention and treatment. The helpline, launched by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, began taking calls in April 2011 and will offer bilingual support (English/Spanish) beginning in mid-August.
“When a child has substance abuse issues, the whole family needs support,” says Ken Winters, PhD, Director of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota and member of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids Science Advisory Board. “Parents may need a counselor to walk them through exactly what they will say to their teenager when they suspect substance abuse. If they have not already done so, parents need to establish rules about alcohol and other drugs, and consequences for breaking those rules. They may also need help figuring out whether their adolescent should get a professional assessment. These are some of the things that a counselor on the helpline can assist them with.”
Scientifically Proven Intervention Techniques
The helpline counselors are extensively trained in scientifically proven intervention techniques to assist parents in communicating with their children and find appropriate help when it is needed. One technique is Motivational Interviewing, which tries to move a person to change their behavior, while being sensitive to their level of readiness for change. The technique uses open-ended questions to elicit what the person feels ready for, and makes them feel empowered. For instance, when talking to a parent who is convinced that he or she has no influence on their child, a counselor can have the parent reflect on the ways they had a role in their child’s life in prior years, and have them think about ways they still influence their teen even now that they are older, such as helping them use their free time wisely, Dr. Winters says.
The counselors are also trained in using community reinforcement and family training (CRAFT), which is designed for concerned parents and others to help their loved ones who have problems with drugs or alcohol get into appropriate treatment. The underlying components of CRAFT include teaching effective communication skills, positive reinforcement and contingency management techniques which help parents form a new dialogue with their children.
Starting Conversations About Difficult Issues
Johanna Bos, LMSW, CASAC, is the lead parent support specialist for the helpline and fields calls ranging from parents asking for help in identifying pills they found in their teen’s backpack, to aiding parents in evaluating the effectiveness of a treatment program. She fields a lot of questions about home drug tests and what the results mean. “Sometimes parents just need to talk, and need someone to calm them and give them support. Parents are so focused on the child, they can lose sight of taking care of themselves.”
“I help parents start a conversation with their child about difficult issues,” says Bos, who is also a certified alcohol substance abuse counselor who has been working in the addiction field for 13 years. “A lot of what we do is encourage parents to talk to their child, and find ways to help them get their child on board with treatment if it’s needed.”
She also helps parents find scientifically valid information. “So much information online is linked to people who are trying to take advantage of parents in a vulnerable state,” Bos notes.
Not all of the calls to the helpline have been from parents. For instance, several calls have come in from military wives who have become addicted to morphine patches themselves after using patches prescribed to their husbands for war injuries.
Bos emphasizes that the helpline provides information, but is not a crisis line. The helpline is staffed Monday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern time. Parents who call after hours can leave a message and will be contacted the next business day.
Contact doesn’t end with the initial call. Bos asks callers if they would like her to follow up, and if they agree, she calls within two weeks to see if the caller needs further help. She also offers callers the option of contacting another parent who has gone through a similar situation.
The launch of The Parents Toll-Free Helpline was made possible through the generosity of Purdue Pharma, the Bodman Foundation, a private foundation and numerous matching contributions from individuals.