Does My Child Need to ‘Hit Rock Bottom’ to Recover from Addiction?
“You have to let him hit rock bottom” is what many parents hear when their child is struggling with substance use. But is that really true?
If we listen, our loved ones often express a willingness to get help. How and when to introduce the idea of getting treatment can make all the difference.
When we arrived at the treatment facility and began the intake process, the counselor asked Alex if he was agreeing to treatment. Despite the fact that he was a minor at the time, if he had said no, he would not be admitted. My entire body tensed as I waited for his reply. Looking glumly at the floor, Alex said, “Yes.”
Some parents I know have tried different approaches to getting teens to treatment including taking away key privileges, using the school as leverage or arranging an intervention. As a last resort, some parents have engaged the judicial system. Some strategies work better than others depending upon the teen, the urgency of the situation, available financial resources and having both parents/guardians on the same page.
Parents can choose to take away privileges like the use of the car, paying for insurance, cell phones, Internet access and other forms of financial support such as paying for college tuition or participation in sports. Generally they frame it so that if the teen agrees to treatment and is compliant, the privileges are gradually restored. Counselors at treatment facilities can tell parents if their adolescent is just going through the motions or if he or she is committed to the program.
If the teen is over 18 years of age, parents have the additional option of offering the teen the choice of going to treatment or moving out of the home until he or she agrees to go to treatment. This option is not without risk, however. Most teens who are using are cognitively immature and will have a difficult time supporting themselves without turning to connections they have with using friends and/or dealing. Assuming the teens begin to recognize the value of family life and home as opposed to what is ahead of them on the street, they will often agree to treatment.
Other parents have used the school as leverage to get a son or daughter into treatment. The parents work with the Substance Abuse Counselors (SAC) at the school to identify when their teen is going to school high or likely getting high during or between classes. The SAC pulls the teen from class and informs him or her that there is suspicion of drug use. The parents are called and are required to take the teen for a drug evaluation at a treatment facility where the teen must also provide a urine screen. If the recommendation is for treatment, the teen must comply or he/she will not be readmitted to school.
Some families opt to try an intervention where family members, close friends, clergy, etc., confront a teen about the impact of his or her drug use. The help of an interventionist or counselor trained in addiction treatment can be very useful either to provide guidance or as an active participant. Under these circumstances, it is ideal to have a treatment facility on standby to accept the teen if he/she agrees to go so that there is not time to rethink the decision.
As a last resort, some parents engage the police in the hope that the judicial system will mandate treatment. This potentially carries the additional burden of an arrest record, drug fines and time in juvenile detention or jail. Most parents shudder at such a thought, but if it is a choice between drug use that will result in death and the possibility that it can be thwarted in some way using the judicial system, many will choose the latter to save their child’s life.
If your teen or young adult child is experimenting with alcohol and drugs or has a full-blown substance use disorder, you likely feel frustrated, overwhelmed and helpless. Community Reinforcement and Family Training, or CRAFT, is a scientifically proven approach to help parents change their child’s substance use by staying involved in a positive, ongoing way.
If one or both of the parents are abusing substances, whether alcohol or drugs, it is often difficult to get a teen into treatment. Many adolescents view this as hypocritical – a classic case of do as I say, not as I do. Under these circumstances, if parents really want to help their teen, they need to address their own issues with substances.
It can be helpful to ask yourself what is driving your son or daughter’s behaviors around substance use. (It could be anything from boredom and a lack of purpose, to feeling left out and insecure, to curiosity and thrill-seeking.) Understanding the “why” behind your child’s drug and alcohol use can foster empathy for your child and also help you think about ways to encourage healthier behaviors that compete with his or her substance use.
*Names have been changed. This post was originally published in 2010 and has been refreshed and republished.