No Beds Available: What To Do When You’re on a Waitlist for Addiction Treatment

beds for inpatient rehab

If your child has made the decision to enter inpatient treatment for his or her substance use issues, it’s a positive, pro-healthy milestone. But when you find the treatment that’s right for them is not available right away, it can be incredibly frustrating — and frightening.

Why Can There Be Delays In Accessing Addiction Treatment?

There are several reasons why there might be delays in starting an addiction treatment program. Insurance plans are required to cover mental health and addiction treatment, and more people are now seeking help for substance use disorder. Sometimes it can simply be a matter of waiting for a bed or a patient slot in a particular treatment facility. For others, the struggles of determining insurance coverage or finding the money to cover co-pays and deductibles can cause delays. Where you live has a lot of bearing on whether or not there are enough beds and treatment facilities available. Some cities and states have longer waiting lists than others.

Given the long road and difficult decisions that often lead to your child seeking help, it can be disheartening to encounter yet more obstacles. After all, your child got to this point where they want help. There are several steps you can take to help your loved one remain safe and motivated.

NOTE: It’s important to select the right kind of treatment for your son’s or daughter’s specific situation — addiction treatment is not ‘one size fits all.’ Learn what the treatment options are and how to get a screening assessment to determine the right one for your child.

What Can You Do?

Your primary goal while your loved one is waiting is keeping them safe, motivated and moving forward to treatment.

Remember to Practice Safety First

  • If your child has been using opioids, be sure to have naloxone (also known as Narcan) on hand and know how to use it.
  • Encourage a loved one using opioids to engage in safe practices like not using substances alone, not mixing opioids with other drugs and alcohol, using sterile needles, not sharing needles and knowing the Good Samaritan Laws in your state.
  • Heavy use of alcohol and benzodiazepines (i.e., Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Valium, Librium) will require medical oversight for detox. It can be dangerous for a person to suddenly stop due to the risk of seizures. While you may want your child to abstain pending treatment, it can be unsafe.
    It also means having conversations about the dangers of having “one last binge” before treatment to ensure your child doesn’t overdose or blackout.

Research Additional Program Options

While you may be frustrated that the inpatient/residential program you want your child to attend has no availability, it may be helpful to investigate other options. For example, is there another residential program that could work, perhaps in another state? You might also consider a Partial Hospitalization program, as many offer detox services on treatment both with and without a boarding component. An intensive outpatient program coupled with sober living and attendance at support group meetings could be an option.

Some people with an alcohol and/or opioid use disorder consider trying medication-assisted treatment and counseling in lieu of residential treatment. Connecting your child with a recovery coach and a recovery center can also be helpful.

Try asking others for suggestions about treatment availability. Participants at local support groups, addictions professionals, local hospitals and mental health clinics, and recovery centers may be able to help. Some families contact reputable treatment programs who will often provide suggestions for other sister facilities with availability. Your insurance company may also be of assistance.

Stay Calm and Focused

It is vital to take care of yourself and other members of the family, in addition to helping your child who is struggling. Just as on planes we are told to put our own oxygen mask on before assisting others, you will be able to support your child more effectively if you are staying mentally and physically healthy. While the urge to let your own well-being take a back seat is understable, taking some time out to do something for yourself not only helps you, but could be the most useful thing for your child in that moment.

Keep Your Child Motivated

Despite having to wait for a bed, it’s important to celebrate the fact that your son or daughter is encouraged to seek treatment and wants a better life. Unfortunately, sometimes that motivation is fleeting, and a lack of available beds right away might raise second thoughts about willingness to seek treatment.1 Try to keep them motivated. When your child expresses “change talk” — for example, when he or she mentions of how life could be different if substance use didn’t get in the way — take notice and help him or her connect the dots. Compassionately explain how their substance use is related to their concerns in the present and their hopes for a better future, and how sticking with their original plan of seeking professional treatment can help achieve their goals. Always make sure you’re having respectful conversations without becoming confrontational by using communication techniques, like open-ended questions, that can lead your child to reach his or her own conclusions.

Use This Time to Your Advantage

Lastly, this waiting time, while frustrating, can be used to your advantage. If you have questions about treatment, need to work out details of insurance claims or need to fill out pre-admittance paperwork, this could be the time to get everything sorted, so that you don’t have to worry about it once treatment has started. It can also be useful to talk to your son or daughter about what life might look like once they complete the treatment program, and get an idea of what their goals are moving forward. You can even start reading about the work needed to maintain recovery — and the on-going help you can provide your child.

Download the Treatment & Recovery Roadmap

The road to recovery isn’t the same for everyone. This guide outlines key steps to help you make the right treatment choice for your child and your family and navigate the roadblocks.

Your Child's Treatment & Recovery Roadmap
1 Redko, Cristina et al. “Waiting Time as a Barrier to Treatment Entry: Perceptions of Substance Users” Journal of drug issues vol. 36,4 (2006): 831-852. Site: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2396562/

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