How to Navigate the Addiction Treatment System


Realizing that your teen or young adult child needs help for their substance use or addiction can be scary and overwhelming, and you are not alone have no idea where to begin. There is no one-size-fits-all answer so it can take a fair amount of research to figure out what type of help your child needs, and how to get it. No matter where you are emotionally, mentally or physically, we’re here to help.

Download Your Child’s Treatment Roadmap, our concise guide to the key steps in making the right choices for your child and family, and a helpful companion to the information below.

Explore the options

For most people, “treatment” for addiction conjures images of detox or a residential rehab facility. In reality, detox (detoxification) is not treatment as it addresses just the physical withdrawal symptoms only, and a residential program is just one of a variety of options. Treatment for substance use disorder can take place in different settings (inpatient or outpatient) and some more intense than others.

Educate yourself on the options available, keeping in mind that program you select should address your child’s physical, psychological, emotional and social issues in addition to their substance use.

Having your child assessed by a doctor — discussed below — can help you determine the best type of care for your child.

Assess your needs

Getting the right treatment for your child is a process, and navigating the health care system requires careful examination, determination and some caution. If you’ve searched online for help or treatment for your loved one, you’ve likely come across what are advertised as free treatment referral services. These services are often affiliated with private, for-profit treatment providers. Those providers may indeed offer reputable treatment, but it’s important to be well informed before engaging with a service that could put someone else’s bottom line above the best interests of your family.

Try to schedule an evaluation for your child to determine the best possible care. Evaluations are typically done by independent providers or mental health professionals at outpatient programs. They should include a clinical assessment along with a substance use screening to determine the level of care that’s most appropriate. Insurance will probably cover the assessment, but there may be a co-pay or other out-of-pocket costs.

Use the Safe LocatorASAM directories, or Psychology Today to find a provider.

If a clinical evaluation is not an option, the following are important considerations to determine the right treatment for your child. Insurance coverage and benefits — discussed next — may be a deciding factor as well.

It may be helpful to ask for daily and/or weekly programming schedules to see what kinds of counseling and activities are offered and how your child will spend their time.

Financial considerations

If your child is covered by insurance, get as much information as you can on their plan’s specific treatment benefits, including:

In the case they’re uninsured, you can explore state-based or Federal programs, as well as payment assistance options offered by providers. Some providers offer scholarships or are willing to reduce fees, but you have to ask.

Finding a provider

Partnership to End Addiction and SAFE Project have developed a user-friendly resource for families seeking help, the SAFE Locator. This search tool combines treatment information from SAMHSA’s database with a first-of-its-kind locator for accessing family support services.

For more targeted treatment needs, SAMHSA also offers the following:

Once you have a list of potential treatment providers, it’s important to call and ask lots of questions to determine who can best meet your family’s needs.

As you search narrows, remember to cross reference what providers tell you with your insurance company. A treatment or program may say they take insurance, but you’ll need to verify that your insurance company will authorize the type of services selected for the specific program you are considering.

Starting treatment

When it’s time for your child to begin treatment, it’s important to stay involved, connected and aware of everything that can happen. After all, even successful journeys will have a few bumps in the road.

The following are a few things to be prepared for:

Continuing care

Treatment is not over after discharge; rather that is when much of the hard work is really just beginning. Aftercare should be a part of any treatment plan. Families need a successful discharge plan that can be realistically implemented.

The following are important elements to consider for your child’s initial recovery plan.