The time has come.  Your anger and anxiety about your teen’s behavior is overwhelming.  You are afraid of what the future holes for your child.  You may even be terrified that their life is at risk.  If you have a teenage boy, there have probably been holes punched in walls.  If you are the parents of a teenage girl, there has likely been brutal language, arguments, and a horrible suspicion that there is a boy in the picture that is far to old for your daughter.  Most parents at this point are at what we might refer to as their “wit’s end.”  It can seem like there is nothing that can be done. Therapists are ineffective and the teen has figured out how to convince the psychiatrist that certain drugs are the answer but they always seem to be running out of ADHD or anti-anxiety medications long before the prescription runs out.

There are options available.  Do not give up.  Teens who have become addicted to substances can be helped.  I am living proof.  I was 18 years old when I entered into recovery.  15 years later, I have spent my adult life giving a message of hope to families and teens and providing professional treatments that work for these families. Sometimes, it really is the darkest just before the dawn.

Hitting bottom myth

           In American culture, we have a myth that addicts must hit rock bottom to accept help.  While crisis is usually what prompts families to seek and obtain drug and alcohol treatment, it is often because the family has hit bottom, not because the teen has.  The good news is that teens do just as well in treatment when they are forced to attend as when they seek treatment.  In fact, with cutting edge techniques available to today’s addiction professional, even teens who are violently opposed to getting help are getting sober every day.

Services that may help

            There are a multitude of options available for families of teen addicts.  The following isn’t even a comprehensive list.  A professional addiction counselor can help you to find these services or others that are perfect for your situation.

  •  For teens that are so defiant you are afraid to even discuss treatment options, or that refuse to enter into counseling, transport services are available that can assist you in escorting your teen to treatment.  These transport services will take teens by air or automobile to a treatment program that has been prearranged by you.
  • Interventionists can assist families in much the same way as transport teams but with a more family centered approach.  Both are equally effective in getting teens into treatment.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment.  IOP’s are programs that typically happen after school in your own local area.  They range in level of service provided but typically consist of counseling, drug testing, and family therapy with addiction specialists.  They are usually between 12-20 hours per week and last 2-12 months depending on the program.
  • Residential Treatment Centers provide temporary housing for your teen. They offer the same services as IOP’s do but at a much higher level of care. They are suited well for defiant teens or teens who have been unable to stay clean and sober at lower levels of care.  They often provide parents with the first good night of sleep they have had in a very long time.  They can range from 30 days to 6 months.  Research on adolescent treatment suggests 90 days as a benchmark for better outcomes.
  • Inpatient Psychiatric Hospitals. Typically inpatient care is a precursor to residential treatment.  It is usually focused on stabilization not on healing due to the insurance driven nature of medical care.  This is the appropriate setting to start with for suicidal teens or teens who are experiencing psychosis.  They can hold a teen against their will if they are a danger to themselves and this can buy parents time to explore longer term treatment options.
  • Therapeutic Boarding Schools.  There is a vast range of therapeutic levels of care offered by these programs.  Some are very effective with addictions and others are better at simple behavioral modification.  If your teen is addicted, I would recommend this as a possible follow up from an RTC.  They are schools first and treatment second usually and are better at supporting therapy that has already occurred than starting the healing process themselves.
  • Educational Consultants. Ed consultants are usually very familiar with many programs across the country.  They have often visited the programs and knw professionals across the country.  About 2/3 of them are more focused on boarding school placement from an academic perspective.  About 1/3 specialize and are very effective with at-risk teens of all kinds including addictions.  They rarely interact with the teen themselves but can provide counsel and direction to a confused family and help coordinate services between providers.

 Finding the right program

              For most families, the decision of where to send a teen for treatment is a costly and important decision.  Most of us, if we are lucky enough to afford it, can only really do it once. This means making the right choices in the beginning is crucial.  I have often seen families attempt to under-treat their kids in an effort to save money and spend far more in the long run.  This also results in far more painful experiences, as treatment failure not only compounds the shame of the teen, it increases the desperation of the family.  For some, financially there may seem to be no options.  This is not the case either.  There are also community-funded programs available.  Find out who handles the juvenile probation in your area and contact them.  They will know where all of the local resources are for at-risk teens and can refer you effectively.