By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Finding help for a child with a mental illness or drug addiction is difficult.
The question of how you get help for a child with a drug addiction, mental illness or alcoholism comes up frequently. Parents contacted me asking this question. Other therapist and counselors contact me looking for a referral to give their clients. The answers to these questions depend on a lot of factors and are never easy. My answer to the question of how to get help for a child typically begins with me asking some questions to gather more information. No one answer is right for everyone.
How old is your child who has the addiction?
If your child is under 18, you theoretically have not only control over the child but also the responsibility to act. Getting help for a child under 18 often is a parenting question. How do you get your child to go to school? Or how do you get your child to go to bed at night or eat their broccoli? For young children, you use discipline, that mixture of reward and punishment that shapes children’s behavior. Send them for treatment and make sure they go.
What if the child with an addiction is over 18?
I know if you are a parent you never stop thinking of your offspring as your child. The reality of the situation is that once they turn 18, you have very limited options to control their behavior. You may not like the person they want to have children with, the job they choose or the chemicals they select to put into their bodies. Once they turn 18, you can only help them if they want to be helped, and even then, you need to be careful about the help you offer.
Does your addicted adult child want help with their addiction?
If the child says no to drug treatment than the only things you can do are hope, pray, and wait for the opportunity to be helpful. The only way adults are forced into drug treatment is by being arrested, and court-ordered into treatment. You can hope that your adult child with an addiction, encounters law enforcement or child protective services and is required to get drug treatment. Trying to force this by calling the police on your child is likely to backfire causing them to sever their relationship with you and maybe delaying them getting into treatment.
You should avoid enabling your adult addicted child to continue using.
A lot of parents offer their children with an addiction all kinds of help. You might let them live with you until they steal things to sell for drug money. You might feed them or pay their rent. Anything you do financially to help them carries the risk that it just frees up more money for them to use to support their drug habit.
Should you pay for your adult child to go into rehab?
Addiction is characterized by being a chronic, relapsing, and often fatal disease. One episode in rehab may not result in arresting the disease of addiction. I’ve seen families spend everything they have putting an adult addicted child into rehab only to have them walk out of treatment early or relapse shortly after the treatment episode. If you have lots of money, sending them to a month-long rehab at the beach may be an option. But think of how many famous people have gone through repeated expensive episodes of rehab.
If you do decide to pay for your child’s rehab, spend the smallest amount possible because you’re likely to have to do it more than once. If your adult child has medical insurance, have them contact their insurance carrier.
Remember that even if you write the check to the rehab facility your child is an adult child, and that facility can’t tell you anything without your child’s permission. It can be very frustrating to parents whose child has an addiction to find that because of confidentiality the treatment provider can’t tell you anything even after you paid for treatment. Even if you get your child to sign a consent to release information form, at any moment they can revoke that release.
What resources are available if your adult addicted child says they want help?
The simplest resource to use is self-help groups, Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. There are meetings in almost every town, and there is no charge for their services.
You can also suggest you adult addicted child contact the local county behavioral health services. They can refer you to agencies which treat addiction in your county. Some of these agencies are low-cost or are funded by the County; others may accept medical insurance or have sliding fee scales.
Some private therapists and counselors specialize in treating clients with co-occurring disorders, both a mental illness and substance use disorder. Individual therapy is likely to be expensive. The therapist must pay for the office, and you’re buying an hour of their time. Going once a week to see a therapist will not result in an end to their addiction if they continue to use drugs between sessions.
Treating addiction is not a short-term process. Because of their using drugs over a long period the brain appears to change its default setting and the brain of the addict will continue to demand drugs long after the substances are out of the body. For most people, recovery from addiction is a long-term process requiring both treatment and the development of a support system which encourages the addict in recovery to stay sober.
What about interventions?
There used to be a lot of interventions. You still see TV shows about interventions. My experience has been that doing interventions has been a lot less effective than we would have hoped. Many people who are addicted refused to go into treatment. This can often lead to angry confrontations and an end to the relationship. For an intervention to work you also need to be able to get the addict into treatment immediately. Even a one-day delay can result in them changing the mind and not going into treatment. Unless you can pay for the treatment privately or are paying for their medical insurance you may not be able to reserve a bed in a rehab facility for an adult child.
So, what is your best option for getting an adult addicted child into treatment? Have an honest talk with them. Offer to be emotionally supportive but don’t enable their continued drug use. Expect to have to be patient until they are ready to go for treatment. A first step in the direction of recovery may be to agree to go with them to a 12-step self-help group.
I hope that it answered some of the questions. Feel free to leave a comment or use the contact me form if you’d like more information.
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!
Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
Sasquatch. Wandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.
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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.