When it was clear that my son was addicted to drugs, we wanted to do everything we could to get him help. But nothing seemed to help. Like any parent, I asked others who had been through this what worked for them and I hung onto every word … hoping, hoping, hoping they held the secret to getting my kid to treatment and recovery. Now that my son is in recovery, other parents ask me the same questions that I used to ask.
- How can I get my kid to go to treatment?Once parents recognize the problem and realize that this is not a phase or something their kid will grow out of (common myths), they start to look at treatment options. At first it seems so simple. Perhaps you’re familiar with a local treatment program. If not, a Google search spits back many possibilities – except that many of these are not viable options. That’s when it becomes overwhelmingly complex and challenging. There are so many options – in-patient, out-patient, 12-step, faith-based, wilderness, abstinence-based, harm-reduction, MAT, evidence-based … and more. Yet you wonder, which one is best.Often there is a long waiting list. Often cost or insurance is a barrier – treatment programs are expensive. One thing to ask about is scholarships. (There’s a 12-step immersion program called The Retreat in Wayzata, Minn., that has funding for anyone who asks for help. The program is for 18+ but they also offer a family program.)
But let’s get to the real question. Once you’ve found an option or two that you think would be good for your kid, you have to get them to go. What comes to mind is the cliche about leading a horse to water …
This takes a concerted effort to discuss the problem with them, get their buy in and agreement. And that’s where it stalls – or even becomes an argument, which by the way is never productive but is completely understandable give the emotion and concern that is wrapped up in your kid’s addiction.
The cliche continues, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.
Do not give up.
One possibility is to work with a professional such as a counselor or even an intervention specialist (but keep in mind, not all are the same and there are many different approaches and philosophies – and price ranges for this service).
We consulted with a group early on and paid for some good advice, but decided it was not the right approach at the time. With hindsight, I still feel this would have been a disaster and am glad we trusted our gut. Later on, however, we did engage with a group called Love First, and while our son was still not ready, the intervention did help get family and friends on the same page and sent a loving, powerful message my son that he needed to go back to treatment. One last resource, that I offer is a group called Drew Horowitz & Associates – Drew has guest blogged for Our Young Addicts – and offers an amazing service; I wish we had known about him when our son was still using as I think Drew might have been someone who would have gotten through.
As you’re probably starting to sense, getting your kid to treatment is not quick or easy. More than likely, you’ll need to be encouraging, consistent and persistent. Don’t expect immediate acceptance. You may have to bring up the idea many times … and it may takes months or years. I don’t say this to discourage you; I say it to manage expectations that you’re going to have to calmly and considerately continue to recommend treatment.
If your kid is under the age of 18, you have a bit more leverage as a parent; but compliance doesn’t always mean that your kid is ready or willing to attend a treatment program.
If your kid is older than 18, getting them to treatment is a far more difficult undertaking. Be prepared for resistance and outright refusal, which leaves you in the position of having to set some boundaries. Yet, an impasse is not helpful for you or your kid, so handle this with all the care you can muster. Be firm in your hope that they will accept help and consistent in your concern for their welfare. Respect their choice even if you don’t like it or agree with it.
Each day, my husband and I awoke with the belief that “maybe today will be the day.” Keeping that hope front and center reminded us that there was always a possibility.
There’s one more part to the horse-and-water cliche: Even if you cannot make the horse drink the water, you can salt the oats. Let me tell you, we did a LOT of salting the oats!
Encourage your kid to at least give it a try or to visit with a counselor at the treatment center – sometimes they can be more effective at helping your kid see the need and the possibility of treatment.
My husband and I used to tell our son, “We love you. You deserve to feel better. And going to treatment will help you have the life you really want.”
We maintained a regular, persistent effort to encourage our son to go to treatment even though we knew that treatment alone was not the panacea but we did know that it would set in motion the possibility of a better path forward.
At the end of this blog post, I’ve summarized part of our journey and you’ll find more in the archives.
- What finally worked?A whole lot of patience and persistence, not to mention time. Daily text messages (we never stopped paying for my son’s phone as it was a way to check in and track his whereabouts). He didn’t always appreciate the texts and sometimes wouldn’t answer, which scared me a whole lot more than the bitter responses he’d sometimes send. In other words, a whole lot of starts and stops. Not giving up. Not losing touch. Not putting our own lives on hold – after all, we had two other kids, jobs, responsibilities and interests. Including our son as much and as often as possible, even if he chose not to engage. Finally, after about five years of this … he started a program that worked for him.
About eight weeks into the 12-week program – the last one he attended, I asked my son what it was about this program that worked for him. He said the other programs hadn’t been bad per se but that this was the first time that he wanted to stop using. The other times, he knew he needed to stop using.The difference was want vs need.
This strikes me as important.
I also think he knew things were not getting better and that he was at risk of dying – in other words, he was now salting his own oats.
Answers to your questions
By reading this post, you’re doing one of the most important and helpful things possible – you’re asking questions and seeking answers. I do not know if my answers will be your solutions, but I do know that getting your kid to treatment and getting them to stop using is mission driven, takes time, takes patience, takes faith. And once you find some answers, please share them with others who are on a similar path. Together, we will be able to help our kids and our families. Wishing you better days ahead.
It takes time – a quick recap of our family’s efforts (and setbacks) to get my son to treatment and recovery.
The first time we brought up treatment, he refused – and denied the problem – but agreed to meet with the center even though he didn’t agree to start their program. At least he knew we were concerned and serious about him getting help. A few months later, as things continued to spiral downward, he agreed to look at some options by doing online research and he did some last-minute searches with a deadline that we imposed.
Eventually, in a terrible moment, he agreed that he wanted to feel better and that the drugs weren’t helping him, so he reluctantly agreed to a 60-day wilderness program. He got cold feet, but through much coaxing we got him on the airplane and to the center; unfortunately, he ran way nine days later.
Nearly a year later, on a cold, snowy, subzero night when he was homeless and without a buddy’s sofa to crash on, we got him to agree to an out-patient program here in town. He attended the program off and on for several months, but still wasn’t ready to stop using.
It took a little over a year before he was willing to try again and this time – quite desperate – he made all the arrangements himself for an in-patient program. We supported him and didn’t let him off the hook when he started backpedaling. We bought him toiletries, let him wash his clothes and borrow a duffle bag. This time, we saw some true progress and he completed close to 60 days before being discharged.
When he got out, he ran away instead of going to the half-way program, but through encouragement he showed up a few days later – sober, thank goodness (required for admission), and stayed there for a couple of months before relapsing.
That particular relapse came on fast and hard. We had an intervention (with Love First) and he said, “Thanks, I know I need to change, but not today.” Things got worse and worse and I was preparing myself to write an obituary. One night, a couple months later, he showed up at home and was overdosing (not the first time he’d overdosed).
It was his last high. He lived.
The next day, I handed him a list of three places that met his “criteria” with the edict that he call and make a decision to start a program. And the next day after that, July 11, 2014, he started a high-intensity out-patient program. He’s been sober and in recovery ever since.
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