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Many parents feel uncertain and ill-prepared when their child has completed inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment. You probably have many questions about how to best support your teen’s recovery and you may be feeling extra pressure.

We put this guide together to answer those questions. We want to give parents hope that they can find tools and supports to make their families stronger, and deal with the complex and challenging situations that parents and children experience during the days, months and years after treatment.

Unfortunately, there is very little scientific evidence for parents on how to best support their child’s recovery. All of the information you’ll find here, however, is based on well-established behavioral principles, clinical experience and related research.

Keep in mind that each parent, child and family is unique. You’ll need to take into account your family’s strengths and weaknesses, the severity of your child’s substance use and the presence of co-occurring disorders. Most families will benefit from support and other professional help after their teen finishes treatment, including family therapy.

Sometimes the situation is complex and requires the help of a skilled professional who can help you learn about the options that are best for your family. Please note that the information you’ll find here does not take the place of a health professional whom you should collaborate with to help your teen manage his or her addiction.

We hope this guide will help you figure out what might best support your recovery journey together.


What should I expect my child to gain from treatment?

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Treatment, when it works well, does three things:

  1. Treatment educates the patient about the diagnosis and the chronic nature of the disease. Treatment helps the patient understand and accept the idea that substance use disorders are chronic conditions much like asthma or diabetes and that he or she will need to continue to monitor and manage this condition.
  2. Treatment provides an opportunity for patients to stabilize physically and emotionally and to learn about the strategies and skills to prevent relapse. In the case of inpatient treatment, patients also are given a period of time when they are not using drugs or alcohol. This period of abstinence is important because it allows the patient a time to think clearly about the fact that he or she has a substance use disorder. Parents sometimes find that having their child in residential treatment gives them time to decompress and to figure out next steps.
  3. Treatment involves the construction of a continuing care plan —a roadmap to move forward — for how to manage the condition, how to stay abstinent and what will be required to achieve that goal. It is important to note that developing a continuing care plan and providing continuing care are not the same thing. For example, the treatment program may create a detailed continuing care plan, but refer outside the program for continuing care services.
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What is meant by continuing care? Can the treatment center that provided my child’s treatment be of any help? Do all treatment programs have continuing care services?

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Continuing care is the phrase used to describe the activities that can occur after someone finishes addiction treatment. Sometimes the term “aftercare” is used. Continuing Care can involve:

  • Direct communication with the treatment program after the patient leaves
  • Outpatient counseling sessions (group or individual)
  • Phone follow-ups
  • Activities that take place in community support organizations

Optimal but less frequently available continuing care options include:

  • Drug testing and feedback
  • Counseling or family therapy for parents and adolescents
  • Social skills training
  • Case coordination with schools and probation officers

Usually the nature and extent of continuing care varies by treatment facility. Some treatment centers offer very little continuing care, others will offer more.  Most recommend a continuing care plan, often a 12-step program or less intensive care.

Ideally the time to start thinking about continuing care services is during treatment.

“Continuing Care is the support plan following addiction treatment.”

A month of treatment is, of course, a milestone for one suffering from substance abuse, however, it is only the beginning of recovery for an individual – the first step. The tools they learn in treatment have yet to be applied in the real world, the pressures of school, relationships, sports and work, all of which can sometimes be overwhelming. - Denise Mariano
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Should I ask about the continuing care services that a treatment program offers?

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Definitely. When choosing a treatment program for your child, be sure to ask if continuing care is offered. Parents should discuss the treatment program’s policies on developing a continuing care plan and the details of that plan.

Ask the treatment staff questions about what will happen after the program ends as early as possible during the treatment process. This way, you will know what to expect and can explore alternatives to continuing care and community support services if the treatment program is not able to provide the needed support or give you referrals

“When choosing a treatment program for your child, be sure to ask if continuing care is offered.”

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What does a good continuing care plan involve for an adolescent?

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An ideal continuing care plan should involve:

  • A counselor or support group and at least twice weekly sessions for the first month
  • At least weekly sessions for the next two months
  • Twice monthly sessions for at least four more months

Better plans would include:

  • Continued regular checkups and monitoring via drug testing provided by a professional. The intensity of the continuing care should adjust based on the results of the checkup.
  • New activities your child enjoys that will bring him or her into contact with friends who don’t drink alcohol or use drugs.

If the treatment program does not provide a continuing care plan, then you and your child will need to develop one, preferably with a counselor or medical professional. If your child has a probation officer, you may be able to work with this individual.

It is not always easy for teens to stick to a continuing care plan and it will likely require effort and support from all involved.

“Sticking to a support plan is not an easy thing to do, and will require effort and support from all involved.”

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How do I know how often my teen should receive some kind of continuing care after he or she has completed a treatment program?

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The amount of care required after finishing a treatment program depends on the severity of the individual’s addiction.

More severe cases — indicated by perhaps earlier onset, dependence on multiple types of drugs, experiencing prior treatment episodes and relapses — might require more intensive and frequent outpatient continuing care sessions.

The continuing care plan should be adjusted periodically based on progress.

What the treatment program offers usually depends on its level of resources.

“A continuing care plan should be adjusted periodically based on progress.”

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Do treatment programs offer any services to support parents?

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Some treatment programs do offer support groups for parents after their child finishes the treatment program.

Some parents find family support groups — such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, Families Anonymous and Smart Recovery — to be helpful, so consider looking for support groups available in your area.

As parents, we have to change our thoughts on what use to be — what OUR plans were for our children. - Denise Mariano, parent
Just being with other parents who are experiencing the same things that I did, was very empowering…You need to take care of yourself too because you’ve got to stay strong; you’ve got to be stronger than your kid through this. Because if you don’t …how are you going to help your child? - Carol Allen, parent
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What about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)/Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings for my teen? How essential is it that he or she goes to meetings?

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Research shows better outcomes for adolescents who attend AA/NA meetings after completing an initial treatment program. The tricky thing is finding a meeting that is geared toward a younger age group.

You can start by asking for referrals – here are some places to start:

  • Ask your child’s treatment program to help you find an AA/NA meeting that would meet your child’s needs.
  • Contact the local AA/NA central office, and ask them to recommend good meetings for teens.
  • Ask another self-help group office for recommendations – or perhaps at family support meetings that you attend.
  • Ask other parents for recommendations for teen-friendly meetings.

Also keep in mind that the AA/NA central office – as well as an organization called Young People in Recovery – can arrange to have a young person who is well-established in recovery contact your child, and take him or her to a meeting.

What’s most important is that your child finds a meeting that he or she likes. Often it may take visiting several meetings to find a good fit.

“Help your child find a meeting that is geared toward a younger age group.”

For most people, maintaining recovery requires supports and services after formal treatment is completed. - Anonymous
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© 2016 The Treatment Research Institute and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids