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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 can I do to help my child follow-through on the recommended continuing care plan?

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1. Plan ahead. While your child is still in treatment, you should ask about continuing care plans and request a clearly negotiated continuing care plan before the program ends. The plan should involve the treatment team, your child, you, your family and other friends and responsible adults (if possible and if necessary).

If the treatment program does not have a continuing care plan or does not share the plan with you, ask your child if a continuing care plan was developed. It would probably be best to approach this issue in a supportive way, for example, telling your child, “I am proud of you for sticking with and completing the treatment program.  I want to do everything that I can to support these accomplishments and help you maintain the achievements you made in treatment.”

2. Support your child in sticking to the continuing care plan. So, if the plan involves attending counseling sessions or a support group, be aware of the meeting schedule and check to make sure that it is easy to get to the sessions. If the plan requires taking a bus an hour each way, it’s probably too difficult. So, if your child needs a ride and you are able to provide it, do so.

You can also help by finding ways to give rewards as soon as possible each time your child performs one of the steps in the plan. Rewards can be as simple as verbal praise for doing well, preparing your child’s favorite meal to celebrate an accomplishment or giving your child an added privilege. Make sure that whatever you plan it is something that your child really likes or wants.

“While your child is still in treatment, ask about continuing care plans and request a clearly negotiated plan before the program ends so that you can support your child in sticking to the plan.”

My son is passionate about music. If he attended extra support group meetings in a given week, I would reward him with a $5.00 or $10.00 music gift card so he could download some songs or an album he really wanted. I would do the same if his therapist told me he had a particularly good session. The rewards helped encourage my son to share openly with others, and doing so eventually became second nature to him. - Dean D. , parent
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How can I make sure my child goes to appointments after finishing treatment? Is that important?

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Yes, it’s very important.

You can also help your child attend follow-up appointments that are suggested by the adolescent’s treatment program or other health care provider by providing reminders, support and transportation.

Transportation has been cited as a major barrier to continuing care. Many adolescents coming out of treatment don’t have a driver’s license and some live in areas where public transportation is either not accessible or expensive. If you cannot provide transportation to continuing care, you may want to help your child find transportation – perhaps a sibling, neighbor or extended family member could pitch in.

Although providing support is important, especially at first, it is also good for teens to learn that they need to be an active participant in their health care and not leave all the responsibility up to their parents. Because addiction can be a chronic, recurring problem for some individuals, it is important that children learn self-care skills that will follow them into adulthood. The level of responsibility for self-care that you place on your child, of course, can vary by age and maturity, but some level of participation, even at younger ages, can be helpful in developing good habits for later.

Some people believe that by helping your child to attend appointments after treatment, you are enabling; and this is true – but in a good way. You are enabling your child to engage in the continuing care plan. This is not the same thing as enabling your child to continue drug use.

“Adolescents need to be an active participant in their health care and not leave all the responsibility up to their parents.”

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Will going with my child to continuing care meetings help, or is it considered to be interfering?

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It all depends on what sort of continuing care is involved. If it is individual or group sessions, parents should not attend. Obviously if it is family therapy, parents should attend. Parents should get involved in their child’s continuing care in order to reinforce sobriety. Both family attendance at aftercare and family helpfulness during recovery is associated with lower levels of substance use post-treatment. In order to stay abstinent, adolescents need a safe and supportive environment and parents are key to making sure that happens.

But sometimes teens are not comfortable with their parents attending every meeting and, depending on the type of continuing care meetings; your presence might not be allowed. There could be separate parent groups for you to attend during the time your child is attending an adolescent-only group.

If your child is uncomfortable having you attend every meeting, try to agree on a number that works for you – and see how many other parents attend and how often they do. If the continuing care program does not allow you to attend the meetings, ask the program for recommendations or try on your own to arrange family sessions.

 “In order to stay abstinent, adolescents need a safe and supportive environment and parents are key to making sure that happens.”

If you’re feeling distant from your child, invite her to talk about her experiences. This can allow you to be supportive and get a better understanding of continuing care activities. Here are some suggestions on what to ask:

  • How are your meetings are going?
  • Are the group leaders/therapists/sponsors helpful?
  • Are you finding that recovery is a struggle for you?
  • Do you like the other participants?
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This all sounds so time-consuming. How can I do this and not feel overwhelmed?

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It is likely that you, your child or other family members will feel overwhelmed. There will inevitably be other family or personal needs or crises that emerge. There probably will be times when it all seems impossible to juggle. Continuing care needs to be a priority. Consider the time, worry, expense and heartache you experienced when your child was actively addicted. Continuing care can be time-consuming and emotionally difficult, but it may be the best investment you can make.

Some adolescents who finish a residential treatment program (and some parents) will argue that residential treatment was enough and that they do not need continuing care. For this reason and others, adolescents in recovery often resist attending meetings or other groups after finishing treatment. With some teens, family members can use a non-confrontational approach to help them warm up to the idea of continuing care. Often, adolescents have trouble picturing what their life will be like without alcohol and other drugs. So involving peers can sometimes be helpful to convince teens to stick it out since they may be likely to listen to the experiences and advice of other teens in recovery.

Some continuing care groups for teens use peer representatives who can be living proof that it is possible to live happily in recovery. Peer representatives can sometimes help convince adolescents to participate in continuing care and may even help them to attend continuing care activities. To find a peer representative, you can contact Young People in Recovery.

Have a discussion with all family members explaining the importance of continuing care. It is important not only to the well-being of your child, but to the well-being of every family member who has been impacted by your child’s addiction. Think of ways that you might be able to support each other at times when one of you is feeling overwhelmed. Consider family members and close friends who you can call upon occasionally to help. If you continue to feel overwhelmed, you might want to consider getting help from a counselor who specializes in individual or family therapy.

Continuing care can be time-consuming and emotionally difficult, but it may be the best investment you can make.”

You are not alone. There are those of us – individuals and organizations – who would help you in a heart-beat if only given the chance. Some of my best friends today are the moms and dads that I’ve met in parent support groups. Together, we laugh, find strength and offer each other hope. - Paul Kusiak, parent
I felt so alone because I was too ashamed to let anyone else in my family know what I was going through. When I finally accepted that they already knew, it was such a relief. I was so worried that my sister would blame me for my son’s problems, but she ended up being so supportive. - Anonymous
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