At Wellspring Center for Prevention, we aim to serve as a resource to individuals, families, and organizations that have been impacted by substance abuse. Through our phone helpline and online self-help tool, our Preventionists can help you or your loved ones find an appropriate addiction recovery program, and gain the necessary knowledge and tools to face the challenges associated with alcohol and drug misuse.
Some of our Helpline calls are from parents who are concerned about their child’s changes in behavior or that maybe they found drugs in their room. Our job is to calm them down and direct them to appropriate help solutions, especially treatment.
This column is designed to help parents to understand that they are not alone, that their child is not the only one that needs help, and that help is available. And mostly, once treatment is completed, whether inpatient or outpatient, the hope is that life will get back to “normal.” And as apparent you need to understand that recovery can be synonymous with total abstinence, but not always.
The end of substance use treatment is just the beginning of the road to recovery. Your child will need your help and support to get there.
In speaking with parents, we know that they expect their child to be “fixed” following treatment, but they soon learn that substance use disorder can be a lifelong, relapsing disease that requires ongoing management. The initial completion of treatment is just the beginning of what may be a longer road to recovery. Your child will need help to manage their recovery over time.
Substance use and addiction treatment aren’t over once your child is discharged. That’s when much of the hard work is really just beginning. Recovery will still involve sacrifice for you and your family, and it’s best to talk about what that will mean for everyone and plan for it.
There are many ways to reinforce a message of pro-healthy choices and discover how to monitor and support your child so they can continue to progress. Although you cannot control what will happen (as your child is ultimately responsible for their own recovery), you absolutely can be proactive and better prepared to be supportive in their recovery.
Treatment for substance use disorder is often not a “one-and-done” type of situation. Because of the nuanced and often emotional work involved, as well as the reduction or elimination of physical dependence on substances, treatment can often take multiple attempts. This is true whether it’s at an outpatient or an inpatient facility. Whatever treatment looks like, recovery is always continuous work.
First, if your child lives with you or visits, it’s time for a thorough housecleaning to prevent any temptations such as taking all substances and paraphernalia you can find out of your home. At the same time, you also need to secure all alcohol or remove it completely from your home. Same for your medicine cabinet and the need to dispose of any old or unused prescriptions. Finally, please take the time to search your child’s room for drugs, alcohol, and paraphernalia — and then search it again.
You should next get your hands on naloxone as a prevention measure if your child’s substance use included opioids (heroin and prescription pain medications like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet). Naloxone (also known by the brand name Narcan) can reverse an overdose, potentially saving a loved one’s life. It’s never the wrong choice to be safe. In New Jersey, chain drugstores, as well as some independent drugstores, are providing naloxone through pharmacies without requiring a prescription. Be sure you take the training some providers offer and that the naloxone kit is easily accessible in your home, and that you and your family members know how to use it.
There are some logistical things to consider with an aftercare plan, too. Is your child going to need a ride to and from an outpatient program or to counseling or support groups? Since this is vital to their recovery, if transportation is needed, make arrangements ahead of time with your employer or hire someone to drive them to appointments, programs, or meetings. You may need to plan to take time off from work to attend family meetings that are a part of your child’s aftercare program. Your continued involvement matters very much to your child — despite what they may say.
Even though your child is the one receiving treatment, the rest of the family would greatly benefit from regular counseling and support groups of their own. This can be a difficult time of transition for your family and it’s critical everyone is supported, and has help coping and addressing any issues that come up. You’ll want to establish some boundaries and rules with your child. Some families find it helpful to develop a contract. This will include both positive reinforcement and rewards for good behavior and consequences when they push boundaries or break the rules.
The first few weeks and months of recovery will probably be the hardest. Your child will most likely go through periods of emotional ups and downs. He or she may be angry at times (at him/herself, at you, at others, or just angry), sad at other times, or even may seem manipulative or distant. When a child is well on the road to recovery it may seem that any substance-related problems are a thing of the past. There are things you can do as a family to support your child’s journey back to health and wellness. Fostering your child’s strengths, talents and coping abilities will help them overcome any bumps along the way.
A regular schedule of work, play, household responsibilities, as well as making time for recovery activities, helps them stay on track. Have a conversation with your child to discuss what to do if their routine goes off course. Point this out in a caring, supportive way — without a confrontation. As a result, you can help move them back in a healthy direction. If your child isn’t living with you, check in once in a while and ask about how they are spending their time. This can help you better tell when “all is well” or when there may be a problem that needs attention.
Healthy relationships with family members and others who can support a child’s recovery are important. This helps them feel a sense of belonging and that they are valued. If there is a lasting resentment or bitterness between family members that can’t be resolved, consider involving a third party. A counselor, clergy, or someone else the family trusts can help repair the relationship.
If your child is on medications of any kind, it’s important that they keep doctor’s appointments and take medications as prescribed. These include medicines to address physical problems and mental health disorders like depression and anxiety, or medications for their substance use disorder. They may fall into the trap of thinking “I feel better, so I’m going to stop taking the medication,” but this can lead to the recurrence of symptoms.
Please remember, recovery is often like a winding road. Your child may run into some potholes or detours along the way, as we all do in life, or may have a relapse. These obstacles are a natural, though not inevitable, part of the recovery process. It can help to think through how you can encourage your child to get back on track. What was learned from the situation that can help promote wellness? What lifestyle change, if any, could help? Is more formal treatment needed?
Above all, keep the lines of communication open, be supportive in a way that honors your child’s boundaries (e.g., not stifling and not distancing) and show love for your child. This can make a tremendous difference in their recovery journey, not only for them but also for the family.