Sending a Child to a Drug Rehab Center

One of the most difficult decisions a parent may ever have to make is the one to send a child to drug addiction rehabilitation. Underage people are more likely to resist treatment due to a lack of experience and foresight regarding how addiction will make transitioning into adulthood extremely difficult as well as how much drug abuse can impact their health. Teens also have a lower capacity for impulse control simply due to the fact that the advanced portions of their brains are not yet fully developed. It can therefore fall on parents to make the best decision for them.

Legally, people 17 years of age or younger can be put into residential drug rehab without their consent. This can seem like a very harsh decision, but there are circumstances where parents may have no other choice. When the teen’s life is at risk due to drug abuse, the resentment and anger that can result from forcing them into rehab is usually worth it. Keep in mind that a teen’s brain is still developing – up to age 25 – meaning that the damage done by drug and alcohol abuse will be much worse than it would be in an adult over the age of 25.

Is My Kid Addicted?

The first step to getting an addicted child help is to make sure the problem is indeed addiction. Symptoms of drug abuse and symptoms of mental illness often overlap, and forcing a child into addiction treatment when there is no addiction can cause serious damage to the parent-child relationship. This is complicated by the fact that teens who abuse substances typically hide this behavior from parents as they are very unlikely to approve.

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Parents who suspect drug abuse and addiction should keep an eye out for the signs:

  • Staying out late
  • Change in social circles
  • Changes in sleep schedule
  • Secretive or withdrawn behavior
  • Changes in hygiene or grooming habits
  • Unexplained weight change
  • Unusually large or small pupils
  • Health changes (feeling sick after staying out late)
  • Sudden reduction in ability to meet school responsibilities
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Severe mood swings
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Decrease in ability to focus
  • Frequent unexplained lethargy
  • Increased aggression
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or extracurricular activities
  • Unexplained agitation or increase in energy followed by a crash

Some of these are symptoms of mental illness like depression, anxiety disorders, or bipolar disorder. Others are just signs of being a teenager. However, several of these symptoms together can point to a drug abuse problem. It can help to study the abuse symptoms of individual drugs or types of drugs, such as stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens.

Teen use of illicit drugs is more common than many parents realize. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 27.2 percent of teens from grades 8-12 used an illicit drug at least once in 2014. Additionally, 19.4 percent of high school seniors reported binge drinking that year.

It’s also important to understand that drug abuse and drug addiction are not the same thing. Drug abuse is defined as any use of an illegal drug, any use of a prescription drug beyond what is recommended by a doctor, or excessive use of legal intoxicants like alcohol (though for teens, this is also illegal use). Drug abuse can lead to addiction, which is a general need for the drug in order to feel normal or feel like one can function. Stopping a teen from abusing drugs is difficult enough, but once an addiction forms, cravings and withdrawal make the prospect of quitting feel nearly impossible to many addicted individuals. At this point, treatment is needed, often after direct intervention by loved ones.


Though you can force an underage teen into rehab, it’s better for the outlook of the treatment and for the parent-child relationship to allow teens to make the choice on their own. There’s a fairly standard method of getting addicted loved ones into treatment if they’ve so far given no indication of seeking treatment themselves: an intervention.

Before staging an intervention, it’s essential to research rehab centers in the area first. The center will need to be notified of an incoming patient ahead of time so it can prepare and be ready to take in the person immediately following the intervention. This is done so the individual will not have time to back out. An intervention is a very emotional event. The person with the substance abuse problem will often get caught up in that emotion and agree to go to rehab based on this, but if that emotion has time to wear off, that individual might have a change of heart and refuse. Taking the addicted person to rehab immediately has shown to be a much more effective tactic than looking for a treatment center after the intervention.

There are over 14,500 addiction treatment centers in the US alone, each with its own philosophy and set of treatment programs. Some are specialized for teens and some are specialized for a certain type of drug. Some may follow a religious philosophy and others are secular. Parents need to research and balance things like distance from the home, specific philosophies, costs, types of treatment, etc. Residential rehab centers that keep clients in the facility for several weeks, 24 hours a day, can be expensive. However, many insurance programs cover addiction treatment, and some treatment centers will offer financing for those who need it. It’s best to speak with center representatives, your insurance company, and get advice from medical professionals. Selecting the right treatment center is essential.
The intervention itself can be very intense. It’s generally a gathering of the addicted person’s loved ones wherein they speak their concerns in a nonjudgmental fashion and urge the individual to get help. The reaction of the addicted person can vary widely. People may be accepting, they may become very emotional, deny having a problem, or become angry and defensive.

One thing that many addiction specialists recommend is to hire an intervention expert.

This person can help parents prepare their statements, and the interventionist will mediate the event to make sure it stays on track and to stop any enabling behaviors that may occur.

Treatment and Aftercare

Treatment in an inpatient rehab program typically lasts for 7-10 weeks. Family members can usually visit regularly and are encouraged to do so. A teen in rehab will need support and love during this difficult time. Parents may also be invited to take part in education programs that teach addicted individuals how to cope with life after rehab, including how to deal with temptation and cravings. Here, parents can learn how to guide and support their kids through this and how to avoid enabling behaviors. In the case of underage clients, family therapy may be provided in order to improve trust and communication between parents and children.

The first week or two may be tough as the addicted teen goes through withdrawal. The physical and emotional symptoms of this can be very unpleasant, but a rehab center has all the resources available to get clients through safely. Medications may need to be prescribed for anxiety, depression, insomnia, nausea, tremors, and other symptoms. After this process, rehab is about education, counseling, and support. Twelve-Step programs are often used. The teen will also be screened for co-occurring mental illnesses that might be fueling the addiction disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 7.9 million people in the US have both a substance abuse disorder and a co-occurring mental illness. Additional treatment may be recommended if a mental illness is discovered, including ongoing therapy and medication programs.

Once rehab is complete, this is not the end of the teen’s journey to recovery. Cravings may come up for your child for many years, and temptations and stress can create new cravings for the rest of the teen’s life. It’s important that everyone in the family understands that addiction is a mental illness, not a personal failing or a weakness of character.

If the child was forced into rehab, or if deception occurred during active addiction as it usually does, it’s likely that trust between the parents and the teen will need to be rebuilt. Family therapy can be very helpful for this process, but the most important thing is to ensure the child is supported and feels loved. Drug abuse and addiction can be a simple result of peer pressure or falling in with a bad crowd, but it can also be the result of feeling the need to escape from a bad environment, a reaction to severe stress, the result of feeling a lack of control or power in life, or due to any number of other types of psychological distresses or life dissatisfactions. Treatment aims to address the causes of substance abuse and to bring joy back into all areas of a person’s life.

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