You know your child is using drugs

First step – breathe and stay calm. Your child needs you to be firm and focused.


If your child is continually abusing drugs or has become addicted, he or she needs help.

You as the parent are in the best position get the help your child needs.

Health care providers, doctors, police, counsellors, psychologists and/or psychiatrists are just a few of the resources you can turn to for support and guidance before getting treatment.   It's important to get medical advice in order to determine that treatment is required,  then begin the search for treatment that best suits your child.

Disclaimer:   Each situation is unique and ideally requires a unique solution.   Addiction and  mental health treatment is a provincial responsibility, which is usually assigned to a ministry of health or ministry dealing with child and family services. Services and their delivery patterns/methods vary from province to province. Depending on where the parents live as well as their financial abilities, we cannot provide “the” perfect treatment services assessment tool. 

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Getting Treatment for your child - some important things for parents to know:

Look for a program that is: Teen centric not Program centric.

Most treatment services in publicly funded organizations are delivered on a group basis. This approach is considered to be efficient because the service numbers are higher than if treatment was delivered on a one-to-one basis. Typically outcomes that are measured include “unique individuals served” or the like; none of which deal with the quality and outputs.

Look for an Approach that is Comprehensive and Integrated

Program services must address all aspects of the adolescent’s life, including his role in the family, school, juvenile justice, mental and physical health and the relationship to the community.

Family involvement in the treatment process 

The involvement of the entire family in the treatment has shown to improve results. The results of study after study on the issue of family support during treatment and during the aftercare indicates clearly that the more the family is involved in the treatment of the adolescent the more the parents are putting the family structure to an independent review. It's important to know that results of that review might indicate that others in the family might also need treatment.

 Treatment matching in a continuum of care model

A continuum of care model in which individuals move to seek the service that they need at that point in time be it:  assessment, detoxification, stabilization, treatment interventions of varying intensity, whether in a residential setting or in a walk-in clinic and aftercare.   The model focuses upon varying degrees of severity within which three interrelationships can exist:

1)   Acuity = a dimension of short duration but of urgent risk or adverse consequences associated with an index of use.

2)   Chronicity = a dimension that looks at the worsening or the enduring of conditions.

3)   Complexity = the degree of co-occurrence of the acute and chronic indices

Look for a program with qualified staff: 

The field of addiction treatment is prone to attract individuals who have completed treatment programs and who now feel the need to assist others.  The wisdom of an individual as a result of a lived experience mean that the treatment provider is only a few years older than the adolescent,  and any challenges to the authority of the treatment provider might trigger personal/emotional responses as opposed to using his or her training and diffusing situation.

Look for a program that is evidence based :

There are a number of practices or interventions in addiction treatment that are considered of questionable results. To benefit from the latest research results and improvements in addiction treatment programming you should ask the treatment provider if they use evidence-based practices. A reliable database for evidence-based interventions has been developed by the National Institute of Health in the US.


Teen runaway

Choosing a Treatment Centre:

Depending on where you live, there may be several different options, private or public available to you. What's important is that you find one that will treat your adolescent as just that, an adolescent. Here are some questions you as a parent might think of asking.

Whatever decision you make as a parent for your child, it is important to understand that remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical



9 Questions to ask a treatment centre:

1 - Do you use a Comprehensive (alcohol, and drug, and mental health disorders) and Semi-structured Assessment process ?

2 - Do you monitor, measure, evaluate and report on the services you provide?

3 - Do you necessitate the entire family's involvement in the treatment process?

4  - Are mental health problems routinely assessed?

5 - Are nationally recognized assessment instruments used to make a diagnosis?

6 - Are special efforts made to engage and retain youth with a concurrent disorder,  ie., a psychiatric disorder and a substance use disorder, including in aftercare plans?

7 - What are the special efforts that you have made and continue to implement to engage and retain youth with addiction and concurrent disorders.

8 - What kind of assessment does the program conduct of the adolescent's problems admission during the stay, and after discharge?

9 - What evidence you have that your program is effective?



Assessment of your child:

 Important facts to know:  Accurate assessments are an important first step in diagnosing substance abuse disorders as well as psychiatric conditions.

1 -  Adolescents develop states of addiction much faster than an adult.

2 -  Adolescents  turn to alcohol or drugs because of peer pressure to conform to the norms of the group, bullying, etc. while adults develop addictions because of problems in the family  relationship, loss of employment, etc.

3 -  Emotions which are normal at one age can be abnormal in another.

4 -  The incidence rate of concurrent mental illness is much higher in adolescents than in adults.

5 -  Gender differences increase dramatically through the adolescent age span

6 -  Screening tools are often used and called assessment instruments.   A comprehensive assessment instrument must be tailored to the needs of adolescents (including histories in personal/social relationships, legal, psychiatric, medical, spiritual and educational) and provide an introductory treatment plan.

This section was compiled with the assistance of Glenn Barnes, MHA, LL B, Consultant, and former President & CEO, Dave Smith Youth Treatment Centres in the city of Ottawa. 

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