Jean Campbell, LCSW, TEP and Pamela C. Clark, CADCII, ICADC

Your son or daughter has agreed to go to treatment. As a parent you now face one of the biggest decisions you will ever make – choosing the best program. In the course of our work, parents often ask us how they will know if they’re making the right choice. This is a time of heightened emotion, and there are many
factors for parents to consider. First and foremost, emotion must be taken out of the equation in order to assess potential providers with the objectivity required to make an informed decision.

Here are some questions parents might not know to ask:

Will medically supervised detoxification (detox) services be required prior to admittance to the program? Alcohol and certain drugs require medically supervised detoxification before the individual can be admitted into residential or outpatient treatment. Be sure to ask how to have your child appropriately screened to see if detox is needed.

If the program does not offer detox services and detox is required before admittance, can they provide a referral to detox treatment? This is important because many detox services require a written referral from a program before they will admit someone. If detox services are offered through a different provider, be sure to coordinate a transfer directly from the detox center to the treatment program after detox has been completed. Post-detox is when the person is at greatest risk for relapse and overdose due to lowered drug tolerance. Other times of heightened overdose risk include after program completion, after a prolonged illness, and after being released from jail.

Drug testing, frequency and cost – who pays? Insurance or you? This is important because this varies among programs and insurance providers. You should clarify what drug testing expenses you will be required to pay out of pocket. The truth is that some programs are “milking the system,” so it’s important to ask specific questions. If the program charges over $150 per UA (urinalysis), except in extreme circumstances, we’d suggest you seek out alternative treatment.

What are the qualifications of the treatment team? Is there a physician on staff and are they Board Certified in addiction medicine? Is the staff comprised of therapists and counselors who are licensed and/or certified in drug treatment? Do they have staff licensed to conduct mental health assessments? Do they assess and treat trauma? Are medications prescribed during the course of treatment? If your child is also struggling with mental health issues, it will be important to know how medication will be monitored by the clinical staff, if she or he will have access to a psychiatrist on a regular basis, and what the program does if the medication isn’t working effectively. Moreover, many treatment centers charge an additional amount for the patient to see a psychiatrist, so ask up front what their policy is.

What does a typical day look like? The treatment provider should be able to tell you what each day of the week looks like, and show you a weekly calendar of program activities: individual and group counseling sessions, 12-step or other recovery meetings, group activities, meal times, visiting hours and the information on the next dates for their family treatment program.

How does the program involve the family in the treatment process? It is important to involve the whole family in the treatment process because the family will need to unlearn old ways of interacting and learn new healthy ways to interact and communicate with each other. Ask about the family programs they offer, and how they involve your family and your son or daughter in these programs. Also, ask about how often you should expect the treatment program to update you on the progress of your son or daughter. You can also ask about how often families are able to visit while your son or daughter is in treatment.

What is the plan for aftercare? Aftercare may involve outpatient treatment, attending recovery meetings, and forming new healthy relationships with others in recovery. Before your son or daughter successfully completes treatment, there should be a plan in place to maintain their sobriety once they leave the program. In addition, some programs will recommend more treatment, such as extended care, which is a step-down from primary treatment, but is still highly structured, or possibly sober living in conjunction with an outpatient program.

What consent forms do I need to complete so I can have access to information about my son or daughter’s progress? If your child is a minor you can ask to review their records at any time. If your son or daughter is 18 years or older, he or she will have to sign a “consent to release information” form in order for you to have access to his or her progress and records. Be sure to discuss this with your child and if he or she consents, have the release signed during the intake process. It would also be a good idea to ask the treatment center what happens if your child revokes the release allowing the treatment center to share information about him/her.

What if my son or daughter wants to leave treatment? Sometimes a program just isn’t the right fit. Ask what their reimbursement policy is, and if your child is 18 years or older, if they will contact you if they decide to leave treatment. Ask if you can expect the treatment provider to make recommendations for alternative treatment.

What if my son or daughter is asked to leave treatment? What are the grounds for asking someone to leave? What is their process, and how is this communicated to you? Ask if you can expect the treatment provider to make recommendations for alternative treatment.

Do they have a list of parent references you can contact?
It’s always a good idea to speak to other parents about their experience, and many programs offer references for this purpose.

Next Steps
Once you have contacted some programs, are satisfied with the program’s components and costs, the next step would be to schedule a tour of the facility with your son or daughter. It’s also a good idea to offer a choice and allow your son or daughter to choose the program he or she likes best, based on those you have pre-screened and are satisfied will offer the right treatment. This will empower your child to take responsibility for treatment and can boost his/her self-esteem.

There are also questions we wish parents would ask:

As a parent what can I do to take care of myself during this time? This is so important and often overlooked. Attending Al-Anon Family Group meetings ( and other family support groups is just as important for the parent as it is for the patient. You will find a supportive, non-judgmental environment where you can learn how to set healthy boundaries and learn new ways to interact with your loved one.

What can I be doing to help the other members of my family during this time? Siblings are often overlooked and they need help too. Al-Anon, Alateen and Alatot, and other programs can be invaluable to help siblings process their experiences in a safe, supportive environment. We strongly recommend that parents get help for the siblings as well.

As a parent what can we do after treatment to prevent a return to active addiction? Recovery is unique to every individual and it may take many years of vigilance and ongoing support to reinforce the new behaviors required to maintain continued sobriety.

Recovery can be successful if the individual and the family understand the triggers that can cause a relapse and learn effective coping strategies to deal with these triggers when they arise. The truth is that because so few family members get help to change their behavior, they go back to unconsciously enabling the recovering person. The more you as parents can do to change your behavior and set – and keep – clear boundaries, the greater your chances that the family can move forward in recovery together.

My child left school to go to treatment. Are there schools that offer recovery support? Yes. If your child is in college, there are over 140 colleges in the U.S. that have recovery support on campus where they can make new like-minded friends and engage in fun sober activities. To find a college near you go to

If your child is in high school you can find information on recovery high schools on the Association of Recovery Schools (ARS) website,

Another national organization committed to helping young people sustain their recovery is Young People in Recovery (YPR). For more information visit

We wish you and your loved ones success in treatment and recovery.

Jean Campbell, LCSW, TEP is a Licensed Clinician and a Trainer/Practitioner of Psychodrama, Psychodramatic Bodywork® and Action Intervention Training™. She specializes in addiction recovery for the entire family, as well as trauma resolution. As Director of the Action Institute of California and Moonlight Workshops, she offers workshops for individuals, couples and families and trains clinicians in using action methods in the therapeutic process.

Pamela Clark, CADC II, ICADC is an internationally and California state Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselor and is a certified Opioid Overdose Prevention and Response Trainer. She works for the nonprofit Transforming Youth Recovery, where she writes articles and develops programs and training workshops that
have the power to eliminate stigma and educate the public about prevention, recovery, and educational recovery supports.