Take Immediate Action: Sending Your Addicted Child to Treatment

Take immediate action: Sending your addicted child to treatment

Waiting to send your son or daughter to treatment for their drug or alcohol addiction may be a mistake, especially if they are close to turning eighteen. Once they become a legal adult, it's easier for them to refuse professional help.  

Staging a successful intervention for a family member is difficult. It takes hard work and determination to penetrate the individual’s addicted brain’s defense mechanisms. Here’s why:   

Addiction is a brain disease rooted in the midbrain, also known as the ‘mesencephalon’, which controls essential life-saving functions. For example, when a person enters a room full of strangers their midbrain instantly decides if the strangers are friends or enemies; once it determines the situation is non-threatening, it hands over further decision making to the frontal cortex which is responsible for executive functioning, like making decisions such as what to eat for dinner or what is the appropriate outfit to wear to an upcoming party. 

The addicted brain or the diseased brain act differently in that it applies life or death consequences of getting and using mind-altering substances. Meaning that the addicted brain becomes rewired so that it recategorized using addictive substances as being a life or death priority. So when challenged at an intervention the addicted brain says to the addict, “do not surrender, no matter what, if they take away your drugs you’ll die”, which partially explains why interventions require a lot of preparation and hard work.

Young addicts are masterful at manipulating their parents, and parents, likewise, are bad at upholding boundaries which may explain why the family finds itself struggling with addiction problems in the first place. 

Still, it is better to get them into rehab before their eighteenth birthday if they are struggling to stay sober. As the parent of a minor, you have personal and legal leverage which makes the challenge of getting them to help easier. 

A minor living at home relies on his parents for day-to-day support and can be subjected to sanctions if they refuse treatment, such as losing their car, losing their iPhone, their spending money and other ancillary goods they readily rely on. 

As their legal guardian, parents in Florida have the ability to make medical decisions for their minor children, but cannot mandate them into treatment without a court order, according to Richard Casey, an attorney, who specializes in behavioral health law.

“The state of Florida possesses a unique law, known as the Marchman Act, which allows family members to petition the court to have an addicted individual, whether an adult or a minor, to be evaluated and ordered into treatment. The good news is the Marchman Act is a civil action and does not create a criminal record”. 

I receive a lot of calls from parents of adult children who want to have an intervention for their addicted child, but it's more challenging, because the kid may no longer be relying on their mom and dad for financial support. Often the adult children are married, have children of their own and professional careers which can be barriers for parents who want to intervene. 

I have found parents are more pressed to stage an intervention than an addict's husband or wife who may be more angry than afraid.

This is not to say an intervention is not appropriate or shouldn’t be done, it just may present a different set of challenges such as: implementing more personal consequences and involving a bigger intervention party. 

Once an adult child is admitted into treatment there are challenges that may still remain for the parents, such as the patient not authorizing family members to receive information about their progress in treatment or even confirm they are in treatment. Without authorization, your son or husband can leave treatment AMA* and show up back on your front doorstep with no prior notice. The treatment center has no right or obligation to inform you if they skip out.

If you’re an unauthorized parent seeking information from a rehab center inquiring about your adult son or daughter or wanting to speak with them, the person answering the phone will offer to take a message and deliver it to the patient, “if they are there”. 

I was recently retained by a family with a 26-year-old son who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, psychosis, mania, and substance abuse disorder. A few minutes into the intervention, I said to the father, “I am not worried about him agreeing to go to rehab, I am concerned about the treatment center being willing to admit him in this condition”.  

Initially, the treatment center did admit my client’s son but chose to Baker Act* him the following day for stabilization.

Four days after being Baker Acted into a behavioral health hospital he contacted his mother informing her he was returning to the rehab center, but I subsequently heard from someone in my network they would not be accepting him back. We later learned he met a girl in the psych unit further complicating things. 

Because he had not authorized any of his family members or myself to speak with his treatment team, it made it very difficult for us to get accurate information or make informed treatment decisions - we were kept completely in the dark.

Despite these challenges, there are very few excuses for not carrying out an intervention. Many of the excuses family members give me for why an intervention will not be successful - even during the COVID-19 pandemic - are myths perpetuated by the addict to protect his or her addiction.

Commonly used roadblocks are that: he or she is too smart for rehab or Alcoholics Anonymous, threatening bodily harm or suicide if forced to attend treatment, loosing their job (law license, medical license, etc.) if they go to treatment, being fired for taking time off from work to go to treatment, ad infinitum. 

Attorneys, doctors, ironworkers, airline pilots, school teachers have all gotten treatment, gotten sober, returned, and continued their careers. Most professions and professional boards have mechanisms for their professionals to receive treatment without being penalized.

This is in addition to the afflicted person being protected under ‘The Family and Medical Leave Act and The Americans with Disabilities Act’* which includes Substance Use Disorder (SUD); it is illegal to be fired for taking leave to receive treatment for addiction. 

Regardless of the state of your child’s recovery, it is important to take care of yourself and your other family members. I strongly advise my clients to attend Al-anon or Co-dependents Anonymous (CODA). These programs are similar to other twelve-step programs and based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous but intended for family members who have been affected by another person’s drug or alcohol addiction. 

Al-anon and CODA are valuable resources for the non-addicted family members and active involvement in them can have a profound effect on the addict’s recovery, because they help their members to recover from codependency, which simultaneously enables addiction. Even so, it can be just as difficult to get family members into Al-anon as it is to get addicts into AA or NA.

*AMA means Against Medical Advice and is a commonly used term around treatment centers referring to patients who skip out. 

*The Baker Act is a Florida law which provides individuals with emergency services and temporary detention for mental health evaluation and treatment when required, either on a voluntary or an involuntary basis. Every state has some form of this law.

*The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to provide employees with job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons including addiction.

Marc Kantor is an interventionist based in South Florida who works with families struggling with drug & alcohol addiction; he can be reached at 202-390-2273 or by e-mail at marc@southfloridaintervention.com