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Finding our your teenager is using drugs is heart-breaking. Image courtesy of FrameAngel at

Finding our your teenager is using drugs is heart-breaking.
Image courtesy of FrameAngel at

For a parent of a child who is using drugs and alcohol, one of the most difficult questions is when to send your child to rehab.  It is an incredibly hard to determine when they need that level of help.  When you consider the costs, disruption to school, guilt you might feel sending them away, emotional distress you know they will feel being sent away, stigma that might be attached with inpatient treatment, and fear you have of who they will meet while in treatment, it is enough to make any parent balk.


Here are 5 signs it is likely time for inpatient treatment:

1) You cannot control your teen.  You give them a curfew and they blow you off.  You tell them you will be taking their phone, and they ignore you.  You require them to be at school but they are truant all the time.  No matter what limits you set, they do what they want.  They are willing to go to any length to get their way, including being physical with you.  In fact, the only way you can imagine getting them to obey you is if you were to physically restrain them.


2)  They are stealing.  If your teenager’s drug addiction has come to the point that they are willing to steal in order to finance it, then it’s time for intervention.  In fact, it’s past time.  If you’ve noticed money missing from your wallet, guests who come over complain money is missing from their wallets, or your teenager has been caught breaking into cars, etc., please get them help.


3) They refuse a drug test.  Teens who are being honest about what they are using, and how often are ALWAYS eager to take a drug test.  Trust me, this is true ALL the time.  They want to prove to you that they are being honest.  When they refuse it is because they are hiding something.  This is a nearly sure sign they are using something they won’t admit to.


4) When they are coming down from their high, or sobering up from alcohol use, they are often lamenting about how miserable they are.  They might say extreme things like they want to die.  They might yell at you, or be extremely irritable.  Whatever the case, it’s clear to you they are going through physical suffering as they withdraw.


5) They ask for help.  This sounds really obvious, but a lot of parents don’t act on it when their teen asks for help.  There is often a few hour window that a teenager comes to you and asks for help with their addiction.  Quickly the cravings overtake them and they say they are fine (because they want to be left alone so they can use again).  However, if your teenager is asking you (even just for a couple hours at a time) for help, this is their way of telling you they can’t stop using on their own.


Addiction is terrifying, overwhelming, upsetting, frustrating, scary, and just plain awful.  It makes everything feel like chaos.  You walk around on eggshells because you are afraid to set your teenager off.  Your teenager is combative, rude, and has completely dropped activities they used to care about.  I know deciding to get them help is really hard, but sometimes it’s the only option you have left.


Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT