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How to Encourage Your Child to Get Help for Their Substance Use or Addiction

You may have heard that your child “has to want help” in order to get better. Chances are they do want help getting better, but we may not be hearing them because we don’t know what to listen for.

If your loved one expresses even a little willingness to start getting help — whether it’s attending an AA or NA meeting, or getting a treatment consultation — it can be all the invitation you need to begin the conversation.

While the hope is that your child will readily and quickly agree to treatment, don’t despair if they first say no or need more time to think about it. There will be opportunities to raise the subject again. Managing your expectations around them engaging with, and staying in, treatment are a part of good self-care.

Listen for "change talk"

So, how does a willingness to get help sound? It usually comes in the form of “change talk.” Change talk is any time your child voices a concern over the way things are, or expresses a desire to improve their life in some way. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “I’m really feeling depressed that I don’t have a decent job.”

  • “I think I really upset [a friend] last night when he thought I had one too many.”

  • “I wonder if I should go back to school.”

  • “I want to move out and have my own place.”

When a loved one expresses change talk, help them connect the dots. Gently explain how their substance use is related to their current worries and their hopes for a better future.

The following sample dialogue demonstrates what this might sound like.

“I really want to move out and have my own place.”

“I know you’ve wanted your own place for quite some time. What do you think is holding you back?”

“I can’t get a decent job that pays enough.”

“What have employers told you when you’ve applied?”

“They all want drug screens. That’s BS in my opinion. I mean why should they care what I do on my own time.”

“So, you want a good job and your goal is to move out, but it sounds like your drug use is getting in the way. What are your thoughts about quitting for a while so that you can get a better job? If you need help cutting back, we can look into that too.”


“Think about it and let’s talk about it again in a few days.”

Note how the parent or caregiver is working really hard to remain open-minded and invite dialogue rather than dismissing or criticizing. Some techniques to help you have similar success include:

  • Use open-ended questions. The parent in this example likely knows that substance use is at the root of their child’s unemployment, but draws it out without judging them.

  • Wait for the right time. Change talk can open the door to this type of conversation, but it won’t work if they’re under the influence, racing out the door, overly tired or might otherwise feel interrupted.

  • Give them options. Note that the parent in this example didn’t say “You have to stop.” They provided some options. It’s helpful for your loved one to have input and a choice.

Read the rest on Partnership to End Addiction website

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