Parents, spouses and other family members that have ever caught their loved one using substances or who have had a loved one approach them and admit to having an issue with addiction often find themselves thrown headfirst into a crisis. A crisis that has no manual or easy step-by-step direction guide. Some loved ones may have suspected their family member has had an issue for a long time and others may have been blindsided by the situation. Regardless of the circumstances, family members are often gripped with fear, confusion and have little direction of what to do or where to turn. Unlike other medical conditions where a person would go to their primary care physician or to an Emergency Room in crisis, addiction and mental health concerns do not often take the typical path of other medical conditions. Whether that is due to the stigma of addiction with sufferers and family feeling ashamed and not wanting anyone else to know or perhaps because of the lack of resources or the lack of understanding and education regarding what resources are available, most people turn to the internet and search engines like Google.

They randomly find a addiction treatment center and begin a blind process of finding their loved one help. It is often at this point that issues arise, as many of the unethical and illegal marketing practices within the addiction treatment field have been so well documented over the last few years. Family members, knowing little regarding how to find or access quality treatment or even what type of help their loved one needs, are often hoodwinked or deceived regarding what they find online. However, it’s difficult to blame the individuals and families. When someone admits to a problem and requests help, the nature of addiction makes the window of opportunity for them to follow through on getting help quite small and often closes quickly. Families want to get them help and get them help immediately. The families are in crisis and simply want to make sure that their loved one receives the life-saving treatment they need. However, because of numerous factors regarding addiction, frantically searching random treatment facilities, online resources and websites is often not the best course of action.

So let’s slow down for a moment. Although it is not an apples-to-apples comparison, let’s for a moment equate addiction to another life-threatening but treatable disease: Cancer. Let’s assume your child or your spouse came to you with Stage 4 cancer. What would you do? First you would go with them and outreach someone you trusted, typically a primary care physician. You would also probably reach out to close friends and confidants that you know may know have gone through something similar, either themselves or one of their loved ones. After meeting with the primary care doctor you would receive a referral to a specialist, an oncologist that would do a consult. You most likely would go with your loved one to that consult, as well as to meet several other specialists and then decide which one you and your loved one felt most comfortable with. After meeting with them you may speak with other people you know personally that went to those specialists or whose loved ones were treated by those specialists and gauge their experiences. How did it go? Did they feel comfortable? Were they happy with that doctor and hospital? Finally, you and your loved one would make a decision and they would engage in treatment. You and your loved one would take the time and do the research to figure out what the best course of treatment would be and which treatment provider you all felt comfortable with. You would go to each consult and check out the hospital, vet those providers through professionals and personal friends that you trust and ultimately make an informed decision. You certainly would not go to the internet, Google “Cancer Treatment, Maryland” and select a specialist or hospital simply because they had a nice looking website and someone over the phone sounded nice, would you?

Of course you wouldn’t but that is exactly what occurs with addiction and addiction treatment hundreds of time daily throughout America. Addiction treatment, as vital to the treatment of addiction as cancer treatment is to someone suffering from cancer, is unfortunately often handled during a crisis where individuals and loved ones are making frantic, uninformed decisions in a moment’s notice. Have you ever heard the stories of someone saying they needed help for addiction, visited a web site, engaged in a single phone call and within hours were on a plane out of state to a treatment center? Of course you have. Now think of that in the same lens as you would if your loved one was suffering from cancer. Would you send them on a plane to a facility across the country after single glance at a website and a single phone call? It sounds absurd, but it is happening every day and the individual and family cannot be blamed for it. They are in a crisis and are seeking help immediately. They are uninformed and uneducated consumers and simply want their loved one to receive help. However, family members and loved ones need to become informed consumers. They need to take important steps and educate themselves and reach out to ask questions in order to figure out what is the best course of action for their loved one that will give that person the best chance of engaging in treatment and ultimately set them up for a sustainable recovery.

So what can families do when a loved one informs them that they are suffering from addiction and would like to get help? What steps can they take to make an informed decision?

1.  Talk about it!

We know the stigma of addiction and mental health is strong, but families need to fight through the shame, guilt and concern of what others may think. Addiction is a disease and the loved one suffering is sick, just like individuals suffering from cancer, heart disease and diabetes are sick. They need help and they need treatment. Family members need to feel safe and secure that their loved one is not a bad person but rather a sick person and then feel comfortable discussing what is happening with friends, family and professionals in the field. They need to know that their loved one is suffering from a brain disease and they should not feel ashamed talking about it with others. Most people, whether you know it or not, have been touched by addiction in some form or fashion.

2.  Reach out to professionals and close friends in the know!

Everyone knows someone that has dealt with addiction, where it is another family member, a friend or a local professional. Outreach those people and ask questions. Tell them about what is going on. Speak to friends in recovery, families who have dealt with the same issues or local mental health professionals. Ask them what you should do, who to call and contact, what questions to ask. Allow them to guide you through their own personal experience or professional expertise. Use them as a sounding board but also as people that can give you insight and experience, as well as potential resources.

3.  Get referrals and vet them!

When speaking with professionals and close confidants, ask them what treatment facilities they know and their experiences with those facilities. Tell them about what potential treatment facilities you’ve found online, heard about or have spoken with. Ask them their experiences and how it was helpful or unhelpful. Find out, if they’ve had good experiences, what made them good experiences. What have they found to work and be helpful? Reach out to multiple facilities and find a comfort level and then vet them through people who have dealt with this issue in the past and have experience with successful treatment and recovery.

4.  Go meet the treatment centers you are considering, get eyes on the facilities, meet the ownership and staff!

You wouldn’t send your loved one to a hospital for cancer without ever having seen the facility and met with the specialists, would you? Addiction treatment is no different. How can you feel comfortable with an organization you are sending your loved one to without ever having seen it or speaking with the team that will actually be performing the treatment services? Seeing a web site and speaking to someone in admissions is not good enough, especially if that person is not a clinician. You should see the facility and be able to speak with the team that will actually be treating your loved one. Ask questions and learn about the treatment, why it is that center’s treatment approach and services appropriate for your loved one’s clinical needs? What should you and your loved one expect from treatment and also what are the expectations of you and your loved one from the treatment center? This is vital information. You should be given a roadmap of the next year of your loved ones life, what it should look like, how it will look and unfold and what you can expect in the future. What will the treatment in the facility consist of? What issues will be worked on? What will the plan for aftercare be once your loved one is discharged? You should see the road ahead so there are no surprises. Ask financial questions. Learn about your insurance coverage. Find out the difference between facilities that are in-network or out-of-network with your insurance. Ask about any ancillary charges that may occur. Get pricing upfront so there are no surprises. You should know before your loved one admits what the cost of treatment will be or at the minimum and understanding of cost of services.

Always make sure to have seen a facility and met with the staff, vet that facility through friends or professionals, get an understanding of the roadmap of the next year (minimum) of your loved ones life and how the treatment center and you will be supporting their recovery and then, once informed, you can make the decision regarding treatment for your loved one.

Of course, this is by no means a black and white issue. No one can give everyone a specific roadmap about how to go about choosing the best facility for their loved one and of course once treatment begins, the plans can remain fluid depending on the clinical needs that arise. However, these questions and directions should at least offer some basic guiding principles about how families can slow down a crisis and make an informed addiction treatment decision for their loved one suffering from addiction in order to begin the process of healing.treatment center

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