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For many adolescents, substance dependence is a chronic condition that will require management into adulthood, and for some, throughout life. This is typical of chronic disorders. For example, if treatment for asthma or diabetes were stopped, a relapse would likely occur. Because addiction is also a chronic illness, this is equally true. The good news is that with good continuing care that is appropriately adjusted to individual needs, an adolescent should be able to manage his or her condition. Your child may initially need your help, but eventually he or she should be able to manage it without you, as he or she matures.

Many parents feel uncertain and ill-prepared when their child has completed inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program. You probably have many questions about how to best support your teen’s recovery and you may be feeling extra pressure. Unfortunately, there is very little scientific evidence for parents on how to best support their child’s substance use and addiction recovery. But there is information based on well-established behavioral principles, clinical experience and related research to help. Keep in mind that each parent, child and family is unique.

You’ll need to take into account your family’s strengths and weaknesses, the severity of your child’s substance use and the presence of co-occurring disorders. Most families will benefit from support and other professional help after their adolescent or young adult finishes rehab. Sometimes the situation is complex and requires the help of a skilled professional who can help you learn about the options that are best for your family.

Continuing Care After Treatment

Continuing care is the phrase used to describe the activities that can occur after someone finishes addiction treatment. Sometimes the term “aftercare” is used. Continuing care can involve: direct communications with the treatment program after the patient leaves; outpatient counseling sessions (group or individual); phone follow-ups; activities that take place in community support organizations. Optimal, but less frequently available continuing care options includes: drug testing and feedback; counseling or family therapy for parents and adolescents; social skills training; case coordination with schools and probation officers.

Usually the nature and extent of continuing care varies by the treatment facility. Most recommend a continuing care plan, often a 12-step program or less intensive program. Ideally the time to start thinking about continuing care services is during substance use and addiction treatment.

An ideal continuing care plan to support your child’s addiction recovery should involve: a counselor or support group and at least twice weekly sessions for the first month; at least weekly sessions for the next two months; twice monthly sessions for at least four more months. Better plans would include: continued regular checkups and monitoring via drug testing provided by a professional. The intensity of the continuing care should adjust based on the results of the checkup. Better plans would also include new activities your child enjoys that will bring him or her into contact with friends who don’t drink alcohol or use drugs.

If the treatment program does not provide a continuing care plan, then you and your child will need to develop one, preferably with a counselor or medical professional. If your child has a probation officer, you may be able to work with this individual. It is not always easy for teens to stick to a continuing care plan and it will likely require effort and support from all involved.

Treatment Research Institute and Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Continuing Care: A Parent’s Guide to Your Teen’s Recovery from Substance Abuse. 2014. Available from: http://continuingcare.drugfree.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/DrugFree_ContinuingCare_V9_SS_Quote2014.pdf