A blog for parents concerned about their teens alcohol and drug use

« return to blog home

Finding Addiction Treatment for Your Child: A Q&A with Maia Szalavitz, Part II

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Recognizing that your child needs substance abuse treatment can be emotional and overwhelming; and you may feel that your child’s addiction has taken over your family’s life. Here, we present Part 2 of a 4-part series of my Q & A with award-winning journalist, Maia Szalvitz. Today, Ms. Szalavitz shares some advice on how parents can find the right addiction treatment for their teens and young adults — and what they should avoid.

JERRY OTERO: What do parents need to know about the differences between girls and boys when dealing with substance abuse issues?

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Mainly that everyone has individual needs and some of them relate to gender, like the fact that girls may be more likely to be depressed or that they may feel uncomfortable discussing issues of sexuality in mixed gender groups.  Mostly, it’s critical for everyone to be thoroughly evaluated before treatment is sought so that an independent assessment of these needs can be done by someone who doesn’t have a particular treatment in mind.  Note:  independent assessment should be done by a psychiatrist or psychologist, not an educational consultant who refers people to residential care.

JERRY OTERO: What should parents be cautious of when looking for the right treatment for their child? What about programs that “whip kids into shape?” And, is there a difference between boot camps and wilderness programs?

MAIA SZALAVITZ: Any treatment that wants to cut off or control communication between parent and child (outside of obvious abusive parents) for longer than a week or two should be viewed with extreme skepticism.  There is no therapeutic reason for this: love and support from family help treatment, they do not hinder it.

Any program that tells parents to expect bizarre complaints or reports of abuse and ignore them should be avoided.  A program that goes on about children being manipulative liars is not safe because health complaints will be ignored and this can and has been deadly.

Programs that require 12-step work for teens— admissions of addiction and powerlessness— are not the best; programs which suggest and support them are fine.

Programs that use physical punishment or restraint or isolation should be avoided; you can’t whip someone with heart disease into a cure, nor can you do this with addiction.

Wilderness programs are different from boot camps in that the harsh treatment takes place in the woods or wilds rather than in a more military style but both have had serious abuses and there is no evidence supporting the idea that they are better than safer alternatives.  If a child likes the woods, a voluntary Outward Bound program may be healing, but forcing someone into camping and hiking isn’t addiction treatment.  If a child goes to a wilderness camp for normal teens, he also will be believed when he has a health complaint — but in “troubled teen” programs the complaints are dismissed so callously that it has lead to dozens of deaths.  They’re also either unregulated or not well regulated.

JERRY OTERO: Thank you so much, for your insights, Maia.

Readers, for more information about adolescent and young-adult alcohol and other drug abuse treatment and how to find the most appropriate care for your child and family, download The Partnership at’s Treatment e-book. This e-book will provide helpful and realistic information and advice to aid you in steering your child — and your family — toward recovery. Here, you will learn what alcohol and drug abuse treatment is, how to find the right type of treatment for your child, how to pay for treatment and the importance of taking care of yourself and your family.

Stay tuned next week for Part III of our Q&A“Changes in the Field, including Medication-Assisted Treatement”

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer at and writes about addiction-related issues for The . Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. She is co-author of Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential — and Endangered, (Morrow, 2010), The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing (Basic, 2007), and Recovery Options: The Complete Guide: How You and Your Loved Ones Can Understand and Treat Alcohol and Other Drug Problems (John S. Wiley, 2000) and the author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006).



Posted by  |  Filed under 12-Step, Addiction, Assessment, Finding Treatment, getting help, Treatment, Uncategorized

3 Comments on “Finding Addiction Treatment for Your Child: A Q&A with Maia Szalavitz, Part II”

Kathy Johnson says:
April 15th, 2013 at 3:29 am

Please give names of qualified facilities and addiction psychiatrists who can assess and evaluate in all aspects.. Co occurring disorders, possible brain abnormalities along with substance abuse. Treating addiction alone isn’t the answer.

Patti Herndon says:
April 22nd, 2013 at 11:42 pm

This is excellent. These are exactly the kinds of insights we can utilize/count on to ‘genuinely’ help us/inspire us, as parents, to become more informed on current, evidence-based practices/spirits of approach that support us in increasing our own sense of self efficacy and confidence regarding our ability to discern the most appropriate approaches/decisions for our particular circumstances – based on our individual son/daughters strengths/needs, as well as in consideration of our particular family system dynamic.

“A program that goes on about children being manipulative liars is not safe because health complaints will be ignored and this can and has been deadly.”

The above, by Ms. Szalavitz, is so critical in choosing an appropriate treatment environment…and, should not be limited to the context of ‘treatment facilities’…but, our entire society.

This speaks to how CSO’s/Parents/the advocacy collective benefit by being mindful/aware not to perpetuate marginalizing, stereotyping, recovery-blocking assertions about our kids, who are challenged by a substance use disorder or, for that matter, ‘any’ person challenged by a substance use disorder/co occurring mental health disorder.

Specifically, these commonly perpetuated judgments/stereotypes about people who are challenged by addiction. Well intended, though, these attitudes are; We’ve all heard this stuff: ‘Addicts’ are ‘liars’, ‘manipulators’, ‘thieves’, etc. ‘Parents are enablers’, ‘Parents are addicted to denial’, etc.

This stuff does not, despite its best intent, inform or help support anyone’s sense of self efficacy. Nor does it act as some kind of ‘offered enlightenment’. This negative stuff just ‘adds to’ the existing barriers to recovery that we are all trying to remove – for every one benefit. This stuff is just an example of more negative, status quo, ‘pile-it-on’ attitudes. And, most all of us have been exposed to this common status quo cliché, or others like it, too: “You know an ‘addict’ is lying when his/her lips are moving.”

If this stuff is being offered by either a clinician/treatment advisor, or repeated in your parent support group as ‘parenting wisdom’ intended as a means to keep you from ‘being in denial’ or from ‘enabling’; It’s probably time to engage another resource(s) for support. These kinds of marginalizing judgments do little but further stigmatize people challenge by addiction -making their journey, as well as their family member’s journey- more difficult.

This stigma-making stuff creates larger and larger barriers to treatment, voids hope, and decreases our ‘productive’ energy stores for building and modeling ‘necessary’ healthy coping in the addiction journey.

In addition, espousing these stigma-perpetuating stereotypes will interfere with our critical-to-recovery demonstration to our son/daughter that we believe in their ability to engage recovery/make healthy change, in time, little by little. Remember parents: showing appropriate empathy is NOT enabling. It’s empathy. And, empathy is a critical component in recovery-purposed communications. Empathy is necessary to sustain health in any relational dynamic -but especially important when there is a substance use/other mental health related disorder to address.

We get it… The intent behind this stuff is to, ‘hold up a mirror’ to our ‘enabling, addicted-to-denial parenting ways’ -That whole, ‘scaring parents straight’ notion. But, what we understand -now more than ever before-, is how complex addiction is. There is no ‘single’ reason that a person develops a substance use disorder. It’s most often a result of multiple factors -biological, psychological, and sociological. And, we have come to understand that parents (really, people, in general) don’t benefit from others telling them what ‘they’ believe is being done ‘wrong’. No. That ‘outdated’ approach has, mostly, just tended to put people (cso’s/parents etc) on the defense, increase their sense of guilt, shame, stress/anxiety, and subsequently lower the desire to engage in open, healthy dialoging -dialoguing and learning that would, otherwise, support recovery-purposed thoughts and actions regarding their individual circumstances.

We need tools/supports that will help us sustain our sense of hope, our creative problem solving ability, our sense that recovery is not only possible, but likely. And, we all have this ‘spirit’/ability within each of us to cultivate and strengthen; no matter the level of challenge we face at any given point in the addiction journey. We have increased likelihood of engaging this ‘can do’ sense/this increased coping ability, (and modeling that sense to our son/daughter, who is challenged by addiction), when our friends, family, peers and other advocates ‘hold out a hand’, rather than a mirror. As in, the blog above

Thanks you for this, Ms. Szalavitz . The Intervene community has a really wonderful and significant opportunity here to benefit from your intervention :-)

Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

Tanya says:
April 30th, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I was addicted to meth but have now been clean for over 15 years. It took being incarcerated to break the addiction. This for someone who had previously never had contact with the law outside of traffic citations. I don’t know if this poem I wrote in jail will help anyone but it clearly depicts my feelings and that was one of the first steps in my recovery. This is how it goes:

I found you so alluring at first
You seemed to feed an inner thirst
Filled that empty hole in me
Seemed to set my inhibitions free
But in reality it was just a facade
You took me to places I’d never trod
Places dark and dangerous to be
To people I’d never have kept company
I found myself alone and broken
Before able to listen to some wisdom spoken
By people who’d been there, done that before
They too were addicts, thru and thru to the core
They helped me see there is a better way
That dark though it seemed it would be OK
At the end of this tunnel there was a light
All I needed to do was learn to fight
To regain my esteem and self-respect
My life didn’t need to remain a wreck
They showed me the way to attain this goal
As little by little I regained my soul

I was sentenced to 2 years but because I truly wanted to regain my life, my sentence was modified and I was released after doing 1 year. I have never been back and today it seems like a bad dream, until I hear stories of how prevelent meth has become. I thank God every day for my recovery and truly empathize with the struggle other addicts are fighting. My prayers are with you and may God have mercy on your soul.

Leave a Comment

Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree


About this blog
Welcome to Intervene. We are a community of experts, parents and caring adults concerned about our teens’ alcohol and drug use and have come together to share our insights, inspiration, guidance and help.

A free service to help you determine if alcohol may be harming your health or putting you at risk.

Previous Posts




Drugfree.orgTime To Act!© 2014 The Partnership at Drugfree.orgThe Partnership at does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. More.