Five Questions to Ask When A Loved One Needs Treatment

Norah Benincasa Lasora
Woman looking at smart phone screen

Every American is impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak, and families and individuals affected by addiction will face even greater challenges during this time. Now more than ever, it is important to seek treatment when you or your loved one is ready. For information on seeking treatment during COVID-19, click here.

At first, I thought my son was simply depressed. Depression was familiar.  I was confident he was receiving good care from his therapist, primary physician, and psychiatrist. But I still had concerns. My son was isolating himself, he seemed unable to focus on work, and he was losing weight. One day, while sharing these concerns with a friend, she said, “Your son is using heroin.”

Hearing her say this, I was shocked.  My mind went blank and I was rendered helpless.

She continued, “My daughter has struggled with this for years. I know a lot of people who can help you.” My friend helped me look into treatment options, and luckily my son was happy to go.

It all happened so fast. When a child’s life may be at stake, a parent is wired to jump into action. I was caught off guard and unprepared.

I was lucky to have my friend’s help. But after my son’s experience, I was determined to never be left feeling powerless again. That’s why I’ve educated myself about addiction treatment—and I recommend every parent do the same.

Use these five questions as a springboard to finding the most effective care for your loved one. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of treatment providers, and if you’d like, you should include your child or loved one in the process.

1. What level of care does my loved one need? 

Levels of care are based on a few factors: the substance(s) used, the length of time used, and the severity of your loved one’s substance use disorder.  Here are a few common levels of care.

Acute Treatment Services, or ATS. This level of care involves sending your loved one to a medical facility for the purposes of withdrawal management (sometimes known as detox), typically no longer than seven days.

Crisis Stabilization Services (CSS) and Transition Stabilization Services (TSS) are both types of short-term, in-patient programs.

Long term in-patient care (sometimes referred to as residential treatment) is a higher level of care. It can involve your loved one staying in a facility as long as a year. 

Outpatient care is a lower level of care in which your loved one will regularly visit a facility (daily or near-daily) to receive their care but will not stay at the facility.

Before your loved one enters care, they should be assessed by an addiction specialist to understand what level of care they need. All care must be individualized based on your loved one’s needs and will remain individualized during every level of care.

2. What is your treatment model, and do you use a science-based approach?

Once you’ve determined the level of care needed and have begun talking to treatment providers, a whole new set of questions come into play. Asking about the treatment model is an important place to start every conversation.

The phrase “science-based” refers to treatment that uses research-backed interventions and strategies. While each patient is unique, decades of research in the addiction field have identified specific therapeutic and medical approaches that are shown to be the most effective.  You want to know that the facility you choose is backed by the most recent, successful, up-to-date science.

You might assume that all or even most treatment centers operate science-based programs, but unfortunately, you would be mistaken. Many treatment faculties do not offer programming rooted in scientific evidence. That’s why it’s so crucial to be diligent, and to always push for as much information as possible.

Shatterproof’s Principles of Care reflect the core concepts of effective addiction treatment. Any treatment center you are considering should always encompass all eight of these Principles.

You can learn more about science-based approaches both medications (pharmacotherapies) and behavioral therapies, here.

3. How do you include friends and family members in the treatment process? 

Evidence suggests that addiction is a family disease. A good treatment approach will provide support for family and loved ones.

When entering treatment, or at some point during the treatment process, your loved one will likely sign a consent form allowing for your involvement. Family support may include phone calls from your loved one and informal, unstructured on-site visits, as well as other activities.  Ideally, the facility will include formal family engagement workshops. This is an invitation to spend time with other family members, along with a well-trained, experienced, compassionate clinician who will provide accurate information about addiction and recovery. In this environment, you will have the opportunity to understand what your loved one works on each day, as well as grow your own skills.  Ultimately the goal is to heal the entire family system.

4. What if my loved one has mental health needs and addiction needs?

Evidence shows that good treatment offers access to mental health treatment, as mental health needs are often present at the same time as addiction needs. Ask the facility if they provide access to mental health treatment, and if it will be onsite (at the facility itself) or offsite (at a different location). If offsite, how will the patient be transported? How is this incorporated into the cost of treatment? Additionally, an initial assessment performed by the facility staff upon your loved one’s arrival should include a mental health, medical, and family history section.

5. How do I know this treatment will be covered by insurance, and what will my out of pocket expenses be?

Each facility should be able to answer this question directly and/or will contact your insurance for all details. Be sure to write down any information the facility provides, or request it as an email or mailed document. You then want to contact your insurer directly and share what you were told. Insurance can be tricky, so check and double-check in order to avoid any surprises.  You can learn more about this process here.

Overall, embrace being curious. It is your right to know about the treatment your loved one will receive. Remember, the people you talk to set the tone for the level of compassion your loved one will receive. If the person on the phone is detached or disinterested, call someone else. The initial call matters. Trust your gut. If they are not caring on the phone, move on.  You are a consumer and you do have power.


Norah Benincasa Lasora has a Masters in Social Work and is both a parent and a professional working in the addiction recovery field. She is currently a counselor in Massachusetts.