Stumbling Along, Walking on Eggshells and Vicious Circles: What Happens while Families Wait for Youth Substance Use Treatment


  • Laura Mills
  • Alexandre Dionne
  • Jennifer Bingley
  • Shelley L. Watson



Youth substance use is a serious problem that has immediate and long-term impact on individuals, families, and society. Adolescent substance experimentation that develops into abuse foreshadows long-term problems, such as adult addiction, co-occurring mental illness, declined or abandoned academic careers, and other individual and interpersonal harms. Early and effective intervention can mitigate the harmful effects on the lives of young people, their families, and their communities. Intervention may not be accessible, however, for adolescents and/or their families when they seek help, and wait lists are common. Waiting for treatment for substance use is the focus of this study, and in particular, the experience of waiting and its associated impacts on the youth’s substance use, involvement with police, running away, mental health and on the family unit. 118 parents of youth who use substances participated in a mixed methods study at Pine River Institute, a long-term residential youth treatment center. Clinical implications are discussed.