By: Heather R. Hayes, M.Ed., LPC, CAI, CIP

As a parent, you will do anything to help your child, and this instinct doesn’t end just because they turn 18—yet their legal rights change when they hit this milestone birthday. This abrupt cutoff is jarring and disorienting to say the least. And when the issue becomes trying to get them help for their drug or alcohol addiction, not being able to exert the influence you once had can even feel terrifying. So, what are the realities of trying to help a child who is legally of age? Let’s take a closer look.

First, when a person turns 18, the law says they can:

• Vote.
• Serve jury duty.
• Join the military.
• Get married without parental consent.
• Deny parents access to academic, financial, and health records.

This last one can be a real concern for parents with a child who is admitted to the hospital for suicidal thoughts or actions, for instance. Though hospital personnel may try to contact the parents, if the young adult doesn’t want them to, they legally can’t. Nor can they release their records to you or give you information about their condition. The same is true if your child is admitted for an issue related to substance abuse.

However, there are some exceptions as a result of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (the law that outlines where parents’ rights end and adult children/college student’s begin) were updated so that parents may be notified by a school if it is believed that their child is suicidal (or homicidal) or if they’ve had any infractions around drugs and alcohol and are younger than 21. Further, a young adult can choose to sign a health care designation that allows their parents to make decisions on their behalf in an emergency situation. Prior to children leaving for college or otherwise living on their own for the first time, this might be an important conversation to have, particularly if they have had problems with drug and alcohol abuse in the past.

If your young adult child does need treatment for an addiction, there are more considerable legal challenges in that you can’t force them into a program if they aren’t willing to go. However, you are not without options. An experienced and compassionate interventionist can walk your family through the process and help you navigate any issues that may arise around consent.

Their job is to educate your child and your family about the realities of addiction, as well as about the benefits of appropriate treatment. They can help your child sort through any resistance they may feel and facilitate any difficult conversations that need to happen among your family members. They can answer questions about the daily realities of a substance abuse treatment program and even coordinate transportation to an agreed-upon facility.

Throughout the entire process, a good interventionist is kind, compassionate, and respectful to every person in your family and can empower your new adult to make wise decisions for themselves, as well as support you as parents through this challenging time. This approach is often the catalyst for helping your child choose to get the help they need.