5 Rules for Marketing Addiction Treatment to Parents of Young Adults with SUD

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With Mother’s Day happening this month, it seems like a good time to address the important role that parents play in addiction treatment.

While we already know that it is vital to involve the whole family in the treatment—there’s a reason we call it a “family disease”—too often I see centers fail to address parents in their marketing materials.

Big mistake.

Yes, many of your leads are adults who will seek treatment themselves and it is important to address those suffering from Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD) directly.

However, just as frequently the loved ones of addicts—especially parents—are accessing your site and evaluating your program to see if it’s a good fit on behalf of the substance abuser in the family.

That’s why it is so important to speak to parents directly in your marketing materials.

But before we get to that, let’s look at the circumstances surrounding parent’s arrival to your site and peek inside what they may be thinking about as they evaluate your program.

Despite the Opioid Epidemic, Drug Use Among Young People is Actually at an All Time Low

I guess DARE is working, right?

Drug use among teens is at an all-time low, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This video details how opiate, alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use are all down.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

So what do parents really have to worry about?


Overall, Drug Use Is Still Highest Among People In Their Late Teens and Early 20’s

According to one 2013 study, 22.6 percent of 18-20 year-olds reported using an illicit drug in the past month. This graph demonstrates the spike in use during peak of young adulthood and then shows the slow taper down in illicit drug use as users age.

Addiction treatment is needed most by young people at an age when their families are important to them 

It’s important to realize that this spike in use isn’t just with lower-risk drugs like marijuana. In that same 2013 study, they found that 13.3% of high school seniors are using illicit drugs other than marijuana.

So while fewer young people are using than ever before, they still make up the largest demographic needing treatment.

Also important? Young people are living at home longer than ever before

Dubbed the “Boomerang Generation,” 40% of those ages 18-24 are still living with their parents.

This trend is mostly due to economic factors including a declining middle class, increasing cost of housing, crippling student loan debt, and the lack of availability of living wage jobs. In short, young people don’t want to be living with their parents at the ripe age of 24, but they often don’t have a choice.

This physical proximity of parents to young people means that parents will often be the first to notice that their child has a substance abuse problem. It also means that the parents will be more involved in their treatment process and more concerned with things like how the treatment center will feed and care for their child while they are away from home.

If parents aren’t used to having adult children away from home, you can bet that there will be a fair amount of anxiety about placing that child in treatment, regardless of age.

So What Can We Do To Include Parents In Addiction Treatment Marketing?

1 - Consider a separate homepage just for parents

I love it when treatment sites separate out their audiences and include different pages for those seeking treatment for themselves and those seeking treatment for their loved one. It makes so much sense, I wish more sites would do this.

It can be as simple as a menu option in the top navigation bar that says Seeking Treatment: “...For Myself” or “...For a Loved One.” This helps direct your lead to a page that is designed to speak to their individual concerns.

2 - Segment your list and send parents emails designed for them

You are already segmenting your mail list, right?

When someone fills out your contact form, be sure to include a button marking whether they are seeking treatment for themselves or seeking treatment for a loved one.

Then, create two separate lists with two separate email campaigns targeting the thoughts and concerns of these two very different leads. By personalizing your email campaigns through segmentation, you can reach your lead with content that is designed just for them, increasing the likelihood that they will engage with it and find it useful.

This is the key to building a relationship with leads and leading them down the path to conversion—whether they are substance abusers themselves or the loved one of a person in need of recovery.  

3 - Make separate lead magnets for parents

I love using lead magnets as a type of invitation into relationship with leads. They make a wonderful soft option for getting-to-know-you level engagement.

Lead magnets are essentially any useful content that you can offer leads in exchange for their contact information, often just their first name and email address. Examples of lead magnets include:

  • Free ebooks

  • Cheat sheets

  • Elaborate infographics

  • Guides (for example, intervention planning guides)

  • Quiz results

Or—if you’ll pardon the shameless self-promotion,

If you’re going to offer lead magnets, it’s a great idea to offer two different ones to appeal to the two types of individuals who may find themselves on your site: addicts and their loved ones.

In order to set yourself up for success, make a landing page to feature your lead magnet. Make sure that your lead magnet is really compelling—it should walk parents through some important part of the treatment process or answer a common question parents have regarding addiction.

4 - Involve parents during treatment

Marketing doesn’t just end when someone enters your center’s doors. It’s important to delight patients and their families with your services so that they become advocates of your service in the community. Offer excellent treatment and people will notice. That’s good for patients and it’s good for business.

According to the NCBI, parents play a key role in both the prevention and intervention of youth substance abuse. Involving the family in treatment is considered to be a best practice in the addiction treatment industry. Studies demonstrate that supportive families equal a longer stay in treatment and a higher program completion rate. Family therapy, in particular, can improve retention rates for adolescents in substance abuse treatment.

There are other actions you can take to incorporate families into the treatment process, like educating parents on treatment and keeping them informed (as appropriate) of the patient’s progress, so they know what to expect and how to offer support. Always offer to give the family a tour of the facility and answer any questions they have about day-to-day activities. And finally, invite family to the patient’s first appointment, with the patient’s permission, of course.

5 - Remember that parents may need help, too

Addiction is considered a “family disease.” It wreaks havoc on the lives of everyone around it and family members, especially parents, are often hardest hit. Family relationships, which should be characterized by warmth, trust, communication, and sharing, can become distorted by substance abuse and take on elements of coldness, mistrust, lack of communication, and overall isolation. Frequently, there are feelings of shame attached to the presence of addiction in the family and parents often blame themselves for their children’s condition.

In cases like these, it is important to remind parents that they are not alone. While your center may not be able to help them, be sure to refer them to counselors and/or groups like Al Anon or Nar Anon where they can connect with people who are going through a similar experience. Be sure to include information like this on your “parents” page, lead magnet, and/or mailing list.

Marketing to Parents for Addiction Treatment Actually Has A Lot In Common with College Advertising

While there hasn’t been a lot of studies done on addiction treatment marketing for parents (unfortunately), there has been a lot of focus on something similar: college advertising. Although college and rehab are obviously very different, they have some commonalities for parents. Whether parents are looking at college or a rehab, they are asking themselves similar questions. Consider this advice for reaching parents from a college advertising marketer:

Appeal to their caring side. While the kids may want to see a grabby video of GoPro surfers, parents may respond better to emotional appeals at a time when their feelings are running high. The kids are off to college. How do you keep them safe? How do you make sure they’re well fed, clothed, and cared for, if they’ve never been on their own before?

Surely all parents who are looking at rehabs are asking themselves similar variations on “How do you keep them safe?” and “How do you make sure they are well cared for?” Make sure you specifically answer these questions in detail on your parents page.

No More Excuses for Ignoring Parents

Although illicit drug use is down among young people, they still make up the largest segment of those in need of treatment. Don’t ignore the people they are closest to: their parents. From choosing treatment centers to providing the insurance that will ultimately pay for a large portion of treatment, parents are integral to young people’s recovery.

Changing economic conditions mean that parents are closer to their children for longer. Sometimes treatment will be the first time a young person has ever been away from home. Remember that entering treatment is always an emotional time and that it can be extra emotional for parents who have never had “their baby” away from home for any stretch of time.

Speak directly to parents in your marketing materials. Create content especially for them that demonstrates that you understand what they are going through. Address their concerns and make space for their involvement in treatment as much as possible. Refer parents to outside resources where they can continue to receive the support that they need during this challenging time.

Treat parents to the special treatment they deserve and reap the rewards. Happy parents are some of the fiercest brand advocates. Delight them with your parent-friendly center and watch your conversion rate soar.

Need help developing parent-friendly content for your site? I can help.

Erin Gilday