Collateral Damage of Addiction

By Sheryl Latzgus McGinnis

When formulating my thoughts for this article I realized the first thing I must say is how sorry I am for the need for such words. And how sorry that you, the reader, must have a need for the information in this magazine.

It’s wonderful that such an outlet exists but how much more wonderful it would be if there was no such thing as addiction. But this is the real world so we have to deal with reality. And the reality is that addiction is a family and societal disease that affects us all. It’s like a big menacing octopus that grasps all of us in its tentacles and won’t let go.

Even if you are not an addict and no one in your family is, you’re still affected by the outreach of these tentacles – the collateral damage. Society suffers as a whole and it will take society, the global village, to help each of our brothers and sisters.

There are certain words that make us go weak in the knees – cancer; diabetes; heart attacks; terminal illness; death; accident; murder. These are just some of the many words that can change our lives or our loved ones’ lives in an instant.

Now enter Addiction; one of the cruelest words in our language. There is no test for it, no cure for it. It is a treatable disease which involves a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication on the addicts’ part, but it is not curable at this point in time. It is insidious, creeping into our lives unexpectedly.

A goodly amount of people are smug about this brain disease, claiming that it would never happen in their family because they’ve reared their children properly or because they take their children to church. Some go as far as to blame the parents when their child becomes addicted. They castigate the parents for not parenting properly, for not being involved in their children’s lives, for letting their children run wild.

Yes, the above might be true in some cases; I would venture to say a very, very small percentage of cases. But addiction can, and does, happen in the very best of homes; two parent homes, church-goers, loving, caring, responsible parents who are fully immersed in their children’s lives. And still this monster enters the home and destroys
everyone in it.

Some believe that addiction is not a disease at all. Addiction is a brain disease but the problem that others have with it is how it is acquired. To be sure it isn’t like catching a cold. It is self-imposed but so is lung cancer when caused by smoking, so is heart disease when caused by a fatty diet. But just like cancer and heart disease and diabetes, and other diseases, addiction can also occur because of our genetic makeup. There are addiction genes. And most addicts begin their journey down this perilous path while they are young and know everything!

Every addict I’ve spoken to has told me the same thing in one form or another: “If I had really known what addiction was like or that I could truly become addicted, I’d never have done any drugs – at all! This is a living hell.”

They chose drugs but they did not choose addiction! When an addicted person manages to get “clean” for a considerable amount of time and then relapses, some argue that they are indeed choosing addiction now. I disagree. They are not choosing addiction. The Addiction Monster has been quieted but not vanquished. Just like the varicella virus (chicken pox) stays hidden within our bodies, so does addiction. The difference is the varicella virus re-emerges as shingles. Addiction remains the same – addiction. And can come back even stronger.

Addiction is a family disease; like that octopus it wraps its tentacles around everyone, the addicted person, the parents, siblings, grandparents, extended family members, close friends, co-workers, you name it, they’re all touched by this scourge.

No parent of a young child, a tween or teen, can keep an eye on their child 24/7. The reality is that no matter how close we are, no matter how much we talk (and listen) to our child, no matter how much we love and trust them, the day comes when they are out in the world on their own and we can’t be by their side monitoring their every move.

We can just hope that we have laid a strong foundation and that our children will comply with our wishes. But all our words can be for naught when they’re spending more time with their classmates and friends than they are with us. Peer pressure can be a horrible or wonderful influence on our child, depending on their choice of friends.

Even if your child has never shown any inclination to do drugs, you still need to be on full alert. This is not the world of yesteryear. This is a new world and unfortunately it’s saturated with drugs and amazingly easy accessibility to them. All it takes is that one time for them to satisfy their curiosity, to be coerced into taking your drugs by their friends. Don’t be caught looking at the pills in your prescription pill bottle and thinking ‘hmmm, I could swear I had X amount of pills left’ and then shaking your head thinking you must have miscounted. Always remember this mantra: Good kids do drugs too.

Some startling statistics from 2008 from PATS (Partnership Attitude Tracking Study) show that in 2008, 16% of 12th graders had tried crack/ cocaine, 7% had tried heroin and a whopping 27% had tried Rx drugs without a prescription. According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America 8 million American adolescents and young adults need treatment for drug and alcohol abuse and addiction and 9 out of 10 are not getting the treatment they need. Yet our government has drastically cut drug programs in our schools. Write your state representatives and urge them to put these programs back in school where they’re desperately needed.

We spend an incredible amount of money on jails. Imagine if we had an equal amount of money to spend on rehabs and drug education. Imagine if we actually wanted to help drug addicted people instead of castigating them and throwing them away like yesterday’s news.

We have many dedicated people in the addiction field trying to unlock the mysteries of the brain, why some people are prone to addiction and some aren’t, why some people can seemingly conquer this disease and some are tethered to their drug of choice for life. It’s important to understand that addiction is not a moral failing – it’s a disease, a legitimate brain disease. I always caution parents to make the distinction between their child and their disease. You can make sure they understand that you love them but hate their disease.

The only consolation my husband and I have is knowing our child went to his death knowing how much he was loved. We did everything we could to help him and he did try to help himself, voluntarily entering rehabs. The major deterrent for a successful rehab is the short amount of time spent in one. It’s hard to take a person who has been addicted for many years and then expect them to be “cured” in thirty days. Addiction requires a multi pronged approach and of course the desire for the addicted person to truly want sobriety.

Our son wanted sobriety and freedom from drugs but his addiction, what I call the Addiction Monster, was stronger than him. I don’t believe it has to be this way. I believe if we truly want to help people we must step up our efforts in the research field, fund these researchers who are working so hard to solve the riddle of the addicted brain. We need to begin educating our children at an early age.

Children are hearing about drugs from their classmates, siblings and friends. They hear how cool it is to do drugs. We need to countermand this information by speaking – and listening – to our kids from an early age. We can’t afford to wait until they’re older. Their heads are being filled with misinformation so it behooves us to arm them with the facts.

So do your best to raise a healthy, socially responsible good citizen but be prepared for the day that may come when you discover your heretofore sweet, innocent child has succumbed to the Addiction Monster, right under your very nose. It’s a heartbreaking slap in the face.

My sincere hope is that this never happens in your family. If it does, you will need a lot of compassion and understanding. You will then realize that as good a parent as you are, you can still find yourself in the battle of a lifetime – the battle to save your child from the Addiction Monster.

Sheryl has written 4 books on addiction and drugs. Her best-selling book “The Addiction Monster and the Square Cat” is aimed at children ages ten and up. For more information on the author and her books please visit her website at www.sherylletzgusmcginnis.com