There are only a few words in the English language that can evoke more pain and wider range of emotions in a parent than, “your child is addicted to drugs.” It doesn’t matter if it’s the first time a parent hears it or after multiple relapses; it feels like a punch to the gut and you’re never the same afterwards. I know, I’m speaking from experience. I have been in recovery for thirty-five years and had to watch both my son and daughter go through their own addiction issues. I was in the treatment business for quite some time when my kids were fighting their addictions. I suppose at some level it made the situation better; but it wasn’t enough to stop the pain from ripping through my heart. All of my training couldn’t prepare me for the sight of medical doctors in the ER franticly shoving charcoal down my son’s throat after he overdosed.
In all of my years of addiction treatment, I’ve spoken with thousands of parents who are discovering the depths of their own child’s addiction issues. Everyone responds to this heartbreaking news in their own unique way; but most that I have spoken to felt some combination of anger, fear, hate, sympathy, disgust, empathy, sorrow, anxiety, guilt, shame, love and a whole lot of other emotions before getting this roller coaster journey on the right tract. It is not unusual for parents to beat themselves up thinking there was something more they could have done.
After the initial shock of learning that your kid(s) is addicted to drugs comes the realization there is no short term fix. It’s not like there is a pill you can take that will end addiction. It’s a mental health disease, and as such, is complicated to treat. Recovery is a process with many small steps. Days turn into months that often turn into years. The whole time most parents struggle to find the right balance between supporting their child while not enabling their habit?
And therein lies the problem. When a family member becomes addicted, it’s all brand new to everyone around them. Many of the parents I’ve talked to were passively aware there was a drug epidemic and others believed it couldn’t happen to them. They spend nearly all their free time with their kids, eating dinner together, helping them with their homework, going to the sporting events or after school programs and vacationing with them. How could their children become addicted, right?!
In 2017, over 73,000 Americans died an avoidable death due to a drug overdose; many were teens and young adults. One might think that with heartbreaking statistics as dramatic as these, every family would be dialed into addiction and have in place a prevention plan. But obviously that is just not the case. There is a plethora of information and resources online for anyone searching for it, but that still leaves a lot of people out. I encourage every parent of a teen or young adult to start your search at drugfree.org. They have a wealth of information presented in an easy to follow and understand fashion.
For example, there are warning signs that your child might display that could give you an indication that they might be on drugs. Drugfree.org goes into great detail on this subject while I’m going to review the highlights. To keep this in context, many of the signs could be just teenage behavior. Furthermore, they could be symptoms of mental health issues such as depression or anxiety disorders. So with that being said, the signs need to be taken with a grain of salt; they’re an indication of a possibility and not a diagnosis.
It could be something as innocuous as an increase or decrease in appetite or they’re hanging out with a new set of friends. Grades dropping in school, absenteeism or bad behavior in the classroom, loss of interest in extracurricular activities, hobbies or sports are all indications something is off.
Health and Hygiene Issues
Careless personal hygiene or disheveled appearance, bloodshot eyes, flushed cheeks, unexplained bruises, wounds, or track marks on arms, long sleeves in hot weather when they usually wear short sleeves, unusually tired, lethargic movement, sudden weight loss or gain, nosebleeds, depression, headaches, sweatiness
Mood and Personality Shifts
Exhibits mood changes or emotional instability, sullen, withdrawn, depressed, loss of inhibitions, silent, uncommunicative, hostile, angry, uncooperative, deceitful or secretive, less motivated, unable to focus, hyperactive, unusually elated
Any one of the conditions I’ve sited, on their own doesn’t really amount to much. However, if you’re seeing several of these together, it may be an indication of something bigger.
If you’re beyond the prevention stage and have confirmation from a reliable source that your child is using and/or addicted to drugs, I’ll share with you the same advice I tell every parent that asks; find an addiction professional right away. You’re in a potentially volatile position that you have never been in before. Emotions are raging and none of your life’s experience will serve you well at this point. It’s best to seek the counsel of someone who is familiar with this landscape.
There are also some great support groups out there that can help you get up to speed and develop an effective plan. These groups are made up from people just like you and I, parents or family members who are trying to find the best help available for a loved one. Meetings are usually pretty open and designed to be idea exchanges. At times, people discuss their problems and look to others for solutions that have worked for them; and at other time people share what they’ve found to work. They’ll also interact with you on an emotional level to help you keep your head on straight. Nearly every major city has a couple independent support groups formed by a member of the community. You can usually find them online or by asking an addiction professional. There is also Al-Anon and Nar-Anon that are very good and seem to have a broader presence. Remember, there is no rule saying you can only belong to just one.
As long as we’re on the subject of addiction, there should be another word to familiarize yourself with, relapse. These two words should be conjoined. Relapse is a part of addiction and happens with greater frequency than anyone likes to see. What is important to keep in mind is that you have made progress. You’ve advanced the dialog, inroads to recovery have been made, skills have been taught and lessons have been learned.
Often when a person relapses, they’ll give up on themselves and refuse more treatment. If you are dealing with someone reluctant to enter treatment, I’d recommend you seek out a professional interventionist. Ask people at the support group for a referral or check online. A good interventionist can have a big impact. They’ve been down this road before and know the ins and outs. They may be your best opportunity to get that loved one into treatment.
If there was only one thing I could share with the parents, husbands, wives and loved ones of addicts, it would be to find your balance and stay firm to it. There are a lot of things to consider beyond finding that balance between supporting your loved one while not enabling their habit, albeit that is a big one. You have to show your love, but temper the desire to over love. You don’t want to enable their habit, but you can’t lock them up in a closet either. Ergo, balance.
Too often, I’ve witnessed parents and loved ones worry themselves sick over someone’s addiction. I’ve also seen addiction tear right through a family’s dynamic leaving emotional scars on innocent loved ones that will take a long time, if ever, to heal. The physical and emotional health of everyone touched by this disease needs to be taken into consideration at every juncture.
Just one more thing; parents, please be kind to each other. Too often in this highly charged emotional state, parents will accuse each other of being too hard or soft on their child and that contributed to their addiction. Don’t do it, resist the temptation because nothing good will come out of it. You’ll be far better served by collectively developing a plan and supporting each other through it.
If you have any questions or you feel I can help in any way, please contact me at the number below.
John Giordano is the founder of ‘Life Enhancement Aftercare & Chronic Relapse Recovery Center,’ an Addiction Treatment Consultant, President and Founder of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies, Chaplain of the North Miami Police Department and is on the board of directors of the Greater North Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. He is on the editorial board of the highly respected scientific Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome (JRDS) and has contributed to over 69 papers published in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals. Giordano is the proud recipient of the Martin Luther King Award and a tenth degree black belt honored in the Black Belt Hall Of Fame. For the latest development in cutting-edge addiction treatment, check out his website: http://www.HolisticAddictionInfo.com