Photo by Gary Higgins/The Patriot Ledger/ Sept 2,1992

I raised an addict – what could I have done differently?

It has been a very interesting month. Since my first post I have connected with old high school friends who have active or recovering addicts in their families. I have been contacted by people who are living the nightmare of Addiction as parents, spouses, children and friends of addicts as well as addicts themselves. Many have shared powerful stories of recovery.  I have written or spoken the words ‘I am sorry for your loss’ too many times to count, though we really do need to keep counting…  Every person we lose leaves a gaping hole in the world. That hole will swallow us all if the tide is not turned.

I did not intend to start a blog, and I am a bit unsure of where to take it from here. I am, after all,  just the Mom of a recovering addict who posted a bit of a hissy fit to her Facebook after learning of another senseless death. I don’t think I can keep tossing out hissy fits, it would get old pretty quickly. I have decided that I will post when something is swirling around in my head enough to make me sit down and write about it, since that’s what happened the first time. It may be a few things in a short amount of time, followed by a lull. We’ll just have to see where this blog leads me.

This is a new journey and I’m glad for the company of all who would like to walk this path with me. We have certainly walked it alone for far too long.

Today’s thought: What could I have done differently?

This question haunted me for many, many years. Should I have taken him back to school to get a forgotten book? When he left his report on the counter in fifth grade should I have left it there instead of bringing it to school? He had ADD so organizing was hard for him. Did I do too much? Did he never learn to be accountable for his own actions? Was I too worried about him failing a stupid sixth grade math test? Should I have let him fail and learn the result of not putting in the work instead of making him study against his will? Should have, would have, could have were constantly swirling in my head. Tiny voices blaming, blaming…

Yes, I should have let him fall on his face when he was little. The consequences of their errors grow as they do. I didn’t have to catch him when he fell —- I was holding on so tightly he never really fell.  And when he went away to college he fell hard. So yes, I should have let him fail more when he was young.

In all honesty, that is the one thing I feel I could have changed. I don’t know what else I could have done differently that would have gotten him to ‘just say no’ to drugs. Above is an old newspaper clipping of my son and his friends from the neighborhood with their ‘just say no’ signs. They marched around the neighborhood chanting. He wore his D.A.R.E. (Drug Addiction Resistance Education) T-shirt forever. We spoke about drugs and drinking and sex. Once, when my son was a freshman in high school he had some friends over. Two of the girls brought booze into my home in soda screw top bottles (OK, lesson one: no outside drinks allowed in my home). They also had some joints on them. My son and his friend came to me and told me what was going on. THEY CAME AND TOLD ME. Parents were called, girls cried, drama ensued. BUT HE TOLD ME. How, then, did this kid end up a freakin’ heroin addict? The one who told. The one who knew better. No matter how much we think ‘they’ve got this’, they don’t. Life is not black and white, and adolescence is the murkiest of grays. We cannot rest on our laurels, no matter how great our kids are – they are navigating a mine field.  Kids do dumb things, but many stupid choices don’t have the dire consequences too many families are facing today in eye of this epidemic.

Part of the problem is that we just didn’t know. We didn’t know to say, ‘stay away from OxyContin kids, because it will lead to heroin’. We knew to say, ‘don’t drink – alcoholism runs in your family – but if you make poor decisions, don’t compound them by driving. Call us, stay where you are’. We knew to say, ‘Don’t have sex, you’re too young, but if you do, wear protection. If you get a girl pregnant, please come to us, we will work through this together’.  We knew to say, ‘don’t do drugs, they are dangerous, people get addicted’.  We didn’t know to say, and I wish with all my heart we had, ‘but if you get addicted, please come to us and we will help you. We will be here for you because we love you.’  Of course this OxyContin thing wasn’t on our radar. Who could ever imagine their kid would go so far as to stick a needle in their vein?  I’ll tell you, my son didn’t think he’d ever do something so stupid either, even when he was addicted to OxyContin, until he did.

I can’t re-think what we didn’t know. But I can warn parents of young children today. Because now we do know about OxyContin and the path it forges to heroin. There are many ‘not my kid’ campaigns out there. Parents today need to arm themselves with information about what drugs are popular with what age groups in their hometown and what the warning signs are.  They also need to have a plan about what they would do if they find out their child is making dangerous choices. Also, what’s their plan if they find out some other kid is making dangerous choices. Do they tell the other parent?  What will they do if their child came to them and told them they were addicted? What will they do to make it possible for their child to even feel capable of telling? Have a plan in place. Maybe even read a few books. Understand what enabling looks like. It can look a lot like love…

Co-dependence and enabling isn’t something that only occurs with addiction. I was an enabler-in-training for years. We need to learn to recognize when a child should do something for themselves, even if it’s hard to watch them not do it and pay the consequences.  If your Senior won’t fill out college applications then maybe he’s not ready for college.  Many of the things I learned in Alanon about detaching and not doing for someone what they can do for themselves would have come in handy during those teenage years. Would it have made a difference to my son? Would he have not become an addict? Who knows. But I do know that I would have been more equipped to deal with the addict who came to possess him.

Don’t just hope your children will never be exposed to drugs. Assume they will. Talk to your kids, speak to your friends, and  have a battle plan in place. If your school or town has informational meetings about this epidemic, show up, even if your kid is only 7 or 8. Be informed. Be ready. We need to fight this epidemic on all fronts. If your town does not have any form of parent education, Start the Conversation. All parents of young kids should listen to addicts in recovery speak. They are your neighbor’s children.  My son would tell you he had a nice childhood. He played baseball and soccer and took karate. We had a good relationship. He knew his parents loved him, and  – he did know better. What made him make bad choices in spite of knowing better? What changed from the age of 14 to the age of 16, when the drinking began? Murky gray. Minefield.

Recognize addiction can happen to your child. The epidemic is real. Be afraid. Be prepared to fight for your child’s life.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Arm yourselves.

681 thoughts on “I raised an addict – what could I have done differently?

  1. Reasons for addiction….
    1. Access to opioids- doctors continue to prescribe absurd amounts of opioids for post operative, dental, and chronic pain. Emergency departments seem to have come to their senses, but most surgeons vastly overprescribe opioids so they won’t have to be bothered with a call at night or in the middle of the week, not caring that the unused drugs sit on the shelf and are then taken by teenagers. The average age kids start using prescription opioids is age 14, and nearly all of this is from parent’s excess unsecured supplies of these drugs- of course their kids wouldn’t think of taking them, would they? Perhaps not, but their friends certainly will…or the friend of a friend that comes over and is casing the house while your son and friend play video games. 80% of heroin addicts begin with prescription opioids. Some surgeons doing a simple hernia repair on a 14 year old will give a month’s worth of opioids. If the kid takes these opioids for a month, then it is too late. He is hooked- maybe forever.
    2. Genetics. Family history of addiction of any kind in a first order relative more than doubles the risk of the children becoming addicted.
    3. Peer pressure to be “cool” by taking drugs at parties, mixing drugs and alcohol to get a bigger buzz, etc.
    4. Lack of social stimulus. Isolated kids without social activities that are frequent will drift into a place making more vulnerable to the use of drugs. Parents that discover this isolation and are proactive in re-engaging their child have a chance. Once this behavior becomes engrained in adulthood, then they are doomed.


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