Mid Atlantic Mom’s post about substance-abuse education echoes so many of the things my family has experienced. That’s the thing about addiction – as much as there are unique situations, there are also many common aspects.
Similarly, our three children all participated in D.A.R.E. as part of their schools’ fifth grade curriculum — one was even the selected speaker for the D.A.R.E. graduation program. In our home, we have practiced good role modeling and have had open conversations about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, including honesty about our own experiences as casual drinkers and those of family members who have had substance-abuse problems.
Unfortunately all the education and open conversations had little impact on our two older children. Our daughter learned a few hard lessons with partying in high school and college. At one point we were quite concerned and asked her to seek a professional evaluation. It revealed that she was at-risk for developing a problem. For awhile, she dismissed this and continued until she realized the potential dangers that were looming if she continued. She educated herself, got counseling and poured herself into school and her career. Today, she has a much healthier relationship with alcohol and she has an appreciation of the precarious nature of alcohol an drug use.
Our middle son is still learning lessons about drugs and alcohol. He fits the classic definition of addiction – a progressive condition of continued use inspite of consequences. Today, he has completed treatment (the first time, he ran away without completing; the second program was outpatient, he completed it but went right back to using; the third time, he tried a different program and completed it). He is now participating in a recovery program. He’s itchy to get out and be free of meetings. He thinks he’s ready to do things on his own. Time will tell.
Our youngest son starts high school this fall. He has witnessed the reality of addiction. Will this be enough to prevent him from experimenting? from becoming an addict? We don’t know. We can only continue to educate and talk about it.
As MAM points out, often other parents are aware that the kids are using and they say or do nothing. Not because they are bad parents but because they don’t realize the harm or don’t recognize the potential of addiction – it’s just kids being kids, right? Maybe not.
We have neighbors whose drug-addict kids still use in their homes and have experienced overdoses, suicide attempts and threats of violence toward other family members. We have friends of our middle son who knew he was using but didn’t want to say anything to us, even when he was under 18. I’m not sure if it’s stigma that prevents them from taking action or if it’s fear of their kids hating them.
Overall, when I’ve shared with friends and colleagues about our son’s problems, they have been empathetic and not at all judgmental.
Knowing what to do, what steps to take is so overwhelming because no-one has the perfect answer. All I do know is we have to keep trying to get our kids the help they need even if it means there’s the potential for negative stigma or for a faltering relationship. Both can be overcome in time.
For me, becoming more educated about substance abuse and addiction has actually been liberating and energizing. I am grateful for learning so much and continuing to learn. That’s why we are here.
Along with MAM, I welcome the conversation. Let’s chat.
In past columns I’ve written