3 Signs Your Child May be Struggling with Addiction

Adults aren’t the only ones who suffer from substance addiction; many children suffer as well. Are you a parent concerned about your child’s sudden change in behavior? Our guest blogger below offers insight on ways to communicate, help and signs to watch out for with your child.

Drug addiction is a serious problem in the United States. It’s not limited to adults; many children have a substance addiction. Sometimes, the signs that a child is struggling with substance abuse mimic the symptoms of mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety, or even the signs of puberty. It can be easy to overlook the symptoms, because it’s very difficult to admit that your child may have a problem. The best step you can take is to get professional help if you notice changes in your child’s behavior for which there isn’t another reason.

Watch for these signs:

  1. Problems in school, missing classes, a decline in academic performance or a loss of interest in school
  2. Trouble with the law
  3. Changes in relationships with friends and family, acting withdrawn or hostile

Your child may also have changes in grooming habits, eating and sleeping. When the patterns change for more than a week, you may need to look at the underlying causes. Grief can mimic the signs of substance abuse. You don’t want to rush to judgment, but you do need to take control of the situation.

3 Ways You Can Help

When someone is struggling with addiction, he or she may become deceitful and react negatively to any suggestions of help. You have to be assertive, but not confrontational. What can parents do?

  1.  Strengthen your relationship with your child. Ask open-ended questions about what’s going on in your child’s life. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a yes or no answer. You want more communication with your child. Ask questions that let him or her express their concerns and struggles. Focus on what’s good and be understanding.
  2. Create and reinforce guidelines. Setting boundaries with a teenager is difficult when there is no addiction problem, but when you have the added pressure of substance abuse, you will have to be strong. Work with your child to create consistent rules that are enforceable. If a certain behavior occurs, then this will be the response. You may not be able to cover every contingency, but you can certainly establish rules and consequences for the most common issues. This lowers the emotionally-fueled reaction that isn’t productive.
  3. Encourage positive behaviors. You will need to help your child learn new healthy coping skills and build better relationships through the healing process. You have to be a cheerleader that encourages your child to change. You cannot solve each of the problems created by drug abuse, but you can focus on positive messages.

You can do it.
You can be successful.
You are important in my life.
What can I do to help?

Many substance abusing teens will be reluctant to enter treatment unless compelled by the court system or their family. An intervention is not always the best method to get a child struggling with substance abuse into a program. Instead, you should encourage your child to talk to a professional about the problem to address their concerns and to find the best solution. Take care of yourself as you care your child’s needs. You don’t need to deal with burnout, stress and depression when your child needs you at your best.

Author Byline

Daniel Gellman

Dan Gellman is the Director for High Focus Centers, a provider of outpatient substance abuse and psychiatric treatment programs in New Jersey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.
©2017 Our Young Addicts All Rights Reserved.

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Parents: Doing the Best They Can with What They Have

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By Sherry Gaugler-Stewart, Director of Family and Spiritual Recovery at The Retreat.

Thank you, Sherry, for being part of #fsts16. We are pleased to have you elaborate on many of the points from the panel discussion that took place at From Statistics to Solutions: Addressing the Underlying Issues of Youth Substance Use. MWM

When parents arrive at our Family Program, they are typically experiencing a variety of different emotions.  Some of them arrive feeling desperate, as they are tremendously fearful for the well-being of their child, and are out of ideas about what to do.  Some of them arrive confused, as it makes no sense that they have raised this beautiful child with their best efforts and values, and, yet, the disease of addiction is still present.  Some of them arrive angry, because it’s really frustrating to deal with the behaviors that happen when someone is actively using.  And, some of them are just exhausted, because standing guard over your child’s life is all-consuming.

To say it’s not easy to be a parent of a child who struggles with alcoholism or addiction is an extreme understatement.  When the dreams and aspirations for the person you love are side-tracked by addiction, what is left behind is the stuff most parental nightmares are made of.

Our society doesn’t help with these nightmares.  In fact, someone outside of the situation who hasn’t had firsthand experience with alcoholism or addiction may easily make judgements.  It’s a common belief that if a child is “good” or “bad” it has to do with how they have been parented.  Most people look at alcoholism and addiction as a moral failing, rather than a disease or disorder.  There is much stigma placed on families who are impacted by addiction, even though alcoholism was first declared a disease by the American Medical Association in 1956, and, addiction has been placed in this category, as well.  This information alone doesn’t seem to stop the judgements, or stop a parent from taking their child’s addiction personally.

I know it was something my husband took personally.  Even though he understood the disease of addiction better than most because he is in long-term recovery himself, understanding what to do as two out of three of his children struggled with their own addictions, and the consequences that surrounded them, escaped him.  I took it personally, as well, thinking that if I had a different role in their lives, or maybe if his prior marriage was still intact, something would be different for these two.

Despite the stories we create in our heads about all of this, the facts remain the same.

Good parenting doesn’t stop addiction.  There is no amount of loving someone that can change their physiology or propensity for alcoholism or addiction.  Bad parenting doesn’t create addiction. 

There are many who have survived less than ideal childhoods who have grown up to live happy, productive lives without the cloud of addiction.

And, yet, most of us still want to blame something or someone for this issue.  I was recently involved in a conversation where a question was posed: What are some of the road blocks and challenges that hinder collaboration with working with youth struggling with addiction?  With so many obstacles that stand in the way, I was looking forward to the answers, so we could start addressing them!  I was surprised to hear that one of the people involved believed the major obstacle was parents.

As she explained, I understood her standpoint.  Sometimes parents, in their confusion around the situation, get caught up in denial.  They want to believe that their beloved child would know better.  They want to believe that addiction couldn’t possibly touch their family.  They want to believe that it’s just a phase.  They don’t want to live in the embarrassment and shame associated with alcoholism or addiction, and who can blame them, really?

But, sometimes we still blame.  It’s fairly common in the world today that when something goes “awry” we want answers and to know who is responsible.  If it’s a child, then the parent must be at fault.  Even those of us working in the addiction recovery field we hear the comments about the parents that are more of a problem than their child.  We may have even made those comments.

The truth of the situation is that parents are doing the best they can with the information that they have.  They are doing their very best.  They want the very best for their child.  The assumption should not be that they are to blame.  The assumption should always be that they are loving their child as much as they possibly can.

The question for those of us who work with these parents is: How do we help families from blaming themselves?

In my experience, the best place to start is creating a safe place for them to talk.  Isolation is a key symptom of addiction, and is present on both sides of the disease.  Parents who have a child struggling with addiction often isolate themselves trying to protect their child and their reputation, not realizing this is also blocking them from receiving help.  If a parent starts talking, they will share information on how we can best help them.  They’ll talk about their fears, their confusion, their hopes and their plans.  The best thing anyone can do is listen.

When we listen, we will hear when a parent is ready to learn more.  The next important thing we can do for a parent is help them to really understand addiction.  Education around chemical dependency, how it happens and what it looks like, can help to clear up some of the confusion families have.  Although families typically understand addiction on an intellectual basis, their emotions haven’t always caught up yet, and these emotions add to their underlying reactions.  In my experience, when families have the opportunity to really learn about addiction, and have the questions that they have answered, it helps them to navigate the situation better.

However, as stated earlier, education isn’t enough.  Although it’s extremely helpful, it doesn’t answer the question most parents want answered “So, now what do I do?”  How do I get my loved one into recovery?  How am I supposed to be as they navigate early recovery?  How am I supposed to show up if my loved one relapses?

Typically, parents with a child who is actively using have one major fear: their child will not stop using and won’t be able to find recovery. 

Often times that fear continues after a child is getting help, but it turns to fear that their child may not be able to maintain their recovery.  Although their child may be doing everything they had hoped that they would do, parents may still be having the same reactions as they did when their child was using.  It is imperative families find support for themselves, as well.

A study by Laudet, Morgen, and White, (The Role of Social Supports) states “Support, in particular, recovery-oriented support, is likely to be critical to alcohol and other drug users, especially early on…”  It would stand to reason that recovery-oriented support would be helpful for parents and families, as well.  In fact, John Kelly, Ph.D. and Director of the Recovery Research Institute, was recently quoted to have said “Social support is good, but recovery specific social support is more important.”,  which also can be interpreted that a parent’s love is good, but a parent’s love with the support of recovery is more important.

The greatest gift I’ve received is something that can be passed along to others: the gift of family recovery. 

Recovery is community.  It is the support of other people who know what it’s like to love someone who struggles with addiction.  Recovery offers ideas and resources based on the experience of others.  Recovery offers a common language to talk about addiction, and the communication skills to reconnect with each other.  Recovery offers opportunity for healing.  Recovery offers hope.  The same process that helps our children recover can help other family members, too.  Family recovery offers answers to the question, “So, now what do I do?”

When my husband’s son started his recovery journey from his meth use, we were cautiously optimistic.  He was doing better than we’d seen him do in recent years, but we weren’t sure it would last.  We understand that this disease is chronic and can be fatal.  Through recovery, we also knew that placing our fears on him would not be helpful.  We also knew that the time that he spent in a facility was just the beginning of the journey.  The real work would happen for him in his own recovery community.

Three years later, we get to see the gifts of recovery turn into a full blown miracle.  We’ve watched him walk through the highs and lows of early recovery.  We’ve watched him take ownership.  We’ve watched him make decisions, good and bad.  We’ve watched that he’s let us know what’s going on in his world.  He did it in his own time, with his own support around him.  And, we needed our support around us.

Parents don’t have to do it alone.  Talk to someone.  Learn more about addiction.  Find others who understand addiction who can support you in this process.  And, please, remember that everyone is doing the best that they can with what they have, including you.

About Sherry Gaugler-Stewart

Sherry Gaugler-Stewart is the Director of Family & Spiritual Recovery at The Retreat in Wayzata, Minnesota. She has worked with The Retreat’s Family Program since its inception. Sherry is a certified spiritual director and has been an active participant in Twelve-Step recovery since 1999.  In addition to her work at The Retreat, she has lead spiritual retreats and is a meditation teacher.  She is also involved in the Kids’ Programming at The Retreat, for children aged 7-12 years old who are growing up in families affected by chemical dependency.

Side note: The Retreat offers a generous scholarship program to help defray the cost of participation in its programs.

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

#TBT – Denial – No Way!

Back in 2011, our son hit another bottom but still wasn’t ready or willing to go to treatment. The drugs had a grip on him. We sought guidance from an intervention specialist but our gut told us this was not the right person, not the right time, not the right approach. The meetings we had were such a disappointment and ended when the intervention specialist told me I was in denial about our son’s problem. Yep, me. Right. Not so. What follows is a quick vent that I typed up that afternoon … but never sent. Sometimes it’s just good to pound it out on the keyboard. Today, I thought other parents and professionals might benefit from this perspective.

Contrary to what (the intervention specialist we met with in 2011) believes, it is based on limited knowledge of me compounded by poor listening skills. Perhaps it was a “test” of my emotional stamina, open mindedness and ability to accept feedback or how explosive I might be during an intervention if I felt attacked, but back in May I was not at 11 on a scale of 1 to 10 for my own recovery; today I am not at a 9.  My therapist, Al-Anon and the online parenting forum that I participate in — all groups who know me far more authentically — would say otherwise.

I will let go of (my son), but I will not abandon nor alienate him — he already feels these to a certain degree. I will not enable him, but I will continue to let him know the family life continues and that our home is a place of comfort and joy, which he may visit but not live as an active addict. I am modeling real love.

I am not in denial nor am I marginalizing his problem.

Midwestern Mama

 

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Are the rules the same for young addicts as adults?

Here’s a draft that I started in 2012. At that time, my son’s addiction was in full swing and getting worse. Now (in 2016), we are nearly two years into his recovery. Yet the question still seems as relevant now as it did then.

So much of the 12-step wisdom for loved ones and co-dependents feels like it’s from the perspective of a long-term, adult addict whose life has become upside down.  With an older teen to young 20-something, it seems to me the rules don’t fit so neatly.

It feels like sink or swim.  It feels like tough love.  It feels like an impasse.  It feels like abandonment by the parents at a young addict’s most vulnerable of times.  I understand love the child and hate the disease … but in letting go, detaching, etc. are we sending the wrong message — one that may be appropriate for an adult but is inappropriate for a young adult?

Brain research says that maturity and chemistry are still malleable until age 25, so it makes me wonder if we don’t need a significantly different approach in approaching treatment and recovery for young addicts than what “works” for adults.

This is something that my husband and I struggled with during our son’s addiction. In many ways Al-anon saved my life because it came along when I desperately needed serenity and through the steps I did learn and recover. However, I still needed guidance on how to parent a young addict and so much of the protocol was AA-based.

Ultimately, when we realized how close we were to a deadly overdose, we rethought our approach and embraced a more nurturing one. Mostly, with hindsight, I do not feel our earlier approach was wrong but it was very hard on all of us and I always wondered if we were doing all the right things. For our family, the nurture seemed to come at exactly the right time because it was around this time that our son finally admitted his problem, sought help and embraced recovery.

What are your thoughts?

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Three Simple Rules

What boundaries do you set with your young addict? Midwestern Mama reflects on her family’s “Three Simple Rules,” which proved to be anything but easy yet absolutely necessary for peace and well-being during the addiction journey.

After our young addict turned 18, and we had been through significant chaos and a few scares, we needed some boundaries. Our days and nights had turned upside down. He was coming and going as he pleased, and we knew he was up to no good.

When he would come home, I could smell the trouble. Yes, he reeked of marijuana – and the cologne he sprayed to try and mask it. I could see the trouble. His eyes were bloodshot. If I opened his backpack or checked his coat pockets, well, it was easy to know what had been going on and it was a lot more than pot.

Enough was enough.

Our college-age daughter was working full time and going to school full time – she needed to stay focused. Our elementary-age son needed a full night of sleep – and to witness fewer stressful arguments between his brother and mom and dad.

My husband and I had jobs to go to each morning. Our colleagues counted on us to be fresh.

Yep, our son’s lifestyle was dictating ours and it was not healthy for any of us.

We had had enough, but our son hadn’t. He didn’t believe he had a problem – in fact, he felt WE were the problem. (Yeah, I know, you’ve heard that, too!) He didn’t want help. He didn’t want to live at home yet he didn’t have anywhere else to live.

It was time for some clarity on the privilege of living at home and to have some healthy expectations.

We had three simple rules:

1) No drugs or paraphernalia in the house;

2) Keep family hours Sunday night through Friday morning – no coming and going, as pleased, at all hours of the night;

3) Let us know by 8 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on weekends if he wouldn’t be coming home that evening.

More often than not, this meant he chose not to live at home during his addiction – that broke our heart to know that using trumped being at home, that sofa surfing and homeless were his decision, but these were boundaries that protected our family – including his siblings and allowed us to go on about our lives and responsibilities.

To that end, our son was ALWAYS welcome and encouraged to be part of family activities. We wanted him to know his home was there ready when he was, that the family was there for him, that our lives would continue forward and that when he was ready that his would, too.

In time, our son addressed his drug addiction, and in time, he embraced recovery. Today, he is living at home, nearly two years sober. Today our three simple rules are no longer necessary. Instead, common courtesy is the rule and it never needs enforcing because it’s simple they way we live.

No matter where you are on the addiction journey with your young adult, I encourage you to set some simple rules that support peace and well-being in your home. When recovery comes around, I predict that common courtesy will return and there will no longer be need for rules.

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Dear Mom and Dad, (rerun)

Dear-Mom-and-Dad

Last night, our local school district hosted the second of a three-part series on substance use among teens. Parents and guardians asked many questions and our panel of experts, which included professionals working with students as well as former students now in recovery and parents. Our responses were heartfelt and honest – there was not much sugarcoating, but I do think there was spirit of hope and helpfulness. For all the adults out there concerned about a love one’s use, I am re-posting one of our guest blogs from the summer; it is written as a letter from a young man in recovery to his parents. Click on the link below. I believe you will find wisdom and hope to guide you forward.

https://ouryoungaddicts.com/category/alcohol/

Wishing you and your family the best,

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

 

The News No One Wants

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Wednesday afternoon, I learned that one of the kids my son used to hang out with (aka use drugs with) has died. He was 22, just a year younger than #SoberSon. I don’t have any of the details and do not know the young man’s parents, yet I feel very connected to them because we have been on parallel paths.

Less than two years ago, before sobriety and recovery, we feared our family might get that horrific news, the news no one wants. That’s just how fragile addiction rendered his life. Hope existed, but it was dwindling. We knew that such a tragedy was a distinct possibility, an unfortunate reality.

Because we knew it could happen – it happens all too often with our young addicts – it makes these lost lives all the more sobering for me. (And for another time, I’ll talk more about my commitment to overdose prevention and why families and friends need to have life-saving naloxone.)

This past fall, my son had asked it if would be OK to drive over to this kid’s house. Word had it the kid was leaving the next day for a treatment program in another state. They hadn’t really been in touch since my son’s recovery, but he wanted to wish him well and offer encouragement that treatment is a smart decision. The kid wasn’t home but my son was able to talk with the dad for a few minutes.

I remember all the hope that families feel when a loved one goes to treatment, and rightly so. Treatment is a positive step forward. It is a move away from addiction toward recovery. It just isn’t always a one-and-done experience as we learned with our son – it can take more than one go until there is a true readiness.

Again, I don’t know the specific circumstances or scenario with this particular kid. I just know that my heart goes out to the kid’s family and friends.

Later this evening, my son will be home from school and working out at the gym. I don’t know if he will have heard the news because he’s truly cut himself off from the old crowd. This is not the first of his friends to die, but it is certainly one too many.

I hug my son every day. I will most certainly be hugging him tonight. Hugs, not drugs. Right? It just seems like the right cliche for this post.

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Puppy Love at First Sight

Midwestern Mama celebrates a wedding anniversary, her son’s continued sobriety, and the puppy that has brought incredible healing to the family.

Welcome Home Puppy

Three years ago on our 25th wedding anniversary, a neighbor was taking care of a Golden Retriever puppy and asked if we’d like to meet it. This adorable little fluff ball needed a home. Without hesitation, my husband and I offered to adopt the puppy. Our neighbor was thrilled and said she’d make arrangements with the owner the next day.

We were getting a puppy! Until recently, our family life with school, sports and work schedules did not lend itself to having a puppy. Now, however, we had a bit more flexibility and believed this was an ideal time to add a puppy to the mix.

The next morning, my husband purchased puppy chow and a soft bed. We texted the neighbor and didn’t hear back. We waited. Then we got the call that the owner had already promised the puppy to someone else; our neighbor was sorry to share this message.

We had geared up for this exciting new adventure only to have it end before it even started.

Without hesitation, my husband looked online at puppy adoption through our local animal humane society. There among the puppies was an adorable, 14-week-old with white fur and black markings. So cute, so loving, we knew he would be adopted in a heartbeat.

We arrived at the animal humane society the moment it opened. Upon meeting the puppy, we knew this was the one. There was something extra special about him and we brought him home.

Our 12-year-old son had just gotten back home from a sleepover when we pulled in the driveway with the puppy. Love at first sight.

Later that day, we texted our 20-year-old son hoping to reach him from wherever he might be in whatever state of high he might be in. We didn’t tell him why he should return home, but said we really wanted to see him. A few hours later, he showed up and met the puppy. Love at first sight.

These were the days when our son was working an overnight shift at a local Perkins. He had been living with us again for a few months and was participating in an out-patient treatment program – although his attendance and commitment was anything but engaged. He was using, lying, stealing, and living in a fog. It was one of the many chapters of his devastating drug addiction.

But upon meeting the puppy, we observed a softening. Our son’s caring, compassionate, loving self was visible. Although the turmoil of addiction – including homelessness – continued for another year and a half, having the puppy at home was always a welcome reason for him to stop and see the family. The puppy became a connection point for our family, and our young addict and the puppy developed a strong and special bond. (The puppy even ‘wrote’ a letter to our son and attended an intervention with family and friends.)

When our son moved back home and committed to treatment, sobriety and recovery, the puppy was the best therapist ever. Best friends.

As my husband and I celebrate our 28th anniversary this weekend, and our son’s 18 months of sobriety, we are forever in awe of the role that our puppy has played in healing our family. Love at first sight, indeed.

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved.

What are you going to do?

Early in our son’s addiction journey, I was having a conversation with the parents of another kid who was using drugs with our kid. She shrugged her shoulders and said, “What are you going to do?” In essence, she resigned herself to believing there was NOTHING she could do to stop her son’s use and its devastating effects.

I was flabbergasted the first time she said this. A few years later, she said it again. Oh my.

On the flip side, my husband and I were proactive and vigilant from day one – from the day we noticed he was struggling (and not yet using). To the day we discovered he was using. To the day we got him to treatment (the first time). To the day he ran away and relapsed. To the day … To the day … To the day …

We were committed to understanding and helping him from the first day and every day after that until he ultimately chose sobriety and committed to recovery. It was not an easy path for him or for us – addiction never is, and it impacts each and every family member and friend.

Some days, I wished I could stop thinking about the situation, and I’m sure there were lots of days that family and friends wished I would stop talking about our son’s addiction. Come on, get over it, right? Nope.

Instead, we interpreted and lived by the ever-famous Serenity Prayer, with our own family-friendly practice of it.

Why? Because I was resolute in believing that NOTHING was not an option. That SOMETHING would work. That there was PLENTY that we could do.

Years later, that mom is still convinced there is nothing she can do. Her son is still struggling with addiction and mental health, and she and the rest of her family are suffering from co-dependency.

So what can a parent do? Here are some thoughts on how you might answer the question: “What are you going to do?”

Talk about it. Addiction is a heavy subject, so keeping a loved one’s addiction to yourself will take its toll. As soon as you share with someone what you’re dealing with, you’re likely to find out that you are not alone and that they have experienced something similar. That’s just how widespread and rampant addiction is – just about everyone knows someone who has struggled with it. So open up and see where the conversation goes. Chances are you’ll feel better, and as soon as you start feeling better then everyone connected to you – including your young addict – will reap the benefits.

Learn about it. As you talk about addiction, you’ll start learning more. The conversation will probably lead you to resources – places to call, websites to check out, programs to visit, books to read. There is no shortage of information out there about addiction. Most of it’s good, solid information. Take in as much as you can and you’ll begin to figure out what’s true and helpful for you and your situation. All this knowledge will empower you to make better decisions as you continue to experience your loved one’s addiction. It will never hurt to be a bit smarter about something as complex as addiction.

Collect resources. Through all this talking and learning, you will find many resources. Explore each one. Sometimes it may seem that a resource has little to offer you, but in the months and years ahead, the situation may change and an initial resource may become just the thing you need. I kept a notebook with me at all times to write down names, numbers, organizations, URLs and more. It was helpful to have these resources available during our journey, and often in future conversations I would be able to pass along details to others who needed the information. I also plugged a lot of information into the notes application on my phone so that I always had the info I needed at my fingertips. Let me tell you, this saved us many times when chaos and crisis ensued.

Pay attention. Addiction is progressive. That means that things continue to change. Sometimes the changes are subtle, barely noticeable, but keep your five senses alert. What do you see? Smell? Hear? Feel? Taste? And do not forget about the sixth sense, what I refer to as Mom Radar – what do you feel in your gut? These are the clues that keep us tuned into what is happening with our young addict, and are the ones that keep us ready for whatever happens next. (See a blog post about The Five Senses: https://ouryoungaddicts.com/2015/04/07/the-nose-knows-a-common-sense-guide-to-recognizing-drug-and-alcohol-use-among-young-adults/)

Take notes. Because so much happens so quickly, write it down or you will forget it. Also, our young addicts are often manipulative, lying and stealing. Sorry, yes, this is what addiction does to them. To keep my own sanity, I would write things down. Dates. Details. Conversations. Etc. It’s amazing how addiction days and nights all start to run together, so having notes helped me when we were talking with counselors and treatment professionals – this way I had context and facts instead of fuzzy, emotionally-laden recollections.

Set boundaries. All of the tips above may have you thinking that you have to be immersed in your kid’s addiction 24/7/365. In a way, yes; in many ways, no. You’ve no doubt heard about setting boundaries, and let me say, this is 100 PERCENT NECESSARY. Determine what is best for you, your marriage, your family, your kid, your situation and set clear boundaries. These may change from time to time, and that’s OK, but always be clear about what you’re willing to accept and do or not do.

For our family, it was three simple things: 1) No drugs or paraphernalia allowed in our home, which also meant not being high at home 2) Keep family hours and sleep at home on weeknights – home by 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. 3) Let us know by 10 p.m. on weekends if you’re not coming home. Your boundaries may be different, but given a younger child in the household plus two parents with job commitments, this is what we needed. Other boundaries had to do with what we would and wouldn’t pay for, no longer allowing our son to have a key to the house, and revoking his driving privileges. See, things changed along the addiction path.

Practice self-care. Likely, you’ve also heard about self care. Because addiction is 24/7/365, it is absolutely critical that you take care of yourself. Live your life. Find an outlet – something like Al-anon, a support group or therapist. And, by all means, pursue your interests – reading, exercise, a hobby, etc. These are refreshing and energizing. (See two blog posts about self care: https://ouryoungaddicts.com/category/self-care/)

Stay in touch, keep reaching out. Sometimes it’s hard to stay in touch with a loved one who is using. Perhaps they have moved out. Perhaps they don’t come home all that often. It’s incredibly hard to know if and when you’re going to see or talk to them. No matter what, staying in touch to the extent that you can is important. It lets your loved one know you are there and ready … when they are. Whether a post-it note on their bedroom door, a text message, a voicemail or stopping by some place that they hang out, always make an effort to connect with your young addict.

During one of the more intense periods in our son’s addiction, when he was exceptionally angry with us and in utter denial about his addiction, I decided the best thing I could do was text him his horoscope from the newspaper each morning! It was a benign message from mom. Sometimes he’d respond – and I’d know he was alive. Sometimes he’d tell me to knock it off – and I’d know I’d reached him even if he wasn’t receptive. Sometimes, and this was hard, he wouldn’t respond and I know I needed to prepare for the worst. Usually, however, he’d surface within a few days and I’d have a sigh of relief.

More importantly, we continued to reach out and include our son in family activities even if he chose not to participate. It let him know we cared and considered him a vital part of our family. (This seemed to be a key strength when he finally chose sobriety and committed to recovery – today, his family ties are as strong if not stronger than ever!)

Connect with others. Parenting a young addict is overwhelming, lonely, scary, intense … you name it. But you are not alone. Way too many of us have been on this path. Together, we can help each other forward. Find us in your neighborhood, your school, your church. Find us online with Twitter, Facebook and blogs. We are out there and if you ask, we will IMMEDIATELY embrace you because we know what it’s like.

Share your experience. Each day in, which seems like an eon, you’re a day wiser and a day stronger. Through your experience, you now have something to offer the next parent going through their kid’s addiction, so please, please, please, share your experience. Together, we can and will make a difference.

What are you going to do? PLENTY, that’s what!

Midwestern Mama

©2015 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

 

 

Holiday Treatment

If your loved one is in treatment this season, read about some of the ways we found joy and check out some of our archived blog posts. December 2013, my son decided to go to treatment. Although he was bummed about “missing the holidays,” it was the best decision he could have made and it turned out to be one of our best-ever Christmases. Perhaps, this will help you have a happier experience as well. MWM

Our drive to treatment took place during a blizzard. My son slept and I white-knuckled the slippery roadways. Although he’d been to other treatment programs, this was the first time he made most of the arrangements. He wasn’t excited about it, but he accepted that it was what he needed to do.

That alone was a present, a holiday miracle. I encourage you to recognize the generosity of your loved one’s decision to go to treatment.

In our initial phone calls and contact with our son, he said things were OK but that he was bored and that time passed very slowly. He complained that the group had to put up Christmas decorations, and that it was a stupid, pointless way to spend time.

Although I could understand his frustration and although I felt he was being unfair with his attitude, I just let it go. Instead, I looked forward to our upcoming visit and seeing the decorations.

Just the other day, I had a meeting at a local treatment program (not the one my son attended), and program participants were in the process of putting up Christmas decorations. They were jovial and seeming to enjoy the experience. It made me think of my son’s experience, and my hunch is that he enjoyed it more than he let on.

That brings me to my next piece of wisdom. Don’t let your loved one make you think it’s so miserable. It just takes time for them to get in the swing of treatment and to find hope (if not immediate happiness) in the positive changes underway. That’s not to say it’s all fun and games; treatment is hard work and emotionally draining. Know in your heart that they are in the right place, doing exactly what they need to be doing. That is a true gift.

During our weekly family visits, I brought commercially prepared treats (homemade wasn’t allowed) and lots of games – board games, cards, dominoes, etc. My son wasn’t ready to be conversational, so playing games was an easier way to connect and share our support. Other residents joined in, too.

My son truly likes our holiday treats – fudge, peanut butter balls, frosted sugar cookies – so I made extra and put these in a decorated tin in the freezer so that he could enjoy these when he completed treatment. He very much appreciated that!

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day fell outside of normal family visiting days, so the treatment center designated a special time. It was on Christmas Day from  1 to 3 p.m., if I remember. I had hoped to bring a deep-dish pizza, but our son’s favorite place was closed on Christmas Day. Instead, I brought a variety of snack items (chips, pretzels, crackers) and individual containers of ice cream – a treat he was really missing.

Keep in mind that treatment food gets boring and is very basic. Working within the Center’s guidelines, we were able to bring special treats.

Again, on Christmas Day, we brought games and had family rounds of all sorts of favorites including the card game UNO. None of us missed the “usual” gathering at Grandma’s that year because we were so glad to be with our son who was sober and starting recovery. (Now, the next year … and this year … well, we are blessed to return to our favorite traditions at home. )

We will never forget the year my son spent Christmas at treatment!

Midwestern Mama

©2015 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Blog: The Real Me by Brook McKenzie

Ever wonder if your kid will overcome addiction and live a life in recovery? Never stop believing that it is possible. Treatment works. Recovery is possible. Today’s guest blogger is a young man who did just that. Meet Brook McKenzie and find hope in his story… MWM

With no tattoos, barely any muscles, and a quiet, sensitive nature, I had very few credentials to suggest I would survive in prison. Yet there I was, orange jumpsuit and a shaved head. At 19 years old, 155 lbs., I was not much to behold.  If anything I was the poster-child for “easy prey.”

How often I wished that I had never taken that first hit of crack-cocaine. How many times I wondered at how different things might have been.

Like many, I grew up in a great family with plenty of opportunity. It would have been much more likely for me to go on to graduate college, embark on a career and start a family than to wind up in prison.  But that was not at all what happened.  For years my parents had been wringing their hands in dismay. They would say things like, “how did this happen?” “why can’t you stop?” “can you quit for us, if not for yourself?” These were questions I sometimes had answers for, but none of them really made sense when set against the backdrop of my family’s life in shambles.

I was fifteen years old when my addiction to crack-cocaine began, a child really – with little idea as to what was in store.

This nightmare of enslavement would continue for me and my family for the next 20 years. There would be late night phone calls, desperate pleas, thefts, bail bonds, disappearances, missing purses, missed holidays, and an assortment of promises always ending in disappointment. As a child I had wanted to go to college and become a dentist. I loved my parents and they loved me. My younger brother was my sidekick.  Together, we would spend our youth exploring the woods, fishing, going on family vacations and making forts and tree-houses. I played baseball every year and enjoyed a host of childhood friends.  From a very young age our parents taught us how to be responsible, courteous, and conscientious young men.

As hard working, middle class young adults, our parents sought to provide for us the best that they could, and all they could.  They did a wonderful job! Still, in my heart, I sense that they felt to blame for what happened to me. But in reality, what happened to me, happened to each of us. Addiction is a family disease and it touches all lives that come into contact with it.

Between the years 1999-2009, I served about 8 years in prison as a result of my drug addiction, and my family served it with me. I remember the look on my mother’s face when she would come to visit. There would be times that I would bring a black eye to the visitation room with me. She would squeeze my hand while recounting all that had happened since I’d been away.  My brother had graduated high school, gone on to college, and earned his bachelor’s degree. He even met the love of his life while traveling abroad.

Sometimes during these visits – when I could muster the courage – I’d look my Mom in the eye and promise her – with all of my heart – that things would be different next time – I had changed. Unbeknownst to me, and certainly to her – none of us had come to a full realization as to the severity of my condition.

Once released from prison, and with every good intention to live my life reformed for the sake of all my family had been through – I would relapse!  Whether it took a few days or a few weeks, I always went back to it, as if asleep and unable to awake.  Similar to a nightmare, I would “come to” in complete shock  – “how did I get here again?” “What happened?”

The horror I felt would consume me. How could I do this to my family? And the thoughts would come:  wouldn’t it be better to kill myself now and let my family begin to heal than to go on causing harm indefinitely? Ashamed, I dared not show my face to anyone. The only way I knew to cover up what I felt was to go on to the bitter end, which for me, always resulted in another arrest.

As my addiction progressed, I found that I would steal for drugs, lie; even prostitute myself…I would walk miles and miles to get my next fix, roaming the streets like a zombie.

Whatever I had to do, I would do, my conscience under siege. The pain I felt inside, the loneliness and sense of isolation was unbearable. During these times I would fall to my knees and pray, “God please help me, please show me another way.”

Then, in 2010, as though an answer to my prayers, I was presented with an opportunity to go to treatment for my addiction. With a small duffel bag of clothes in tow I embarked on a life changing experience that would prove to be the launching pad for a brand new life in recovery. I haven’t been back to prison since. The truths I learned in treatment are the truths I carry with me today and they are the same truths that I share with others, with families and with those similarly afflicted.

…Not too long ago I accepted the position of Outreach Coordinator for a well-known drug and alcohol treatment center in Southern Orange County, California. This role allows me the privilege to interact with other people’s parents and family members on a daily basis. Together, the families and I walk hand in hand towards getting their loved ones the help that they need and deserve. Ironically, and despite it being a big part of what fuels my passion to serve others, my own story rarely comes up any more. As time moves on, there are newer stories to share, with brand new faces and brand new names; stories of hope, and stories of redemption.

Today, when my Mother calls me I answer the phone and we talk. We don’t talk about the things we used to discuss, we talk about our gratitude; we talk about life. My father, same thing. And as for my younger brother, well, we are best of friends again. He now has two young children of his own, two girls, and I get to be an uncle to both of them.  By the Grace of God, my nieces will never know me as a drug addict, a convict or a thief.

They will only know the real me; the one that God intended me to be…

Brook McKenzie serves as Outreach Coordinator and Family Liaison for New Method Wellness treatment center. His passion is working with families to help interrupt the cycle of addiction.

Making Sense of Signals

How do we know that another person is parenting a young addict? What signals do we give? Midwestern Mama explores the subtle ways we communicate and the important connections we make when we share that we know addiction.

Confession: As a high school student in the early ‘80s, I tried marijuana. It’s entirely possible but I may be the only person on earth to say I did not like it in the least. I actually tried to like it, but after a couple months of trying I gave it up declaring it just wasn’t for me.

That’s not say I didn’t continue to hang around high school friends who used marijuana regularly. It’s also not so say that I didn’t engage in some teenage and college drinking; for whatever reason, my “experimentation” was just that and it didn’t manifest as addiction in any sense.

Decades later, with a high school kid of my own, experimentation with drugs and alcohol went in a vastly different direction. My teenager became an addict almost immediately, and I gained a whole new understanding of substance use … addiction … mental health … treatment … relapse … recovery, and a whole lot more in between.

As much as I have learned, there remains so much I do not know – in general as well as specific to my son’s experience. Most of the unknowns I have accepted. The past is the past. I do, however, have curiosity and I have to remind myself whether that knowledge has any great purpose. I also realize, that the missing pieces may reveal themselves at some point in the future, if my son chooses to share and if it’s meant to be.

Even still, I have questions. For example, even for the extent to which I experienced drugs, personally and vicariously through my son, one thing I never figured out is the communication style that drug users use. How do they determine if someone else is a user? How do they find out if someone has something to share or sell? What is the language and what are the signals that that they use?

I may never know these things and I’m OK with that. It’s interesting, but not particularly useful. Save for sharing knowledge with other parents and as my son continues in recovery, I hope I never need to know the language or signals.

It occurs to me, however, that parents of young addicts also develop a language and set of signals.

Just the other day, I met a former colleague for coffee. As we caught up on careers, she mentioned that her 17-year-old son had given them some “challenges” the past few years. That’s an ambiguous statement. It doesn’t specify anything yet neither does it invite nor discourage any follow-up questions – unless you are a completely nosy person or a parent who has experienced your own ambiguous “challenges.” Instead, the ambiguity either goes without notice or it hangs there waiting to see if the other parent will pick up on something.

Acknowledging that we’d had challenges with our son in recent years, I gently asked if she cared to share what kind of challenges.

Quietly but without hesitation, she said, “Addiction.”

And, without hesitation, I said, “Oh my goodness, my son, too,” adding – to give her hope, “he’s now one year sober.”

You can imagine the rest of the conversation as we shared our experiences. It was refreshing to connect with another parent who understood what it’s like to have a young addict in the family. We listened to each others stories, empathized and validated feelings, and we exchanged ideas on what had worked and what hadn’t. All of a sudden, we had a new appreciation for each other and a renewed sense of our parenting roles not to mention additional hope and belief in the possibility of recovery for our sons.

What’s interesting about this scenario is that it is increasingly common. It seems I’m having this conversation more and more often. A part of me is glad that we are talking about our kids’ addiction and connecting rather than going it alone. At the same time, a part of me is sad that there is a seemingly rising number of families dealing with young adults substance use – too many kids are using and becoming addicted.

It got me wondering about what is the language and what are the signals that someone is parenting a young addict? I always used the phrase, “our son is taking a detour right now.” This was a nice way of saying, he was not doing what other kids his age were doing ,i.e., he’s not in college, he’s homeless, he’s addicted to drugs including heroin, he lies and steals, he sells his plasma to get money for food and drugs.

Yuck, who wants to say those things even if they are true? Instead, we test the waters with a catch phrase. Some people don’t pick up on the ambiguity and the conversation proceeds without addressing it. Other people do pick up on it, and it’s an opportunity for them to choose whether to engage.

The language and signals may be invisible to most people, but to parents who have been there or are still there with their kids, these are an opportunity to connect.

©2015 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Guest Blog: Judy Rummler on Being FED UP! with the Opioid Addiction Epidemic

This week we are reblogging a guest blog from the Phoenix House. It profiles Judy Rummler, founder of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation and leader of the recent FedUp! Rally that took place in Washington, D.C., this past weekend. Thank you, Judy, for being an action-oriented advocate for overdose prevention.

http://www.phoenixhouse.org/news-and-views/our-perspectives/judy-rummler-on-being-fed-up-with-the-opioid-addiction-epidemic/

This blog ran on the Phoenix House website on Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Judy Rummler (2)Our guest blogger this week is Judy Rummler, president of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, which provides programming and hope for those with chronic pain and addiction. She has been chair of the FED UP! Coalition since its inception in 2012 and is working with the committee that is planning this year’s FED UP! Rally on Saturday, October 3 in Washington, D.C. The coalition and annual rally bring together individuals and organizations to prompt federal action to end the epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths related to opioids, encompassing both heroin and prescription painkillers. Here, in a Q&A conversation, she discusses FED UP!, the rally’s goals, and what individuals can do to help fight the U.S. opioid epidemic.

Phoenix House:  How did you become involved in FED UP!?

Judy Rummler:  My son Steve died of an accidental opioid overdose after becoming addicted to the painkillers that were prescribed to him for his chronic pain. After his death, my husband and I created the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation to provide hope for those with chronic pain and addiction. We had no idea at first that his death was part of a national epidemic of overdose deaths, but we quickly learned that federal action would be required to bring this epidemic to an end. I started attending hearings at the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], where I met Dr. Andrew Kolodny. And I met others there who were passionate about creating change, many of whom had also lost loved ones. We decided that change would come faster if we created one voice as a coalition.

PH:  When you first started, what did you hope FED UP! would accomplish? Has it lived up to your expectations?

JR:  One of our first goals was to get the FDA to reschedule hydrocodone combination products from Class III to Class II, which was important because a doctor’s visit is now required for refills of prescriptions for these drugs. This has happened. We also wanted to increase public awareness of the epidemic. We now see it in the news regularly. So, we are happy with these and other successes, but there is much more to do!

PH:  What do you hope will come out of this year’s rally?

JR:  We hope to get President Obama to speak out about the epidemic. It wasn’t until President Reagan spoke out about the AIDS epidemic, after 20,000 deaths, that the nation began to seriously look for solutions. We have a petition on change.org asking the President to provide the needed leadership and speak out about the opioid epidemic.

Fed-Up-Flyer-2015PH:  What part of this year’s rally are you looking forward to the most?

JR:  This year’s rally will be held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech. I am looking forward to this special location and to our partnership with UNITE to Face Addiction—in addition to our usual array of amazing speakers.

PH:  When most people hear “prescription drug abuse,” they think of a teenager rummaging through the medicine cabinet looking for a quick high. How does that jibe with what you know about the opioid epidemic?  

JR:  The root of the epidemic is the overprescribing of opioid painkillers, not the “abuse.” The medications in medicine cabinets were prescribed to someone. Many people mistakenly believe that because these medications are prescribed by a doctor that they are safe.

PH:  What do you wish you could say to people who currently have a loved one struggling with opioid addiction?

JR:  This is a very difficult question. My husband and I did everything we could think of to save our son from the disease of addiction. I now know more than most people about the disease, and I would do some things differently, but I’m still not sure how we could have saved him. I would tell people to learn as much as they can about the disease as soon as possible and to be sure that medication-assisted treatment is available at any addiction treatment program they might choose.

PH:  If someone can’t attend the rally but would like to do something to fight the opioid addiction epidemic, do you have any suggestions for things they can do?

JR:  I would suggest that they join an advocacy group in their local community that is working to fight the epidemic. I would also encourage them to tell their story as often as they can. Public awareness of the issue is increasing, but we need more people to speak out.

– See more at: http://www.phoenixhouse.org/news-and-views/our-perspectives/judy-rummler-on-being-fed-up-with-the-opioid-addiction-epidemic/#sthash.3qGogI6T.dpuf

#TBT – Tips for a Strong Marriage When Pareting a Young Addict

Recently, Midwestern Mama penned an article for In Recovery magazine about the impact of a child’s addiction and recovery on the parents’ marriage, so it’s only fitting that for #TBT that we rerun a 2012 column on a similar topic. It seems the principles stand the test of time regardless of the scenario.

A Real Mom 1-23-12_ Tips for a strong marriage while dealing with addiction – Minnmoms

How Full is Your Glass?

You know the  question about whether you see the glass half full or half empty; in may ways, this is an appropriate model for parents of young addicts. It refers to your mindset and point of view. Either vision is accurate, it’s a matter of attitude and perspective.

Even in the depths of my son’s struggles with addiction and mental health, I always had hope. In time, that hope became belief.

At first, my hope (the glass half full), was fueled by thinking and wishing that that he would stop using drugs, get help (treatment) and return to a happy, healthy life (recovery). To me, this made sense. It was a logical progression.

During his many bottoms, and yes there were MANY, there were times that others would sweat the glass was half full, if not empty. I refused to believe this. It was not denial; absolutely not. It was reality, however, that the more he used, the more he suffered, the more our family’s hope would diminish.

We worried. We wondered if he was going to make it, if he could turn things around, if he would ask and or get help. If anything, it was his denial of a problem not ours.

While we could not predict the future or will it into being, we never lost hope. The glass remained half full, if not three quarters full!

Do you see the glass half full or half empty? Midwestern Mama - always a positive thinker - sees it as three quarters full!
Do you see the glass half full or half empty? Midwestern Mama – always a positive thinker – sees it as three quarters full!

This perspective sustained me and helped out family believe in the possibility of our son’s recovery.

I am a naturally positive person, some might even call me Polly Anna, but without a doubt my attitude and perspective pulled me – if not my son – through. I hope it will you, too.

I learned that hope precedes belief, and to me, this it the process that shifts perspective from a glass half empty to half full to three quarters full. Wishing you and yours the same.

Midwestern Mama

#TBT – Maybe Today Will Be The Day

In today’s #TBT column, Midwestern Mama writes about the guiding, calling HOPE that “Maybe today will be the day,” that her son would choose sobriety and recovery.

Every parent of a young addict hopes and prays that TODAY will be the day that addiction ends and sobriety and recovery begins. None of is knows how long the journey will go on. All along though, we must maintain hope – for ourselves and for our young addicts.

A Real Mom – Maybe today will be the day 1-31-12

Several years after writing this column, after lots and lots of hoping (and other things), that day came. My son made that choice on July 11, 2014, and I’ve never been so grateful.

Midwestern Mama

#TBT – Where Will He Sleep Tonight? A Homeless Young Addict

One of the most difficult and saddest aspects of Midwestern Mama’s experience with a young addict was her son’s homelessness. Nothing in this experience broke her heart more.

wanderer-814222_640

As we head into the Independence Day weekend, I remember how chained my son was to his addiction. Just a few years back, my son was homeless. I wrote about this for the Pioneer Press in January 2012.A Real Mom 1-6-12 Where Will He Sleep Tonight?

Each day, I would pray for his freedom from chemical dependency and for his choice to become sober. For me, and I think for him, the homelessness was the most devastating part of the addiction experience. I wish it on no one.

Today, I am grateful that he is sober – one year on July 11, 2015, and successfully living at home with our family.

Midwestern Mama

The Avocado Won, This Time

avocado-pit-eat-health-usesI’ll be taking on the world one handed this week. It’s not by choice rather by accident.

It’s a good reminder that you never know what the day will bring, and that is absolutely a lesson that my son’s addiction and recovery has taught us.

Saturday morning I was preparing an avocado and went to remove the pit, as I routinely do by piercing it with the tip of a steak knife and giving it a gentle twist. Oops, the knife slipped and lacerated the underside of my left thumb and nicked the tendon. My thumb is now loosely stitched and fully immobilized until I see the hand specialist on Tuesday to find out what’s next for healing.

That means I’ll be tweeting and blogging one handed, and I anticipate even more typos than usual:) Thank goodness I had already submitted my blog for I Have Will so that’s one less piece to pull together.

Enough about my hand. Let me refocus this on addiction and recovery. When we were trying to figure out what was going on with our son, each day was full of ups, downs, twists and turns. At first we couldn’t anticipate what was going to happen next. In time, we learned to anticipate “something,” and “nothing” ever surprised us.

We became adept at going with whatever came our way – we had to. And, this we did not do alone. We had each other, husband and wife. We had professionals who guided us individually and as a family. We had friends and neighbors who always inquired how it was going and offered to help in any way they could. We had family – two other kids who needed us – plus grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers and cousins, who rallied along with us. In short, we had a community to support “our young addict.”

We said the Serenity Prayer with renewed appreciation giving consideration to things we could and couldn’t change. It saved my sanity more than once and I still rely on its infinite wisdom to guide me.

We found blessings in “it could have been worse,” when each of my son’s steps and consequences challenged that notion. I am forever grateful that he is alive and has survived some of the worst-of-the-worst situations that a young person, let along a young addict, can face.

With hindsight, there is nothing we could have done to prevent our son from trying marijuana and progressing to opiates. We educated, communicated honestly, and supported him and more. We did “all the right things,” and still when he had the choice to use or not, he was curious to try. Although he did not set out to become an addict, his brain chemistry is such that it was not his choice; he was hooked from day one.

Just as we can’t go back and change the last seven years, I can’t go back and change Saturday morning and my run in with the avocado … however, I am confident that next time, the avocado will not win – there will be guacamole and my thumb will be intact.

©2015 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved