This is written for parents who are new to this journey...
I know that you are feeling a lot of mixed emotions right now. That is all very normal. When I found out my son was using drugs, I was completely shocked. He knew better, but he did it anyway. It seemed so incredibly unfair that this should happen to us. We thought he must be just going through a phase that he will grow out of. We decided we would talk to him about how selfish he was being, how he was throwing his life away, and how much he was hurting us. That would do it! He would come to his senses and stop using drugs before they became an even bigger problem in his life. Unfortunately, it was not that easy. We had a lot to learn!
I am writing this letter to you because I want to save you from making the same mistakes we made early on. I also want you to know that you are not alone in this. There are many families dealing with this issue but most never talk about it. You don’t have to be ashamed. I am quite confident that you love your child and did the very best job that you could, as did we with our son. Unfortunately, youth today have easy access to incredibly powerful prescription drugs. By nature, teenagers are very curious and like to take risks so they try these drugs. Many of these youth like them way too much and continue to take them. I’ve heard many say that “when you can stop taking them, you don’t want to, but when you want to stop taking them, you can’t.” That is very true.
The positive thing is that you are now aware there is a problem, and can try to do something about it.
Here is some advice for you:
1. Do not underestimate the power of drugs. Most people cannot just stop using no matter how much you beg, plead and cry. They need help from a professional. Pull out all the stops to get immediate help for them.
2. Don’t assume it is a phase that they will grow out of. If your child is at the point where you began to see signs of use, they are likely already addicted. They get careless as their drug use progresses.
3. Don’t believe them when they say they will quit on their own. They don’t need help. Those are sweet words that we all want to hear but they are lies. Addiction is a cold, cunning disease. Our addicted loved ones will tell us what we want to hear so that they can continue to use.
4. Work with your child’s addictions worker. They can’t tell you what is discussed with your child, but you can tell them what you are seeing as far as signs, attitude, behaviours, etc. This will help them in helping your child.
5. Watch for any signs of use. Search their rooms for evidence. You have to be discreet about it. Do not leave a mess because if they know you are searching for it they will hide the evidence elsewhere. Share your findings with their addictions worker (who they may also be trying to fool).
6. Do not give them money (or anything of value that they can sell) for any reason. If they need something, go out and purchase it for them yourself. Otherwise, you will very likely be giving them money to buy drugs. Many youth pool their lunch money together to buy drugs.
7. Get help for yourself. This is a hard journey that many of us are ill equipped to take on our own. It is truly like no other. You need to get educated quickly about the disease of addiction. The more you know about it, the more help you will be to your child. If you don’t get educated, you could do more harm than good. This is a serious issue. There’s a lot of great information available online and in your community.
8. When it comes to going to a support group, don’t convince yourself that your child is not as bad into it as “their children” so you probably won’t fit in. GO! Get there as fast as you possibly can. Your child is very likely just as bad into it or worse. Even if they are not, you will learn A LOT from the other parents who have the experience. In addition, you will eventually find friendship, empowerment and peace in this process.
9. Your child is sick, not bad. They are not doing this to hurt you. When you cry, they hurt inside but the disease of addiction has many casualties and you are one of them. They will do anything to get drugs and inadvertently hurt whoever stands between them and their fix, including you.
10. This is not your fault. A lot of people try to put the blame on parents because they don’t understand the disease. Forgive them. You were likely one of them at one time. I know I was! There are many protective factors that we can put into place, good parenting is one of them, but there are no guarantees. I’ve seen many kids – like mine – from good homes that end up going down this path. Addiction does not discriminate.
11. Let your son/daughter know how much you love him/her, and that you will always be there when they want help to get better.
12. Pay a lot of attention to your other children. They are casualties of the disease as well. Don’t neglect their needs as you try to save your sick child. Find the balance.
13. People do recover. Sometimes it can happen quickly or take years but it does happen. You can’t do the work that is necessary for your child to get there, but you can help the process by learning about addiction yourself and what you should and should not be doing as parents.
There are many more things that will help you, and you will find them when you go to support groups and begin researching on the internet. Many parents, like me, have started blogs to help support others through this process. You’ll learn something from all of us. There is too much to cover in this one letter!
I wish you well on this journey. The positive thing is that addiction is a treatable disease, but it will require a lot of strength on your part. Learn everything that you can about it and talk to others who are going through it. When I began sharing my story, I began to heal. You will too. If you are a person of faith like I am, lean into that as well. This journey has brought me in touch with many wonderful people who have enriched my life in so many ways. They are out there waiting to support you as well. You are never alone.
PS: If any of you other experienced parents have advice to share, please leave it in the comment section! Thanks.