Being a parent is an incredibly wonderful and life-changing experience that only those who have children will understand. Parents only want what is best for their children and want to make sure their children are safe and protected and supported so they may grow up and go on to live happy, successful lives.
With all that being said, one of the most earth shattering, devastating situations any parent could go through is to be a parent raising a child suffering from addiction. Addiction is a terrifying illness that is difficult to understand and as a parent, watching a child disintegrate and fall victim to drug addiction or alcoholism without being able to stop the downward spiral or help is simultaneously terrifying, lonely, confusing and infuriating. Parents often feel helpless, alone and scared.
It is important for parents to understand several things about their child’s addiction in order for them to try to stay sane as well as be prepared to aid their child in finding the help they will need to recover.
The medical community classifies addiction as a disease. It is a chronic, progressive but also treatable disease, a chronic brain disorder the results in cognitive impairment, issues with the brain’s reward system and an illness that is a primary disease, meaning that addiction is not the result of other causes. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) just released this new definition of addiction, saying at its core, addiction isn’t just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem. It’s a brain problem whose behaviors manifest in all these other areas. The new definition says “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. With- out treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”
- You did not cause your child’s addiction
Just as the new ASAM definition of addiction states, addiction is primary disease and is not caused by any other factors. There are certainly biological, environmental and emotional factors that can play a role in exacerbating or prolonging a child’s addiction, but any outside factors are never the cause for addiction. As a parent, you did not cause the addiction and it is not your fault. Often, parents dealing with a child’s addiction blame themselves. They ask questions like “what could we have done differently?” or “where did I fail as a parent?” Parents feel much guilt and shame surrounding their child’s addiction. However, what is vitally important to understand is that a child’s addiction is not reflective of the job the parents have done. Addiction does not discriminate and it impacts all families across racial, ethnic, religious, economic and social boundaries.
- You cannot cure your child’s addiction
The normal reaction of any parent when they see their child suffering or in pain is to do whatever is in their power to stop the suffering or make the pain go away. Unfortunately, addiction is not like a skinned knee; Mom and Dad cannot clean the wound and kiss it and make it better. Parents need to understand that just as they did not cause the addiction, they also do not have the power to cure the addiction or the fix the problem. The natural reaction to “fix” the problem or to try and control the situation actually will often lead to making the issue worse. The inherent need to help will often create an even unhealthier situation, by creating family enmeshment and enabling behaviors. Because parents are emotionally the closest to their children, they often are the least able to help. Their perception of how to help is skewed. Parents need to seek outside help from professionals and others who have shared a similar experience to learn how to best react to the situation in a healthy manner.
- It is okay to hate the addiction, just don’t hate the addict
One extremely important thing to realize for parents is that having an addict as a son or daughter is going to cause unbearable amounts of stress and pain. Your life will inevitably become a roller coaster of emotions. And that is okay. Parents need to know the feelings they have regarding the situation are normal and to not be ashamed of them. It’s okay to get angry. It’s okay to get frustrated. It is okay. However, it’s also important for a parent to be able to separate the addict from the addiction. The addict is the child, who is sick and who is suffering from a disease. The behaviors of the child (the lying, the stealing, the manipulating, the “do anything at any cost to get high”, etc.), these behaviors are the addiction. Trust the fact that every addict knows the pain and harm they are causing by their behaviors, however they cannot stop. This is the nature of the addiction. Being able to separate the sick person from the disease it vitally important for parents to understand.
- The addict is not the only one affected. The whole family suffers from the addiction. Seek help and support
Going hand-in-hand with the last point, parents need to also understand that addiction does not just impact the addict. Addiction is a family disease and addiction affects the parents (and siblings) too. Thing about it: Any parent that has a heroin addict or an alcoholic running around their house for years is going to be negatively impacted. The lying, the cheating, the stealing, the manipulation, the worrying, the blaming, the staying up late at night wondering where they are, the car accidents and the other run-ins with the law. All of these things are going to weigh on parents and cause stress and anxiety. Marriages often get strained or suffer because there is a child with a substance use disorder. Other siblings get angry or resentful. A family unit suffers. Therefore, it is imperative that a family seek help for the family as a whole, just as the addict will hopefully seek help for themselves. Parent support groups, therapy and Al-Anon are just some of the options for families in need and are places they can find comfort, guidance and support to deal with the issues they are all going through.
- You are not alone. Speak up. Ask for help. Be honest.
One if the biggest issues parents face with having a child who is an addict or alcoholic is one of the biggest issues that the addict and alcoholic also face: that feeling of “nobody else knows how I feel”. Addicts often feel like they are alone in the universe and that nobody will be able to relate to what they are going through. Families dealing with an addict child often feel the same way. The guilt and shame make them keep quiet. The idea that others will judge them or look down at them for their child’s addiction also makes them wary and guarded. However, shutting down and keeping the problem quiet and behind closed doors will not be helpful to anyone. Indeed, parents need to do the opposite. They need to speak up and speak out. If their child suffered from other diseases like diabetes or cancer, they wouldn’t keep that quite. They would talk to friends and other families. They would ask questions. They would find other families whose child went through something similar, to gain knowledge from their experience and find out where that family sought help for their child. Addiction is no different. Many parents are shocked to find out that some of their closest friends and members in the community have also gone through a similar situation. Being transparent and honest about the situation lessens the anxiety; gaining knowledge and insight through other parents that have shared a similar experience gives strength. Parents need to speak out and they will be happily surprised at how many other families in the community have dealt with this issue and are willing to offer help, support and guidance to help.
If you or someone you know is in need of help because of drug and/or alcohol abuse, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive addiction treatment in the Baltimore City, Baltimore County and entire Maryland and Washington, D.C. area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at Contact us today. For more information on all of our drug addiction and alcohol addiction services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.