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Families of Addicts: A Blueprint

From our own Outreach Coordinator Brendon Driscoll’s personal Experience:

I feel the deepest empathy toward parents & families just beginning the saddened journey of their child’s drug addiction and those facing the turmoil or decision of the next step. My passion to educate is fueled because personally, I am parent of an addict, but also a recovering addict myself. I work for a treatment center and talk to parents firsthand. I wanted to share my combined experiences with a blueprint to help other parents navigate this difficult battle during the current drug epidemic. Some people feel ashamed talking about something like opiate addiction, especially a parent who feels that addiction reflects poorly on them. My blueprint comes from firsthand experience, for what I’ve put my family through, but also what I’ve gone through dealing with my own son. Whether your child is still actively using or active in recovery, there are certain stances one must take as a parent. Certain ideologies must be implemented and certain stigmas must be crushed.

The first safe action when dealing with drug abuse or addiction is to eliminate being naive entirely, no matter how much it hurts your pride as a parent. A naive person is willing to believe that a loved one is telling the truth, even when the evidence strongly suggests otherwise. Families get caught in this trap because the addicted loved one was able to be trusted before. When the effects of drug abuse or addiction begin to show its ugly face or until this person completes a rehab program or joins a 12-step recovery program that gets through to him or her, all bets are off. Being naive about alcohol or drug abuse can be — and unfortunately — a fatal mistake.

This Is Hope For Parents of Addicts

You should never, ever lose hope of recovery. If rehab didn’t work once, it doesn’t mean it never will. I have spent years on my own recovery, some years have been better than others, and relapses can happen, but years of experience helping the addicted find responsible recovery have proven that the overwhelming majority of people respond to a caring rehab program and 12-step program. Only a very few will prevent themselves from ever being helped. If completion of one rehab program does not result in lasting sobriety, don’t lose hope. Your loved one may simply need more help or a different type of program with an individualistic approach to repairing damage caused from addiction.

Your faith in your child’s recovery can be the factor that saves his or her life.

My Next Word of Advice…

My next word of advice is one of the hardest parts, don’t be the enabler! As hard as it might be for some people to conceive, an enabler makes it possible for the addict to continue to abuse drugs or alcohol. Enabling can come in several variations. Instead of insisting a person get professional help, an enabler might let a drug-using person who is falling out the bottom live in the home, may help him find a job, give rides to friends, or bring food over to his or her house day after day, also buying cigarettes, coddling their choices or behavior. Financing is a major factor enablers allow drug abuse to continue. When the addicted person has lost all sources of income, if the family continues to support the person financially, that person can drive himself straight down a self-destructive path. It can take some major self-discipline to stop enabling because helping a person in trouble comes naturally to a loving family and all these acts of kindness may simply be prolonging the drug abuse.

You Are Not Alone as A Parent of an Addict

One of the more frustrating aspects of addiction is the addicted person’s immediate effort to blame someone else for his problems or the family blaming each other during the active use of the addict. Lost jobs, broken marriages, arrests, illness, bankruptcy, injury, addiction itself — they are all someone else’s fault. Don’t get caught believing a steady stream of stories about how other people have caused the person’s problems. On the other hand, appealing to the person’s better judgment will seldom work. That judgment is buried under months, years or decades of self-destruction and harm to others that he now cannot face. Drug and alcohol abuse lower awareness. Bringing a person back to responsibility must involve a process of gradual unburdening to not overwhelm a person to the point of relapse. This is the job of a good rehab program, good sponsorship in a 12-step program. But for the moment, do not accept that everyone else is the cause of the addict’s problems. As soon as this pattern emerges, discover the facts for yourself. If it’s not possible, at least insist on not being sucked into the misleading tactics of the addict. There are injustices in life, but in most cases, a person creates or at least majorly contributes to his own situation in life. And even when life hands a low blow, it is one’s eventually responsibility to buck up and handle it. One thing to look for is any effort on the addict’s part to overcome his or her problems in a responsible manner. If this effort is absent, the likelihood increases that the full truth is being concealed.

Then comes the manipulation factor when there are signs of being addicted, expect the lies and manipulation to occur, and you will not be caught off-guard when they do. When a person becomes addicted, it’s almost as though there is a special skill set that goes along with it. The mind becomes the servant of the drugs. He or she becomes expert at lying his or her way out of tough situations. He or she also learns how to turn the tables on someone trying to save his life, making it their fault that he is abusing drugs. Grasp the fact that along with drug abuse comes a moral and ethical decay. Cravings for more drugs or alcohol can be so overwhelming that the user feels crazy. He feels totally justified in saying or doing anything necessary to get people to leave him alone so he can continue to abuse drugs. It feels as essential as breathing for him to do this so you don’t need to be surprised when the lies come. You will need to sharpen your detective skills, verify the stories, and refuse to let yourself be manipulated. You don’t deserve it.

Keep reminding yourself, you’re not alone! Many families feel totally isolated when someone in the family is addicted. They may be ashamed of having a problem like this. Many families don’t reach out for help and advice because of this shame. Wives may feel that asking for help from other family members will make them look bad in some way or maybe they would feel terribly embarrassed. Parents may even feel that the addiction of a son or daughter is all their fault but they had little or nothing to do with it. The truth is that more than two million Americans enter drug or alcohol rehabs each year. Many of today’s drugs are so addictive that just a few experimentations with a drug like heroin, weed, cocaine, acid, ecstasy, even prescriptions can hook a person. Addiction is a broad social problem, and family failure may not play any significant role in the person’s drug abuse. The most important thing is that the addicted person gets the right kind of help. Feelings of shame, failure or embarrassment need to be put on the back-burner until recovery is found and the person is safely on his or her way to being clean and sober.

True Support is Unending

Lastly, always continue your support! Once a person graduates from a thorough rehabilitation program and starts going to 12-step meetings or outpatient support, don’t act like the problem never existed. Nearly everyone who completes rehab and returns home will need a period of support from family and friends. Supporters should be sensitive to the person’s needs and either not drink in front of him or carefully ensure that it is not a problem. While recovering from addiction he or she should not be invited to drink, in fact, it would be wise for someone close to the recovered addict to serve as a backup, to take the person aside if it looks like they are going to give in and order a drink or begin to indulge in some other fashion. It should go without saying that family and friends should not abuse prescription drugs or use illicit drugs in their vicinity. While the amount of support needed will vary from person to person, it is much safer to assume that support is needed. Do not rely on or expect pre-addiction patterns of thinking and behavior until a proven, effective rehab program has been completed and a person has had enough time to assume control of his or her clean & sober life.

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