I can’t say if I was educated about the science of addiction I could have saved my son from the nightmare through which he has lived. I can say that I may have saved myself a lot of pain. I blamed myself, I thought “if only” constantly. I wasted a lot of anger on my son. I felt like a failure as a mother, even though I have two other children who are not addicts. The anger and fear can eat you alive. I lost years of my life to his addiction.
I did not reach out. I felt shame. I isolated myself from others and began to feel that nobody cared. How could they care if they didn’t know?
My dream for the future is a society in which addiction is de-stigmatized. Where addicts and their loved ones can reach out for help and guidance instead of allowing addiction to fester because of shame. A future where addiction is discussed openly as a real possibility in every household and school. When every city and town is educating parents as well as children on the science of addiction and has resources readily available to help families in trouble we will be on the right path.
Until that day, parents need to do this research on their own, and maybe work toward getting more programs implemented where they live. We need to understand that although the initial drug use was a choice, the addiction is not. Being an addict is not a moral failing, it is a physical and psychological dependency which needs treatment and time.
Alanon tells us, “I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it.” If you accept the previous sentence, which I do, then you must also accept this: I cannot “not” make an addict. In other words, it is truly out of our hands. HUGE leap from gatekeeper status. We are their everything, and yet addiction is out of our control. We can teach them our morals and our values and love them with all of our might. But we cannot “not” make them addicts.
We can hope and pray that the bad choices our children make don’t lead them to addiction, but be aware that a member of your family may face addiction in the future. Research where to turn if your child gets into trouble. It is much more difficult to think clearly and access resources when a family is in the throes of addiction. Educate yourself on your insurance plan and what recovery facilities are available. More importantly, know where you will go to help yourself.
In finding support right away, maybe you won’t lose the years I did to wasted anger and self-blame. Those who have already walked this path can explain how to have a relationship with a child in active addiction, one with healthy boundaries filled with love and support without enabling. A relationship free of blame and anger will hopefully leave an avenue open for your child to know he can count on you for support when he is ready to seek help.
I wish I had done more research on the science of addiction. We are all human and even the best and brightest among us make mistakes. The adolescent and young adult brain is still developing, they make plenty of bad decisions. Many people learn from mistakes. Trying to take a final while hung over is sometimes all a person needs to curb their drinking and make better choices. For others, there is no learning curve – they are in addiction – and their mistake will change the course of their lives forever.