I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know. ~ Mitch Albom
Are you a mom who has been touched by your child’s drug or alcohol misuse?
Do you feel the isolation and shame?
Sunday is the day when we acknowledge moms. It can be a hard day if your son or daughter is struggling with substance use.
It is, however, the perfect time to acknowledge the amazing moms who have walked through the shame of addiction to help others cope when their child or loved one is struggling.
In no particular order, I’d like to acknowledge thirteen moms who share tips that have helped them survive and go on to give back.
Here’s to strong moms. May we know them, be them, and support them.
Do your homework on what your child is using, what the signs of use are, what the side effects are, and things like that so you really know what this particular drug is doing to affect your child. That is really important.
Understand why your child is using and get a sense of why it is important to them. Intervene early and as often as you can because in many cases, it is so much easier for someone to build on a life where they have friends, a job, they are in school, or they have their house rather than waiting for all of that to dissipate and then saying, “We are just going to start from scratch.”
Looking for ways to engage your child in activities that will compete with their drug use is important.
Also getting help from people with addiction credentials is important.
If they are using opiates, definitely get overdose prevention training. Also I would suggest learning about medication-assisted treatment like the use of Vivitrol, which is a once-monthly injection; and Suboxone; which you can take on a daily basis to help with cravings and to help with preventing overdoses.
The last thing I would say is to really work on your own self-care and social supports as well as finding support groups like yours, because I think you learn so much from your peers who are struggling with this as well. You can get a lot of useful information and feel like you are not alone in this.
No parent should be left behind when it comes to a child struggling with drugs and alcohol, because there is help out there if you just ask
Patricia Aussem, LPC, MAC, provides counseling services to treat substance use and other mental health disorders based on the CRAFT model. As a consultant to the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, she provides clinical oversight, workshops and training materials for the Parent Support Network, a peer-to-peer coaching service for families negatively impacted by a loved one using substances.
First and foremost, to never give up hope. A favorite quote of mine from David Sheff:
“Don’t give up hope on someone you love – there is always hope. There is always hope for someone until there isn’t. While there is hope, it’s our job to do anything we can do to get somebody we love into treatment.”
It is imperative that parents know that today, there are options in helping and supporting your loved ones struggling with addiction. The advice given too often is that we can’t help our children. We are told that tough love is the only way and we must let them hit their bottom.
This black and white, cookie-cutter approach must change. Each child together with their family brings a different dynamic. Each family is unique. Too many, including parents, are giving advice to kick loved ones out of the house, to detach, to let them hit bottom.
Tough love can work for some, however, we must respect all paths to recovery and I think we must be careful to give advice. Tough love was not an option for our family. This was not an approach we would have taken if our child was sick with another medical disease. That being said,
I will never give advice based on what worked for our family but rather share what worked for us.
As a volunteer Parent Coach, Denise Mariano donates her time to offer peer-to-peer support and assistance to families who call the Partnership for Drug-Free Kid’s Parents Toll-Free Helpline. Denise Mariano, was honored as a 2015 Advocate for Action by the White House for her outstanding advocacy efforts helping to reduce drug use and its consequences in her community. Denise joins eight other individuals and organizations receiving this award.
Accept that addiction (whether it’s to drugs or alcohol) is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease. It is not a moral weakness, nor a shameful lack of willpower. It is generally a misunderstood disease that often goes undiagnosed for some time. Until diagnosed and treated, it causes the person with the disease to act and behave in ways they normally would not act or behave because of the chemical, structural and functional changes in the brain caused by the disease.
Accept that your child has the disease. The parent dealing their child’s undiagnosed, misunderstood, unhealthily discussed brain disease has suffered their own brain and physical changes which must also be addressed and/or treated, if necessary.
Understand that healing the brain disease is complicated and takes time but there are many, many options for doing so. Seek individual help and do what you can immediately to start healing your brain: nutritional eating, exercise, adequate sleep, mindfulness practices. If necessary, get therapy with a professional who is an addictions specialist around any underlying issues, such as childhood trauma or mental illness.
Most importantly – Relax. Breathe. It takes time, but there is great joy to be had in moments of every day. It will take practice, but the learning and practice can be interesting, fun, engaging… as well as life-changing along the way.
Addiction is a disease, not a disgrace. It is not an issue for moral judgment.
Addiction begins where dalliance becomes disease, and it can happen to anyone who has taken a sip or puff or snort (which our culture entices every young person to do), or even a pill prescribed for pain.
If imperfect parenting caused addiction, then everyone would be an addict. The reason someone starts to drink or use drugs is not the same reason why someone cannot stop.
The only thing we have control over is our own reactions. We cannot make our addict embrace recovery but we can stop the spread of the disease. We can stop the toxic corrosion of addiction eating away at our family and our soul. Recovery begins with us.
Recovery can happen even if it does not happen within our addict. It is not selfish for parents to take care of themselves. Be the example you wish to see.
Sandy Swenson is the mother of two sons—one of whom struggles with addiction. She is the author of The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction which chronicles her journey through the place where love and addiction meet.
The first thing I always tell parents is “it’s not your fault.” Thinking we somehow failed our child, or that we may be the cause of their substance use or addiction, will keep us stuck and cause needless pain. There is nothing we did, or didn’t do, to cause our child’s addiction. It is no one’s fault.
Reach out and get support. It is critical that we take care of ourselves, and we can’t do this alone. 12-Step groups like Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and Codependents Anonymous can be of great help. We need to learn to set boundaries, and where our responsibilities begin and end. A SMART Recovery program can help, and connecting with other parents that are experiencing what we are can make us feel less alone. Private counseling can also be instrumental. We often “can’t see the forest but for the trees” and an experienced therapist can help give us perspective.
Become educated. Learn absolutely everything you can about the science of addiction, the impact on the brain, and the reasons why people use drugs in spite of negative consequences. The more we understand the nature of addiction, the better we’ll be able to advocate for our child. With understanding also comes the ability to forgive some of the wreckage that invariably comes with a child’s compulsive drug use.
Barbara Cofer Stoefen is a drug prevention activist in Oregon, and advocate for families with a loved one who suffers from substance use disorder. She is the author of A Very Fine House: A Mother’s Story of Love, Faith and Crystal Meth. Barbara also speaks in schools, colleges, churches, and at community events, and is a featured blogger at www.addiction.com.
You are going to need support in this. This disease will not let you be the kind of parent you wanted to be. You are going to want guidance on how to parent a child who is an addict. Every parent who has a child with any illness needs some kind of direction on how to deal with it…whether that illness is allergies, ADD, ADHD, cancer, cystic fibrosis or anything. Getting guidance from people who can help you understand when you are “supporting” and when you are “enabling.” This is NOT an easy journey!
Educate yourself. I lived in denial for many years and thought that Jeff’s drug use would pass. When I finally came out of illusion, it proved difficult to make any big difference in the course of Jeff’s addiction. Attend Al-Anon meetings, talk with experts and read blogs like this one. Inform yourself.
Talk with your child and communicate honestly about drug use, friends and where he or she spends his free time. When Jeff was young, he often said, “You need to trust me. I’m a good kid.” As a parent, I should have asked more questions and been more involved and proactive. Addiction requires strong parenting. AA says that recovery can only be found in rigorous honesty.
Take care of yourself and your other children. Jeremy, my younger son, was caught in the gap between keeping quiet about Jeff’s addiction or feeling that he was betraying Jeff by telling the truth. A sad place for both of my sons.
Stay Close: I learned these words from a recovering alcoholic in Italy. He meant, “Don’t abandon your son. Let him know that you love him and that home is waiting for him when he is sober. But don’t give him money.”
Libby Cataldi holds a doctorate in education from the University of Pittsburgh and has been an educator all her life. For seventeen years (1987 – 2004) she was head of The Calverton School, an independent day school in Maryland. Libby is the author of Stay Close: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction.
Substance abuse can turn to addiction. It can happen to you and your family. Your child and your family are not exempt. Don’t ignore it and don’t wait to guide your child towards help.
A counselor, therapist and/or doctor certified in alcohol and drug abuse studies is optimum. Most MDs, nurses, MFTs and LCSWs only have 3 hours of AOD training in their entire course of studies!
Addiction is a disease with adolescent origins. According to the June 29, 2011 national study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) 9 out of 10 Americans who meet the medical criteria for addiction started smoking, drinking or using other drugs, including marijuana before 18.
AND….marijuana is proven to be addictive! Humans naturally have the neurotransmitter for THC. This is new science. Don’t believe that if your son or daughter is “just getting high on pot” that it’s okay. It’s changing your child’s brain chemistry.
Shelley Richanbach, CADC-II, is a certified drug and alcohol counselor and an expressive arts practitioner. She brings dance and the arts to her students and clients with a special focus on addiction/recovery. Shelley founded Next Steps For Women in 2010. At this writing, Shelley is the Associate Producer for The Creative High, a film project inquiring into the lives of artists who have faced addiction.
Why is it that with the disease of addiction, we cannot stop, take a deep breath and think about a plan of attack for this devastating disease? We seem to quickly react and spend time worrying about what to do than actually doing something? I was guilty of that, but to be honest, I was uneducated about addiction.
One of my top three suggestions for families who are struggling with an addicted family member is first, educate yourself about the disease of addiction. Whenever our loved ones are really sick, we insist on a Doctor’s visit in order to diagnose the problem. If you’re like me, when a serious diagnosis is made like diabetes or cancer, you begin to read everything you can about the disease, so you know not only what you’re up against. You learn about treatment methods, how to take care of your loved ones overall health, and prevention methods, so their chances of recovery are greatly improved. Why should substance abuse addiction be any different in our quest for answers?
Secondly, learn to act, not react. The Center for Motivational Change has a publication called the 20 minute guide. In this guide you learn how to communicate in a more positive approach with your child. (Now if you’re skeptical about being positive in this frustrating, mind-boggling, uncontrollable situation, so was this parent.)
I was made a believer in the Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) communication method when I saw results in my own children’s lives.
Thirdly, make time to take care of yourself as well. We as parents tend to neglect our own mental health needs in the midst of all this turmoil. I was so focused on my children that I could not see the toll this was taking on my own health and wellbeing and soon developed post-traumatic stress syndrome from the constant chaos and stress.
How could I give my child the best possible advice and help when I was falling apart inside? I sought treatment and began the process of getting myself healthy and in return could make healthier decisions concerning my child. Self-care is a critical and must not be neglected.
Sharon LeGore is the founder and president of MOMSTELL, Inc. a parent advocacy organization she formed after the drug overdose death of her 18 year old daughter Angela. She created the MOMSTELL website to expand the reach of joining concerned parents, family members and loved ones together to educate, support and unite everyone impacted by substance abuse/co-occurring issues as well as improving drug treatment, education, legislation, and policy issues.
Support them and love them, but don’t hand hold them through the process. Let them make the decisions that they need so that they are successful in their recovery.
At the same time be willing to do the hard work that we ask of our children for ourselves.
In other words, FIND YOUR OWN RECOVERY!
Make healthier choices, eat better, exercise, have fun without substances or alcohol, and set an example. If you struggle with your own addictions or issues, get help for them!
If the kids are younger, then in addition to finding your own recovery, which I believe is tantamount to your child’s recovery, ask your child what they need to be successful. Is it more structure, a new school, a new hobby, a counselor or a group support setting? Then make sure they get it.
Love your children for who they are, not what you think they could be or want them to be. Love them where they are at too. All they want is to be accepted.
Sandy Bioaco serves as a volunteer Parent Support Coach for the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and as a representative on her Regional Behavioral Health Board. In addition, she is on a planning committee for starting a local Peer Support Center/Community Recovery Center for Behavioral Health. Sandy helped to organize a CRAFT Training with Dr. Robert Meyers in 2015.
Our message is simply that abusing drugs and alcohol at a young age can have immediate and long-term consequences. The adolescent brain continues to develop until the age of 25. By using substances, you are altering the chemistry of the brain and have a very high probability of developing the disease of addiction of which there is no cure.
Ninety percent of all adults who have the disease of addiction began abusing substances before the age of 18. After the age of 18 the probability of the disease of addiction is one in 25. Parents need to understand this and help their child stay safe and away from abusing substances.
We encourage parents to get educated on how substance abuse affects their child and encourage them to talk early and often to their children so they can make good choices. We encourage parents to keep prescription drugs locked up to prevent easy access.
Kim Box is Co-founder and Executive Director of Pathway to Prevention. After a long career in the high-tech industry, she left the corporate world to pursue her passion of making a difference in the community. When she saw the impact of teen drinking and drug use on her community, she gathered a team together to create and launch Pathway to Prevention.
Addiction can happen in any family. It can alter the lives of all family members not only the addicted person. We must always be aware of what we are doing and how it is affecting not only ourselves and our children, but the others in the family who are making good choices. It is important that we tell the our addicted child that we love them and will support their good choices. We can help them in healthy ways, and not get in the way of their own responsibilities and recovery.
Denise Krochta is the creator of Addicted to Addicts: Survivial 101. She moved into “crisis” mode when she discovered that her teenage son was addicted to prescription drugs along with alcohol and street drugs. She developed a plan for herself to navigate through her son’s addiction that would offer her at least some serenity and peace of mind. This plan is documented in her book “Sweat: A Practical Plan for Keeping Your Heart Intact While Loving an Addict”.
If you liked this article, please share on social media, so that we can help other moms not feel so alone. What tips do you have for parents struggling with substance use? What other moms can we add to this list? Please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!
In June, I’ll highlight some amazing dads who are helping families. Please let me know if you have any suggestions!