By Judy Kirkwood
The reality of living with a drug-addicted child or grandchild is that you are cohabiting with a person who will die too young without the proper treatment. Addiction is a terminal illness, but it can be arrested. It will require a lifetime of vigilance. For teenagers and those in their young 20s, especially, suicide or overdosing are big risks.
This is not something you ever want a beloved family member to go through. It is one of the toughest things a parent or grandparent will ever face. Who wants to admit, even to ourselves, that our closest flesh and blood stole money and credit cards from our wallets and bank accounts and scoured our homes for things to sell: cameras, computers, books, CDs, instruments? Who wants to chat about ER visits and days spent in the hospital praying our loved one wakes up from an overdose – when it has happened again and again?
I certainly didn’t feel good about my teenage son being a drug addict, but I have admitted what we experienced because kids and families don’t get help unless people speak up. Drug addiction is an ugly disease, but my son and I have also experienced many beautiful miracles. Number one is that he is alive today at age 24 when some experts did not think he would make it past age 16, 18, 21.
From the newsroom at http://drugree.org:
“The consequences of [prescription] medicine abuse, including emergency room episodes, treatment admissions and overdose deaths, have increased dramatically, and it is a behavior that is starting in adolescence. Every day, 2,500 teens use a prescription drug to get high for the first time [according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration], and the death toll from prescription painkillers alone has tripled in the past decade [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. Due to these high levels of prescription drug abuse, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in about a third of the states, outpacing fatalities from car accidents.”
I have many friends who have lost children to drug addiction. Survival sometimes seems random, but there are a few factors that come into play: the biggest one is chance or luck, including good or bad timing; early intervention is key; educating the child, parents and family members is important; prolonging treatment and aftercare will have the best results; and don’t forget to have lots of money because it is an expensive proposition if you don’t have excellent insurance. We spent well over a hundred thousand dollars on multiple outpatient and inpatient treatment programs. With luck, courage, and stamina, it made a cumulative difference.
When I was first dealing with my son’s addiction to marijuana, cocaine, crack, heroin, Oxycodone, Xanax – the list of prescription drugs could go on and on – there was nowhere to turn but AlAnon. Although a wonderful spiritual program for family members affected by another’s addiction or alcoholism, AlAnon is oriented toward adult addiction and had no answers for how to deal with a beloved child.
Luckily, today there are a number of resources on the Internet for support and information in dealing with addiction.
As a member of the Parent Advisory Board, I recommend The Partnership at DrugFree.org (http://drugfree.org). Concerned and frustrated parents with a wealth of experience helped develop their multifaceted website and spin-off sites that offer practical tools and tips for parents dealing with their children’s addiction as well as information, education, and support on forums. Don’t miss http://timetoact.drugfree.org, which gets to the nitty gritty of how to talk to your child when you know they are addicted to drugs. We all felt terribly alone when going through our individual dramas, but you are not alone. You can even phone a Parents Toll-Free Helpline at 1-855-378-4373 Monday through Friday 10am-6pm ET.
The National Family Dialog on Substance Use Disorders is a fairly new group that has a Facebook page for an open forum to exchange information, share concerns, and offer and get support for families with youth that have experienced substance use disorders.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when dealing with our children and grandchildren with substance abuse issues is to take care of ourselves. Find a support group. Get counseling. Talk about it. And reach out to others. We are in this together.
ThirdAge Contributing Writer and Forum Director Judy Kirkwood is a Parent Ambassador and on the Parent Advisory Board of the Partnership at DrugFree.org.