By Judy Kirkwood
It started at about age 13 with marijuana. You might not think that’s much of a drug addiction. Marijuana as a "gateway" drug is a problem critics love to make fun. For us, it was the beginning of a long siege of parenting adventures in drug addiction.
A word to the wise: When your child is buying marijuana from school friends or friends of friends of friends, it can quickly turn into being “hired” to distribute other drugs in return for not having to pay for marijuana. When distributing other drugs, it is a short leap of an underdeveloped brain to thinking “I should try these drugs other kids are so interested in buying.” From there it is merely a bunny hop to getting hooked on cocaine, crack, heroin, and prescription opiates that he buys from a man with a trunk full of drugs.
This is how your child becomes a criminal. The original pyramid marketing scheme of the drug dealer turns into a desperate independent hunt for money by your child in order to sustain his addiction. The addiction takes over all your child’s brain function, fueling full-time lying and manipulation as well as stealing. In one of our early family sessions at a residential drug treatment program for our son, a recovering drug addict revealed that if our child’s lips were moving he was lying.
I did not understand that at first. It’s hard to give up the idea of who you think your child is for what your child has become under the influence of substance abuse.
When you have a child who has a substance abuse problem, reality becomes relative. Maybe you think you are missing money from your wallet, but unless you counted it and wrote down what was in there, could you swear $20 is missing? Maybe you can’t find your camera or iPod or a particular book or CD you were looking for, but chances are it’s been misplaced, even though you’re pretty sure you knew where it was.
Any family member who is a drug addict will eventually steal from the family. I can’t tell you how many excuses seemed reasonable to me before I realized my money and things were disappearing so that my teenage son could buy drugs. If your child is not stealing from you, he is stealing from someone else. At one point we realized his room was bare. He had sold all his things as well as some of ours: phone, computer, his drum. A friend’s daughter who is a drug addict had a habit of selling her car for drugs. Many kids sell their bodies.
Some people think the best thing is to let your child be arrested and suffer the consequences. On the one hand, sometimes prison is the best place for an addict to sober up. On the other hand, when the addict is your child who is on medications for multiple other problems, one wonders. When even drug treatment centers get medicines mixed up and experiment with withdrawing meds they don’t deem necessary – although they have not read a medical history or spoken with the parents – it’s a sure bet that your child won’t be properly medicated in prison.
When not properly medicated, your child may become suicidal, manic, or aggressive, causing prison staff to further restrain and restrict access to healthcare. It would be good luck if drug treatment were available in prison, but the chances are random; it is just as possible that your child will either have access to the same drugs to which he is already addicted, develop new addictions, or learn new ways of dealing or stealing drugs in prison.
Also, police officers have cautioned me, once your child is in the legal system, you have no control over whether they will be sentenced to months or years in prison. In the case of writing bad checks, for instance, it could be the maximum sentence for EACH instance of this, stretching time served to a lifetime.
It’s a crapshoot.
Being arrested and sentenced to jail is a fear parents of drug addicts live with. But mainly we worry about a drug overdose or suicide while hoping for the best – which is sobriety and gratitude for life, a chance to continue being a son, a brother, an uncle, a cousin, a nephew, a friend, a boyfriend, possibly a husband and father. I have seen changes and I am encouraged. Drug addiction is a disease, but remission is possible with the proper treatment.
One thing is for sure. My son is a good, smart, creative, loving human being who deserves a long and happy life. Drug addiction is an equal opportunity disease. It can strike any one of your family members if there is a history of substance abuse in the family tree. This same story is happening in families all over the country. Don't stop loving your child and don't give up. You are not alone.
Judy Kirkwood is a Parent Ambassador and Parent Advisory Board member of the Partnership at DrugFree.org (http://drugfree.org), which offers education, support, and solutions to families of young drug addicts.