Monthly Archives: October 2012

Learning to Say “No” to an Addicted Child

Our kids can be relentless when they are in active addiction.  They want, they need, they demand, they take, they terrify us with their unpredictable behavior. Often, we say “Yes” out of fear.  We say “Yes, you can live here” even though we know we don’t want them in our homes while they are using or drinking. The alternative, the street, seems unacceptably dangerous. We say, “Yes, I will lend you some money” because we are afraid of the finger-pointing and accusations that will follow if we say no. Our mouths say “Yes” while our hearts and heads scream “No.”

The reality is that our addict children can be very resourceful. They may not end up sleeping in the street; instead, they couch surf or sleep in the Hotel Honda.  And the sad truth is that sometimes they end up in horrible circumstances with predators who take advantage of their addiction.

The real hope is that the prospect of actually ending up on the streets may give them an incentive to get sober. When we say “No” out of love, we can give them a jump start down the road to recovery.

My son told me that he pulled out of his death spiral because he did not want to be homeless. He did not want to lose his family, who loves him dearly. He did not want to be destitute. We essentially raised the bottom by requiring sobriety in order for us to support him in any way, shape or form. We forced the issue, with sober results–one day at a time.  There are no promises, of course, but what could have happened if he waited to hit his own bottom instead of the one we created by saying “No” instead of “Yes?”


Change is not painful…but it can hurt like hell

If you are like me, the fall season – especially when Halloween turns to Christmas at Walmart, brings me feelings of angst. I used to think it was because of the disease of addiction that surrounds me. The weather is cold – is my son cold? The days are shorter, is he well sheltered? I begin to feel sad, is he depressed too? I remember a time when October marked the beginning of a new form of joy in anticipation of the holidays and colder weather. Maybe it had more to do with my children being young and innocent than anything else. I’d look forward to family gatherings and home cooked meals, crafts and decorating. Since addiction is a disease of relationships, family gatherings of joy and merriment became cloaked with sadness and dysfuntion. How could I find enjoyment when the disease lurked like a dark shadow over the firelight and company?

Today, the truth is I have a choice (and always did) in dreading or embracing the change in seasons.  Yes, the days are short, but I still have faith. I have much to be grateful for and my love for my addict children has not changed. I sometimes catch myself getting self-centered and wanting things to be different. I would be happy if…. But when I accept the way things are I can navigate the winter season much better, and I only have to do it one day at a time. If I’m healthier and spiritually fit, I can embrace the dark night and short days as a measure of change. Change is not painful; resistance to the seasons hurts like hell. As long as I remember I have a choice in the matter my seasonal dread soon dissipates and it’s a matter of perspective – embrace or resist.

How Teen Addiction Changes Your Dreams

I didn’t really know what to expect when our son invited us to join him a support group to celebrate a milestone of his early recovery. I had been to open meetings before, but never at his side.  My first impression of this particular meeting was—Wow, there are so many people here.  My second impression was—And so many of them have lots of recovery….years and even decades.

But it took my breath away when I heard my son announce, “I am an alcoholic and an addict.” That short sentence made me confront the fact that some of my dreams for him were not to be.  I had visions of him on the debate team, high-fiving teammates, building homes with Habitat for Humanity.  AA was not the club I wanted him to join.

But at the same time, I was immensely proud that he claimed membership in this group that I know to be committed and brave and march straight ahead while the siren song of addiction calls out to them. This is a fellowship of people who dig deep to understand their powerlessness and to seek the help they need.  There is tremendous empathy and mutual support within the walls of such meetings. And in those rooms, my son has created new dreams for his life, dreams that I am honored to witness.

My son’s proclamation also compelled me to admit, “I am the mother of an alcoholic and an addict.”  I never imagined that I would claim membership in this club.  But there is strength and honesty in this proclamation that helps me get better, too.

Finding the Right Rehab for your Addicted or Alcoholic Child

As a responsible parent, I sought out the right school for my kids, researched the right food for our healthy table, and found the right physicians for our family. But the right rehab?  Dr. Spock clearly omitted that critical chapter from his parenting books.  Where do I even begin with that due diligence under the pressure of an imploding family?

In shock, I was ill equipped to tackle the task at hand and didn’t even know what to look for.  Should I look for something local, or would it be better for my son to leave his local triggers behind? Did I even want him nearby or would it be better for all of us if he was far, far away? Should I seek a religious program or a 12-step program…and what is a 12-step program, anyway?  Residential or outpatient treatment?  Co-ed or not?  And how do I even know if a rehab is safe and good? And, by the way, how do we pay for rehab, and how long is it supposed to last, anyway?

Even if I could figure out what I was looking for, I didn’t know where to find it. After searching the internet and coming up dry, in desperation I called a spiritual store I had wandered into several months earlier.  The proprietor pointed me towards a rehab where my son began to build the foundation for his recovery.  I still think of that referral as a divine intervention.

With chemical dependency, there are more questions than answers.  I know that other parents continue to struggle with the fundamental question:  which rehab is right for my child?  I hope that readers of today’s blog will comment and share your insight about the rehab that you selected for your child.

Recovery Takes Work

Journaling is a great way to remind me how far I’ve grown from the grief stricken years of failure in getting my children to change their alcohol and drug abuse. In the course of years, the gradual, escalation of problems was not easy to see while in the midst of the drama. I remember feeling paralyzed realizing that all my actions and heartfelt attempts to parent them “out of trouble” was further encouragement to continue. A new term, co-dependency was on my radar and it was not a label I was proud of. When I read my early entries, I can really see how clueless I was but the pain and suffering was no joke and I feel it through the written words it as if it were yesterday.

I have to remember the problem evolved slowly, over many years and there was no specific event that created it. And to accept the solution lies not in a quick fix, but in a gradual series of changed behavior on my part seemed insurmountable. I just didn’t get it. But I was willing to try anything, desperate and frightened of the consequences of continued substance abuse. Then there was that black hole where I understood my usual tactics were no longer useful, my new awareness of co-dependency reinforced my understanding, and the unknown of how to move forward correctly. This was a necessary affect in order for me to take action and it involved a willingness to have a leap of faith. I did not and could not have done this alone, I sought help.

I believe in my heart the same process of change applies to my loved ones. They must come to a place of intolerance for the situation, desperate for change and willingness to try another way. I no longer imagine what that will look like, or what program of recovery will work for them. I admit there was a place and time I thought I knew what they needed in that department too. It’s no longer my business to determine this and if I try, I’m back to being the nagging co-dependent in an instant. This recovery thing takes a lot of work! But it’s worth it.

When Teen Addiction Comes Home to Roost

Families can crumble under the weight of a child’s addiction…I know mine did. For several years, we were scrambling to repair the collateral damage of my son’s addiction, yelling at each other, withdrawing from each other in the Blame Game, or pretending like the whole thing didn’t exist as we tiptoed around on eggshells. It was hell, and I can understand how some parents or siblings simply walk away from the inferno.

Along the way, our unaddicted child was often huddled in the corner, trying to avoid the heat.  He was the forgotten child, which can happen in any family when a sibling develops a disease, whether it’s cancer, diabetes or addiction.  His college applications and prom were do-it-yourselfers, and his own struggles didn’t even make the short list. Yes, he developed self-sufficiency, but it was seasoned with a good dose of bitterness.

Even worse, when he wasn’t overlooked, he was enlisted in the care and feeding of his addicted sibling:  he made sure there were groceries, drove him when he couldn’t drive himself and cleaned up his messes. Conscripted as a caretaker and fixer, co-dependency bound them together like unhealthy con-joined twins.

The good news is that when the addict begins to recover, the entire family also begins to recover  as the proverbial rising tide lifts all boats.  Once our son embraced his recovery, our family could seek our own recovery from the unhealthy dynamics we had developed.

A New Way of Helping My Son

I’ve always supported recovery, but I thought that meant financing rehabs over and over – who can afford it?   I used to wish that I could pay for the rehab-by-the-sea, thinking that would be the best-of-the-best for my son!  Truth is, money can’t buy recovery and I’m grateful to have learned this before I continued to pour money down the drain not to mention, one more guilt feeling pushed aside. I have read a ton of books written by recovering addict/alcoholics and listened to others at open meetings.  Each one led me to the same conclusion:  recovery doesn’t cost money; it costs commitment, desire and willingness. Addiction costs money, and there is never enough.  

So how do I help my son?  By getting the tools to live life on life’s terms and not depend on him to make me happy.  To learn how to accept him just the way he is and let him know he is loved.  Recovery for him doesn’t have to cost me anything monetarily, it’s his for the taking yet I can still support him either way.  

I discovered other ways to help – by indirectly supporting those who are ready for recovery.  It may not be my son today, but it may be him tomorrow…There are nonprofits that help addicts looking for recovery and I can gift to them.  When I struggle with birthdays and holidays as to what to gift my active addict alcoholic – I have to rethink how I do this.  Today, I may write a check to a non-profit; I may support a local sober living environment or give my service to other entities that help educate the community.  They are out there - the more I looked, the more I found them.  Helping this way gives me a sense of gratitude – it’s my new way of helping my loved ones. 

Where Was I When Teen Addiction Took Hold?

I sometimes look back and wonder how we ever arrived at the crisis state of addiction. Where was I when addiction snuck into our house? Was I focused on the wrong things entirely in my son’s life or was I simply asleep on the job? Admittedly, addiction was the furthest thing from my mind in the high school years. They were busy years; we were busy; we were all stretched thin. That’s not to make an excuse: I know that I am no more responsible for my son’s chemical dependency than I am for his right-handedness. I didn’t cause it; I can’t control it; and I can’t cure it. It is up to him.

But, still, l I ask myself—how did addiction roost in our home, an unwanted squatter, without us even noticing? For one, we overlooked little things and attributed them to other causes: the sleeping in was due to late nights of studying; the mood swings were hormonal gyrations; the anger was the angst of puberty.

We were also in denial. When I took an online test—“Is your child abusing drugs?” and he scored an A+, I concluded that he must be depressed. The thought of teen addiction was so inconsistent of my view of who we were as a family that I dismissed it entirely. After all, we loved and supported our children, ate dinner together every night, valued good grades and citizenship—that couldn’t be the portrait of a drug addict’s family, or could it?

As it turns out, that portrait holds true for so many of us. I take comfort in that knowledge because I know I am not alone, and I know that I can support so many others with my experience, strength and hope. And I take comfort knowing that my child’s addiction was  not caused by something that I did–or didn’t–do.

Addiction: Cunning, Powerful, Progressive!

Photo of Ricki TownsendRicki Townsend, Family Counselor and Board Certified Interventionist, is a Parent Pathway Expert.  Please feel free to ask Ricki or our other experts any questions you might have about chemical dependency or your role in relation to someone with a drug abuse problem.


When I was in my addiction; I would have done anything to stop on my own. I would lay in bed alone; crying, praying and making the statement over and over: “Tomorrow will be different, I will not use.”   And yet tomorrow came and that night? I was begging myself to stay strong for tomorrow – for tomorrow I would not use.  I took two weeks off from work to stay home alone and kick it…..The very next day I bought more drugs to “do It” one last time.

Thank God, my prayers were answered. Not the way I thought they would be, but they were. My sister intervened after the family saw I had taken over $10,000.00 out of my parents’ savings account within a 5-week period. 

So today I am honored to say I am one of the lucky ones, I am a survivor, and I have been in remission for 28 years. I work hard at it. I am not abstinent -I am in recovery….


On Cameron Douglas and Prison for Addicts

Cameron Douglas, son of actor Michael Douglas, is serving an extended sentence for drug distribution and heroin possession. He is 33 years old and began injecting heroin daily in his mid 20s. He has not received treatment in prison, and according to this NY Times Article on 5/21/12, “is a textbook example of someone suffering from untreated opioid dependence [for whom] more prison time would do nothing to solve his underlying problems.”

Treating any illness or disease with punishment is not the answer.  Sure there are plenty of examples where drug dealers should be in prison.  Especially when violence is involved.  Still, if someone turns to violence or drug dealing or prostitution to feed an addiction there should be medical treatment as part of their reform.

The State of California spent a lot of time and money to change their name from “The California Department of Corrections” to add ” . . and Rehabilitation” to the end.  It appears that all they did was change the name.  What changed behind the walls?

According to the CDCR website, on June 1st of this year, “Twenty-seven inmates from California State Prison-Solano today received certifications that will eventually enable them to counsel other inmates in addiction treatment programs for alcohol and drug abuse.” This is something; a start.

The State Prison Corcoran is supposed to work with substance abuse treatment, but it would appear that the availability of this is spotty and the success of these programs is uncertain. Opportunities for rehabilitation are primarily voluntary programs the prisoners can choose to join.

From what I hear, getting drugs in prison is easier than getting a steak.  The Times article about Douglas explained that Douglas got his incarceration duration extended because people inside the prison supplied him drugs and he was caught with them. Heroin. Suboxone.

Addicts have an illness and to put things in perspective, think about what a cancer patient might do to obtain life saving drugs if they were denied.  Would you sell your body to survive?  When someone is deeply addicted, they have lost control of the ability to “just say no” and all you need to do is watch the withdrawal video of my son to understand that the drug addiction is controlling the body.

No addict ever said, “Hey, I’ll smoke that joint; snort that line; or take that pill and if I’m really good at it I’ll be addicted and robbing a liquor store within the year.”

These people have a medical condition that is being ignored, and this is what has motivated a group of physicians to file a brief on behalf of Douglas.

Prison systems could cut costs dramatically and reduce the rate of return offenders if they took the word “Rehabilitation” seriously and segregated addicts into treatment centers that were secure without the need to put them in the general population of murderers and rapists.

Rehabilitate or Incarcerate? Perhaps a combination of both for addicts who have broken the law is the answer because either we treat the wound or we pour salt in it.

 This post was reprinted with permission from Bradley V. DeHaven, author and activist on the epidemic abuse of prescription drugs.   Mr. DeHaven contributes heartfelt experience strength and hope as a Parent Pathway expert.