Talking myself off the ledge of my child’s addiction or alcoholism

swing setMy child’s substance use disorder took me through Hell and back, and I can return there — -illogically and instantly—with the right trigger.  The  “bad old days” telephone ring tone pealing from a stranger’s purse or pocket cell phone, a misplaced piece of jewelry, an unrecognized voice on our answering machine…those innocent events can throw me into a major tailspin.

My relapse is independent of my child’s recovery.  It has a voice of its own, which can pop up like a demonic Jack-in-the-Box with the slightest provocation. I still struggle with this today and want to know how I can slam the lid on the Jack-in-the-Box, short of tying myself to the leg of a good therapist.   Aha!  I may have just discovered the solution.  But first, a primer on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT method is an evidence-based practice that helps us understand what triggers our feeling such as fear or anxiety. The first step is to identify what is going on (the situation), and then figure out what we are thinking about the situation and, finally, to understand the feelings/emotions associated with our thoughts. So if I misplace some jewelry (the situation), I might suspect my son has relapsed and stolen it, which drives me into a frenzy of panic and worry. I need to learn to replace those negative and inaccurate thoughts with the truth, which is simply “I cannot locate my bracelet at the moment”.  Nothing more, nothing less.  And Eureka!  There’s an app for that.

I just read about a product called CBT ABC which is designed to help my brain be a good fact checker.  It can stop me from climbing onto the ledge in the first place.  It can help me focus on what I know to be true.  A stranger’s cell phone is ringing?  It is simply a stranger’s cell phone ringing. End of story.  No need to call in my personal renegading army of fear and distress.

I haven’t used this app yet, and the manufacturer notes at it is not a substitute for professional or medical or mental health advice.  Still, it could be a valuable—and mobile — tool in my toolkit of recovery. It’s certainly worth a look.



Relapse: A View from the Therapist’s Chair

seeing the situation clearly with addictionThis “View from a Therapist’s Chair,” is from Terri Busch, LCSW, who has worked in the mental health field for over 20 years. She has a private practice, supervises other therapists in treatment centers and presently blogs for New Roads Treatment Center

When someone stops caring, do we?  What is the sane choice?  Many of you as parents have been through this part of the experience of addiction. I thought it might be of interest to know what it looks like from a therapist’s eyes.

I’ve been working with a client, recently out of drug and alcohol rehab. I have also had the fortune to work with this client’s mother, other family members and the group leaders.  Teamwork is crucial in the recovery process.  Last week I received one of those ‘heart-drop’ calls:  the voice of the client’s mom when she called to cancel her appointment due to the relapse of her young adult.

It is a heartbreaking sound.

As this young adult’s therapist, I asked myself what I might have done a little differently to notice when the doubts began to creep in for this client.

How would I have known what to watch for?

I had provided my client with a checklist for daily or weekly use to watch for warning signs of relapse. The plan was to check in on the day of the client’s no-show regarding the areas on the checklist, with both of us noting where more focus was needed. As I reviewed the list, the following concerns came up for me:

  • Minor Depression:  Several missed appointments and late shows explained as “overslept.”
  • Plans Begin To Fail:  One area of the client’s life was starting to look up, they had followed through as required and then it all fell apart.
  • Feeling That Nothing Can Be Solved: When someone is slipping into old thinking patterns i.e. “I owe so much, I have messed up big time, it doesn’t make sense to continue this way”, challenging these thoughts is imperative.
  • Irregular Attendance at Treatment Meetings:  Attempts to verify participation, with permission by client, had been difficult.
  • Open Rejection of Help: Problem solving, brainstorming had begun to be met with little or no response, so if it wasn’t open rejection, it was not embraced as a possibility.
  • Feelings of Powerlessness and Helplessness: Demonstrated through tone of voice, questioning judgment.
  •  Conscious Lying: This is just such a strong coping behavior for many wrestling with addiction that I can’t guarantee that was the case but intuitively wondered (missed or late appointments).
  •  Complete Loss of Self-Confidence: Language that was describing a trapped feeling and being overwhelmed in ability to initiate action.
  • Discontinue All Treatment:  No show at therapy and possible group meetings.

I have reached out to both the client and their family and as of yet, have not had a response.  I continue, however, to have hope that I will be able to post a comeback for them in the future.

Relapse brings out our greatest fears; at the same time, we need to nourish and nurture ourselves.  So join me in an easy exercise to help keep us sane.   Dr. Robert Cooper, Ph.D.,  the San Francisco coauthor of The Power of 5 , says,  “Smiling transmits nerve impulses from the facial muscles to the limbic system, a key emotional center in the brain, tilting the neurochemical balance toward calm.”  Go ahead and grin!

For further information about New Roads Treatment Center,, contact

Ask the Expert: how can I find someone who will simply tell me the right things to do about my son’s addiction?

QUESTION:  I go to Al-Anon and I subscribe to your emails. I really like your site, but my problem is I can’t seem to find anyone who gets my particular problem. I just want someone to tell me what to…………do, think, forget, etc. My son has been addicted for many years, and is a grown man now. I have taken him in, gotten him to AA and some of the finest recovering men I know, yet he still thinks his way is better. Now with that said, he is out on his own and living on the street. He has been on the street so long I am quite sure he will probably stay there, and my heart hurts. Any suggestions for me?

Photo of Ricki TownsendANSWER FROM EXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND: This disease is so hard on the heart, as any disease can be.  I am so very sorry for the pain you must have carried for so many years.

It is not uncommon for addiction to be the response to mental health issues, which may be the case with your son.  Mental health challenges make addiction even more difficult to understand and deal with. Understanding this may take away some of the mystery about his puzzling choices.

I wish that I had a simple answer for you, but I don’t. What is right for me may not be right for you because we each reach our own decisions based on our own unique life experience, our support networks, our fears and dreams for our children.  Only we can determine the best solution for us…how to feel, what to think, etc. I suggest that you work with an addiction counselor or grief counselor who can help you let go of the expectations you had—and have—for  your child so that you can live in a less anguished way.  That is not to say that you forget him; just that you learn how to release the incessant tug on your heart.

From one mom who has been through this insanity to another—I hope you can find some joy and peace.


Ricki Townsend, A Path to Recovery

Ask the Expert: determined to fight for their daughter’s future, what should parents do?

This summer, our 19-year old daughter had several seizures and when we begged her to give up her drug use she refused. (She abuses pot, opiates, ADHD medicine and alcohol.) In Florida, there is a law that allows concerned family/friends to have a person committed to involuntary treatment when they become a danger to themselves. We were able to enroll her into a partial hospital inpatient facility about 9 weeks ago. While there, she has refused to participate in group sessions and has refused all one-on-one help. She has been in and out of the psychiatric unit due to cutting herself and overdosing on prescribed drugs she has gotten or stolen from other patients at the center.

Now her treatment team is talking about a referral to a long-term treatment facility. I’m not sure if legally we can do this, but more importantly, will this be beneficial when she is so set against getting help? Do we let her drift away into a drug world she may not survive? What advice based on your experience and knowledge can you give us? We’re so sad and broken by all of this, but we’re determined to fight for our daughter’s future.
EXPERT ANSWER:  This case is full of many layers of complexity. My impression is that she has unresolved traumas. She has tried to regulate them on her own due to her mistrust that others will not “get her,” and she is probably super sensitive to shame which gets in the way of wanting to be seen and creates a psychological and relational position of wanting to be “unseen.”

So, again just my impression is that she has used up her internal ability to regulate her affect dysregulation around her trauma or things that contribute to insecurity, and certainly she is not utilizing the resources around her. After the layers of drugs are peeled away, she will still have an affect dysregulation issue that she then tries to manage with cutting, maybe sex and controlling food, etc. or those might be the “yets”  Underneath that is an inability to trust that others are a resource for her, and she will revert to going inward to harbor and manage the dysregulation and then run out of psychic energy and use drugs, cutting and acting out to sooth the internal tension and struggle.

This is a complex dual diagnosis case, and there are developmental issues where she is undeveloped internally.  With all that said, I think it is important for the family to spend the money on a battery of good psychological testing vs. just an evaluation from a psychiatrist.  From there, she and those that care about her will have a better understanding of the struggle, how she processes, where she is stuck developmentally and then everyone can have a more informed approach to helping her.  From the case presented, this is how I would be thinking about her in my program and would be proceeding.

Jon Daily, LCSW, CADC II, Founder and Director of Recovery Happens Counseling Services


Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT ANSWER: I am hopeful that your daughter will stay in the long-treatment center until she can accept help. I I would like to suggest that you also get support from an addiction therapist who can help you get through your grief and give you some understanding of this disease. I would also strongly encourage Al-Anon.  This is where you can talk about your pain without judgment and also learn from others how they are surviving a child’s chemical dependency.

If your daughter continues to pursue pain in her life, you are really helpless to change her.   What you can change is yourself, and often those personal changes “prompt” a change in our loved ones. I remember that my own mentors always reminded me when I was going through hard times to “Go within.”  That was the only place where I could find my peace.  Just today I was reminded of this thought from The Secret:   “Direct your thoughts and words to the inside of you. The Master within you is the key to all the treasures in the world.”  I hope that idea is helpful to you while you are going through this difficult time of grief and fear.