Ask the Expert: Can my household ever be safe and happy when my son is so deeply lost in his addiction?

War zone of addictionYOUR QUESTION: My son that just turned 18 has been in and out of trouble with marijuana. Over the last 2 years it has gotten worse and more things have happened. He is the oldest of my 4 children. My 18 year old can hang out with us have a great time and then the next day or night be a totally different person. Little things have started missing around the house. It would be a couple of dollars here and there or a few video games. Lately he would have mood swings and say he just wasn’t sleeping well. I found out he had been taking Kpin along with drinking or had taken some of his grandparents pain pills or sleeping pills. We had started locking our bedroom door each day with a lock that needed a key to open it. I worried what medicines he might try to get. He always acts like we are crazy to ever think he would do something like that.

This Monday his mood swings had gotten worse and he blew up over something small and was extremely disrespectful to his father and myself. He had gotten so mean to his brothers lately that I worried about him being home alone with them. He doesn’t have a job and isn’t in a hurry to get one. This last blow up he had was so bad that we kicked him out of the house. We don’t know what to do.  If we let him go see friends we knew he would come home messed up. He would tell us it was just pot or that he had taken Adderall with pot. I don’t know what to do. It is hard because having other kids and not sure what to say or do about the entire situation in front of them. We have tried to not mention a lot around them but the older two have noticed so much on their own over the last year. Are we doing the right thing by kicking him out and not allowing him home unless he gets help and gets a job? I just worry about him coming to our house and doing something when we aren’t home or in front of the other kids.

Photo of Ricki TownsendEXPERT RICKI TOWNSEND: Thank you for your questions, which I will try to address. Please feel free to call or email me if I have missed anything.You mentioned that your son is being inappropriate at home, stealing, and acting inappropriately to his family. Lying, stealing and manipulating are very much symptoms of drug abuse, and opiate abuse in particular. It is critical to recognize that addiction to drugs has been proven to be a brain disease that requires significant help to turn the tide.

The disease of addiction affects all members in the family. We as the family unit are no longer “normal.” Instead, stress becomes the norm. And as much as you think you are protecting the other children in the family, even your four-year old notices something different. The children FEEL “something different.”  While you love your son, until he chooses sobriety, you must protect the rest of your family. Build a life with them full of laughter and activity.  They deserve all of you. Yes, this is hard when one of your children is struggling.

I recommend that you find a good Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meeting to attend with your husband. The parent meetings would be the best for your situation. Also, if by some chance you live in the Sacramento area, I also encourage you to call Full Circle Treatment Center. The can talk to you about parenting classes and how to handle difficult situations when they arise.

Would you allow a stranger who makes you feel unsafe in your home? You need to have the same boundaries with your son:  he cannot be in your home if intuitively you feel uncomfortable. Do you drug test him? You can have kits mailed to you, and you might want to drug test every time he comes into your home, even for a visit. If he just can’t seem to go, that is considered a positive test, and he loses the privilege of being in your home.  You can purchase inexpensive drug tests at Recovery Happens.

My suggestions go against the grain of normal parenting where we trust our children.  Yet a child who is abusing drugs or alcohol is not trustworthy, and the rules of normal parenting do not apply.  In this strange new world, I hope you will seek out professional support for you and your son  Please ask yourself if you would be trying to handle this on your own if he had cancer or diabetes.

My hope is that you and all similar families realize you do not have the education or resources to manage this serious disease and all of the behavioral challenges it creates. No amount of love will heal this.  No amount of protection will heal this. You cannot do this on your own. I wish you the best.

EXPERT KENT MORRISON: There are several things that need to be mentioned.  First, from what you have mentioned it highlights that your son has progressed beyond just smoking pot.  The mood swings, not sleeping well, etc are signs of pill use.  Kpin (Klonopin) is a heavy benzo (benzodiazepine), and mixing it with drinking can be very harmful if not deadly.  He has also resorted to stealing as a means to continue using drugs, again a sign of pill use.  Pills can be very expense and very addicting.  I think there are two recommendations that are in order.  First, I would strongly advise you as parents to seek professional help from a place like New Directions to talk more about exactly what you are experiencing with your son and what your options are.  Second, I believe that your son needs professional help and asking him to leave the house can help only if he becomes desperate enough to want help.  But it is a hard line to hold and if you break down and let him back in without getting him help, it is likely he will continue to violate your family boundaries and his drug use will not get better.  So in summary, I think seeking professional help as parents is your first step and then implementing a plan to address your son is step two.  Last, I would also think about having your other children talk with the counselor/therapist you decide to make sure they a have a chance to process what they are experiencing as well.


Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Are you ready to hear the unbiased truth?

Mother to Mother – How my Al-Anon program lends a helping hand

I panicked at first when a mom who knew about my circumstance reached out to me. Would I be able to help her? How could I smooth things over when I know outcomes may not be great? Was it even my business to try? I have grown a great deal in my 12 step recovery program of Al-Anon Family Groups but I’m not perfect. I re-wound my history playbook recalling my own experience of the “son-in-prison powerlessness”.  He had fainted in the shower room and cut his head. Word was he’d been transferred to a hospital. No one “inside” knew his status or even what happened. That helpless and hopeless feeling of not knowing!  I have uncontrollable mother bear instincts!  Unlike when he was 8 years old at the lake and had fainted on a rock outcropping…the children yelling for help, his dad and I frantically swimming to his rescue…in desperation, I could not help this time.  My fear! My panic! The “must do something” response and immediate reaction to save him! Back to present State Corrections Department and my powerlessness, I later found on the website an inmate/family liaison contact and I emailed them. Days later someone responded! I wanted to know if he was alright and my Higher Power answered me – “he’s OK!”

Having shared with this mom, days later she thanked me for listening.  Realizing there were some options in the prison industry that worked for me, she found someone to assist her situation.  I learned that not being able to do something right away has merit for my life lessons in recovery from the family disease. I have learned in Al-Anon the three A’s: Awareness, Acceptance, and then Action. That “must do something” response is really unfiltered “reaction” and no longer serves me well. Today I have choices once I step back and get awareness of the situation. I had the same feelings to help this mom. I’m aware that my urge to immediately help is an unconscious response and I don’t need to act on it. I can accept that feelings are not facts. It is here that my action, if any, will be more appropriate and often results in positive outcomes.

Please share the Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic documentary to help stop teen addiction before it starts.

When will the misery end? Stages of Grieving: parenting addicted children

My husband said “no” when my 30 year old son asked to borrow his truck. The conversation ended badly: my son hung up on him with a flippant “I didn’t think it would be a big deal.” My husband is feeling sad about it all.  He said some things he wishes he could take back, replay or do differently. I recognize the defeatism and self-deprecating emotions that happen from outcomes like this. I’ve had a few of my own. Everything about a child’s drug abuse and addiction can have negative consequences for parents. The worry and fear. Then there’s the doubt you place on yourself as a parent; then there’s the resistance to the truth – wishing you could say yes, often saying yes to avoid conflict. Then there’s the hurt and emotional suffering you go through because even though you know intellectually, you didn’t cause it, you can’t control, you can’t cure it, it still doesn’t make the situation better or release you from responsibility. I just wish he was doing better, had sought recovery and fought relapse. The truth is he is ripping and running right now and I am powerless over it.

This disease is an inside job. When will the misery end? It ends when I let go and let God. When I accept what is and chose recovery from the family disease.  I can chose another way in my relation to this disease, yes,  I will have sadness, but not all consuming misery.

Sister Bea talked about the 5 stages of grief in a retreat I attended.  Parents discover grieving  is a term that aptly describes our feelings of having sons and daughters afflicted with addiciton.  First there is denial. Denial of reality is a symptom of our disease. At first, it had its place – to cope with the unthinkable. Used too long, my life becomes unmanageable. Next comes bargaining, a weird but true phenomena with your interaction with God. OH God, I promise this, if you do that! The 3rd stage is anger and there are many articles and reading material about anger. Many parents of drug addicts have issues with anger and resentments. Parent Pathway has a wonderful meeting-in-a-box exercise for Anger and I often speak about it (click here). Fourth is sadness – so strong it overtakes you. For some, there can be clinical depression and other disorders from it. Finally, there are snippets of acceptance, and all of this happens at different points in time. With acceptance there is a shift in attitude filled with hope, growth and splendor through spiritual relief. It is here I find solace from the family disease of substance abuse. It brings me back to the present moment – neither dreading the next moment nor dwelling over past moments. I accept there will be pain and sadness sometimes, but with acceptance, events such as this won’t torment me through the 5 stages of grief.

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Do you ever say to yourself “I am light?”

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Do you see the wonder of being a mother?

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

Do you listen to that little voice of courage?

Jane’s Journal…the closing chapter on a son’s addiction

Baby boy socksThis is the final entry of a series that started almost a year ago, when our 24-year-old son came home from his Hoboken, NJ apartment to tell us he was a heroin addict.  Our journey with him became this journal, where I have documented as honestly as possible the events and emotions we experienced.  Writing here helped me drain the wounds and reach out to others in pain, which became for me the essence of learning what I needed to know to move forward.  Thank you to Parent Pathway for that opportunity.

Here we are, less than a year later, with a story of hope and renewal. Today we are on another side– ever-grateful for, ever-aware of the miracles available in the recovery community, where those with the experience, expertise, heart and spirit of healing are waiting to assist.  We’ve met so many angels along the way, each appearing at the right time, in the right way, offering wisdom and one more opportunity.  We are at the beginning of a new life with our son, a Heroin Addict– who by his own admission will ALWAYS be in recovery. And finally we’re at a place where that’s fine with us.

September was the month our son returned from Florida, the graduate of a 6-month program in a regimented halfway house, where rules were the rule, a full-time job was expected, and residents were tested weekly for all substances. The smallest infraction– like improper disposal of a cigarette butt– meant immediate loss of residency and any monies paid.  The owner of the house was a no-nonsense recovering alcoholic with a huge heart but no patience for excuses and manipulation. To him, recovery is a vocation, not a vacation; and if a resident isn’t sufficiently committed to recovery, there’s always another who’s perhaps more serious.  Under his roof our son relearned the simplest life patterns: how to find and work a basic job, how to get up early, keep his room clean, respect himself and others. 

Our son was not the only one who benefitted from this arrangement.  In so many ways this stage was crucial to OUR healing as well.  It gave us distance from the daily worry, the inspection of his person, the suspicion of his whereabouts. It gave us badly needed respite from the intensity of his physical presence in our home.  With two other children and a large extended family to think about, the hard reality was that he may not be successful, that he may take us all down the rabbit hole of addiction with him.  Seeing my husband, already stressed to the breaking point from his job, unable to sleep and barely function, I knew I may have to make a very difficult choice.  But to me the whole has always been more important than the piece.  Loving one’s child does not mean giving them all unconditionally, and I was not willing to sacrifice the entire family for our son’s addiction.  Imagining the worst-case scenario, I said to our son that should he not succeed at staying clean, in Florida he would at least have warmth on the streets.  And God knows I meant it.  At least I thought I did.  Thankfully, this threat was never tested.

As his stay in Florida came to an end, my husband and I were both thrilled and excruciatingly anxious. We’d just begun to live our own lives again, sleep again, feel somewhat normal again, but now what?   Our son had done well in Florida, but would he continue?  What would he do next?  What job would he find? Who would hire him?  Would something at home trigger a relapse?  Could we survive it? There was nothing to do but employ the “One Day at a Time” strategy and shut out the rest.  We had no choice but to trust once again– in him, in ourselves, in the healing force that had already brought him and us so far.

It’s hard to describe the love and joy, the hope and tension of having our son back home.  We weren’t sure where the journey would take us all next, but we all knew what had worked thus far.  We discussed house rules and expectations. We enjoyed meals together and simple conversation. We occasionally delved into the pain of the past, and the possible reasons for it, but only in the continuing effort to heal as a family, not to rehash the events or dig too deep.  Our son made NA meetings his first priority, going to sometimes two in a day and also volunteering for institutional service at hospitals and rehab centers to talk about his experiences. His belief in the NA program was total.

After a few weeks of mainly meetings, we began to worry about his recovery because we knew his self-worth was linked to work.  But once again, through NA he met those who would vouch for his commitment to recovery and ultimately help him find that work.  He eventually explained to us that he hoped to get a job at the same facility where he’d done his detox and rehab; that this was a career he could imagine himself in, where his recovery was not exactly part of the job but absolutely enhanced by it.  Helping others was his new goal and part of his recovery equation.  We talked about the emotions and stress of such a job, but he made a clear distinction between his own recovery and the recoveries of others:  His recovery was achieved though working the steps of NA; theirs was up to them.

In October our son officially became the first former patient to be hired by the facility where he was once treated.  He gladly accepted the overnight hours that were available and ironically became a vampire again, rising at dinnertime, going to a meeting at 7:30 and work at 11 pm.  Now, while his father and I are on our first cup of coffee, he comes in the door at 7:30 am, exhausted but completely at peace.  His life makes sense, and so does ours, because everything supports his recovery, his growth, and ours.  We listen to a few stories from his night and then he’s off to bed.

While our journey is not one I would recommend or minimize, it is with relief and tremendous gratefulness that I share what has become a “happy ending.” Every day we see that he is healing and growing, and so are we.  He has found his purpose and place, where for now he is healthy and safe, productive and part of something greater than himself.  Apparently this is where he was meant to be.

What our son credits most for his recovery is NA. The members he met in the group near our home–the ones he first met and bonded with–were those he entrusted to guide him first to detox and then through rehab. In Florida, NA meetings were a requirement–one he was actually happy to honor, knowing the honesty and real-life experience available there were what he needed most.  With NA to guide him, he gained strength and power over his addiction with every day, every meeting. He found his spirit there, let his ego go, relied on others and the healing force within him to help make each day a positive choice and opportunity.  “Just for today” is the mantra he lives by.

While there really is no such thing in addiction as the “happy ending,” here’s what I definitely know:   We are extremely lucky. Our son’s experience is not the norm, but it reveals some things about addiction that are true for all.  These are the things that I would classify as such.

1)      The addict must know the problem is real and must want it to end, must want and accept the wisdom of those who have gone before and trust in their direction. Those people should be part of a 12-step program, and NA is the best of those.

2)      The addict must detox before his brain can begin to heal and detangle. Talking sense to an active addict is impossible.

3)      Detox followed by intensive rehab that includes psychological and behavioral therapy is very important.  There must be no drug substitute for the opiate, because another addiction will be the result.  There is absolutely no substitute for being clean. Any mind-altering substance is a threat to sobriety.

4)      The addict must find their spiritual self and learn to have a dialogue with and trust in that self.

5)      The addict needs structure, support, discipline and honesty to rebuild his life, with an emphasis on moving forward incrementally, within reason.  Understanding, healthy expectation, love and patience are all necessary, but also the occasional stern reminder that respectful cohabitation is all about exchange.

 End notes on the our experience:

  • Our son became an addict as an adult, and I’ve come to realize this was a huge advantage to his clearing hurdles in recovery.  Listening to parents in NarAnon meetings, it became clear that age is a monumental factor.  Explaining future life to a clean teenager is a challenge; expecting an addicted teen to comprehend the future or understand the reasons to get and stay clean is not just hampered by immaturity and hormones, it is absolutely obscured by the addiction itself.  There is no reference point. Recovery for a teen presents many more problems than what we encountered, and their parents are at least twice as challenged.
  • The particular practices of the addict are also a factor. Length of addiction and method of addiction are all part of the problem.  As our son has pointed out, use of a needle takes addiction to another level, so we were beyond lucky that he chose his nose and not his vein.

My prayer as I close Jane’s Journal and we embark on the year 2017 is that all of you reading this will find your own version of closure and some semblance of serenity.  I also pray this is the year scientists discover a drug-free way to cure addictions of all kinds, once and for all, investigating the addiction where it begins, in the brain.  Until then I am part of this group always, wishing the same wishes and praying the same prayers.

Thank you,


Looking at 2017 through a drug-free window…you might be surprised

bright closeup picture of magic twinkles on female handsThis is a guest post from John Perry, co-founder of Clean & Sober Recovery Services in Orangevale, California.

What could 2017 look like without alcohol or other drugs? Let me count the ways…

No more harm to self or others. Fewer fights. No more trips to the pawn shop to retrieve family jewelry. Fewer trips to the ER. Fewer trips to jail, the courthouse or prison. Fewer car accidents, or accidents in general. No more covering up to Grandma, Grandpa and friends. Less self-hatred. Less sorrow and disappointment. Fewer broken marriages. Fewer lost jobs. Fewer disability claims. Less domestic violence.  Less child abuse. Fewer secrets.

More confidence. More joy. Healthier, happier marriages and families. More honesty. More love. More success at work or school. Healthier bodies and better mental health. More energy. More introspection and insight. More patience. More happiness. More serenity. Improved finances. Wiser decisions at work and at home. More opportunities. Stronger marriages. Better parenting. More presence at holidays, birthdays, graduations. More showing up for life. More future to embrace.

Treatment works.  Make 2017 your year, and claim the gifts of recovery.    


The price of freedom if your child is chemically-dependent

While I thought I could control the addict/alcoholic, the reality was the addict/alcoholic was controlling me.  Want to take a vacation?  Well, it would depend on the addict/alcoholic.  Could they be trusted out of my sight and supervision?  Could I trust them to stay at home?  Well, the answer would be no!  So I could not and would not take that vacation.  How about that re-model?  Well, it would depend.  It would depend on using that money for a “would like to have” or rehab/crisis pay off/ bail/ etc. etc. Best not plan on any major savings for that, because you never know what’s coming.  How about having guests over?  Well, it would be depend.  If the addict/alcoholic wasn’t around, maybe company could come over, but then how embarrassing if police bang at my door – best not expose ourselves to embarrassment!  How about your day?  How’s your day today?  Well, it would depend on how the addict/alcoholic was doing.  I literally would work 10 hours and on the drive home to my house, just 100 yards from my driveway, begin to wonder how my day was going to be….all depending.  The price for control any way you look at it was foregoing freedom, yet it seemed impossible to let go of the urge to control.

What does this “freedom” cost?  Nothings free!  The costs are relinquishing control!  It will cost me Acceptance: being willing to accept I’m powerless over people, places and things.  Trust: being willing to trust that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.  Working on my own recovery cost me time, commitment and a little inconvenience.  Freedom cost me boundaries:  standing up for myself and saying no with kindness and respect.

A small price to pay for a big reward: Freedom from the prison of obsession with the addict/alcoholic’s life.  Free of the all-consuming FEAR, ANGUISH, & WORRY.  Freedom to DE-TACH from the agony of involvement and trust that it will work out the way it’s supposed to work out and I don’t have to have the answers.  Free to make decisions about taking a vacation, saving up for something special, being a little selfish for my own sanity.