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.


Acceptance of reality is a gift of Al-Anon

bright closeup picture of magic twinkles on female handsOne of the hardest tasks for me is to accept why the holiday season brings on a dreadful feeling of gloom for me. Growing up, I don’t have any negative feelings about the holidays. In fact, I’m very grateful for all the fond memories and joy I experienced. My mom, dad and family get-togethers during Thanksgiving were GREAT! Though my mom recalls a difficult period when we would pack up and drive 3 hours to “grandmas” where she later “put an end to THAT.” I don’t remember anything but having dinner at our house. I always remember my mom cooking and a lot of activity in preparation. There was anxious excitement anticipating the arrival of my relatives. There was always a flurry of political discussions, abundance of food, and comforting smells. There may have been alcohol, I don’t recall. Being the youngest, I watched my older siblings bring home guests from college and they were always interesting characters whether “meditating yoga” in our front yard (the 60’s!) or bringing a new perspective to the table. It was always these memories that I tried to recreate with my family.

The holidays are hard for me because I have dysfunction in my family. I’m newly aware that this is what the reality is. This dysfunction is a result of alcoholism and addiction combined with my perspective of what a family should be and how others should act – all effects of the family disease. It’s no use wishing for the memories to repeat or wishing for my family to be something else. If I continue to deny it, I will stay in my disease. I will likely blame others, try to force solutions and perpetuate the negativity that can come so easily. I continue to work on my attitude and use the tools of the Al-Anon program to help me see things more clearly, accept and appreciate all the blessings I have – and there are many.  For this I am grateful.


I can run, but I can’t hide from substance abuse in the Family

Trying to manage addiction is like willing a train to stop. No matter how hard I concentrate on it, the train is moving with or without me. Depending on my location, I either get run over, passed by, moved or left behind.  Ultimately, addiction moved on but I lost who I was and what was really important to me. I remember my job’s demands were accelerating parallel to the addiction progression in my family. I was traveling several weeks a year away from home and I looked forward to leaving. I fantasized that if I could move far, far, away, the problems would go away. But the worry never left, nor did the problems when I returned home. I could engulf myself in long term projects to avoid feelings of failure as a mother. I heard a speaker at a 12-Step meeting say “everywhere I go, there I am!” and another said “nothing like Arkansas in the rear view mirror!” It made sense, intuitively; running away would not solve my problem because I was somehow connected to it.

At some point I had to face the reality. This was not going away or going to get better unless I decided to do something different. I had to make some changes, but how? Joining a support group with similar circumstances and seeking professional help was a good start. When I started to put the focus on myself and stop waiting for others to change, my life started to get better. My decision to change my behavior versus running away from the problems in my life was frightening at first. But overcoming this fear of unknown was worth the risk of continuing as is. Get on! Get off! Move out of the way…Do something within your control.

Living one day at a time can seem impossible when it is our children and addiction.

I remember when I had to ask my son to leave after many months of not living with integrity in my home.

That was the hardest winter I believe, I have ever gone through. Yes, it hurt not knowing where he was staying. Yes, back then I felt -how could I even survive it?  So the only thing I could do was to start living one day at a time. I did this by paying attention to my health. I started going to more of my own AA meetings, and became very involved in my Al-Anon meetings. I started walking the neighborhood every day for 40 minutes.

I read. I prayed.  And many – many days I would go to sleep crying. I can tell you on two occasions I actually woke up with tears flowing down my cheeks. I had dreamt about my son.

I am not saying it is easy. It certainly is not. But honestly, what was the alternative? This is what I learned for myself. To live by fear??? Fear of what I would find when I came home from work??

After many things had happened I finally realized I wanted my life back.  I wanted my safe haven back. My home. I also knew if their was a chance, I wanted my son back.  Eventually at the end of winter, sleeping in the park, on friends couches, and in the back seat of their cars, I finally got that phone call. “Mom, I want help, can I come home?”  I picked him up and the next day my son was in treatment.

I pray for all of you that the pain in your hearts become less and less.

Ricki Townsend, Family Counselor and Board Certified Interventionist.

Home Sweet Home when the addict comes to visit

The Fix, a rich website dedicated to “addiction and recovery, straight up,” once featured an article called “Going Home without Going Crazy.” The article offered tips to help those in recovery manage post-addiction trips home, which can be laden with eggshells and bombshells for parents and kids alike. Looking back on the “do’s and don’ts” of parenting an addict reminds me that addiction is a family disease that impacts the system of the family.  The ripple effect touches everyone.  And that ripple spreads in all directions.

So here were the tips offered to addicts/alcoholics in The Fix.  And here’s how they play out for parents.

  • Be a grown up: If you want to be seen as a grown up, start acting as one.” The flip side of this for parents is if you want your kids to act like grownups, and then treat them like grownups, with adult responsibilities and expectations.
  • “Talk to your sponsor.” Parents, this applies to you, too. Talk to your sponsor about the way you may choose to act (NOT react) under certain circumstances.
  • “Hit a meeting.” Ditto for parents. Get the support you need while taking a breather from the family dynamics. Vent in a constructive fashion. Listen and learn.
  • “Go online.” You are already here.   Like Dorothy said in the Wizard of OZ, there is no place like
  • “Distract yourself.” The Fix says it best: “Distract yourself so you don’t wallow in the negative feelings that being back amongst family can stir up.” Exercise, cook fanatically, read, watch a movie, or lend a hand to a friend or neighbor.
  • “Reflect.” Be mindful and in the moment, rather than dwelling on yesterday or investing in future fears or fantasies.
  • “Keep up your routine.” Don’t abandon familiar routines just because your beloved addict or alcoholic has returned for a visit. Remember that a key element in our recovery is taking care of ourselves.
  • “Get off your ass,” AKA, be of service to others.  Helping others helps you.

Grandma and Grandpa and a grandchild’s addiction…the family disease takes a toll

Grandparents can be subject to the same intensity trying to help the affected grandchild whose life is troubling. I remember a time I thought my father might be a better influence to my son’s problem since nothing I did seemed to be working. But my son would soon abuse the privileges of Grandparent assistance. They became a means of continuing his addiction life cycle. Things changed drastically, and fast. Now I was subject to a deepening sad heart each time: grandpa complained about the lack of follow-through, strange people in their house and inability to wake my son up in the morning. I would get the calls, inquires, concerns and requests – and I was getting resentful. I resented the addict for the moral turpitude. I resented my parents for arguing my pleas to stop rescuing. I can’t control my son and my own parents for that matter! Just how powerless I am came to focus.

All I wished was that he’d stay away from the family because of how it was affecting me affecting them. Time would reveal the progressive nature of the disease and the family dynamics would get further strained – a symptom of the family disease. Turns out I’m not the only co-dependent!

Parents: He’s got a drug problem and won’t go to rehab, we are learning more about addiction.

Grandparents: He’s a good boy, “Once he starts working …”

Parents: We are not going to buy him another car.

Grandparents: We co-signed; he has to be able to get to a job!

Parents: He cannot live in our house he’s not trustworthy.  We are concerned you are being taking advantage of as well.

Grandparents: He’s temporarily living here, we discussed our rules – it’s under control.

Parents: We’re concerned about our parents – they are vulnerable and open to getting financially ruined – they won’t listen to any reasoning!

Finding support through the Al-Anon Family Group, I learned many things about the nature of the illness which gave me a better perspective on matters. This was where other grandparents in my support group helped me understand their point of view. They were trying to force solutions just as I had been. They believed they had it under control, just like I did.  I learned compassion and understanding that everyone is affected by this disease.

A Co-Dependent’s Walk Down the Yellow Brick Road of Addiction or Alcoholism

Watching the Wizard of Oz through eyes of a recovering co-dependent is an awakening. I understood the Scarecrow’s reaction upon hearing Glinda tell Dorothy she had the power all along to get home. He was pretty miffed she allowed them to experience all those horrible events knowing she could have helped her get home sooner. Co-Dependents don’t like seeing their loved ones suffer discomfort, danger and sadness. It makes us uneasy, fretful and worried. In my experience, I did not want my addicted/alcoholic loved ones to have to go through negative consequences from their risky behavior. I also relate to the Cowardly Lion, fearful of all things. It was my fear that drove me to become obsessed with them and in my mind the outcomes were always dark: danger, hunger, homelessness, attacks, crime. I never considered their sense of adventure, making new friends, surviving, sadness, and purpose to name a few. Any positive outcomes, such as independence, growth and self realization, were not a possibility – to my way of thinking. My thinking had become distorted – what happened to my brain?

I’m learning how fear and ignorance drives my behavior. I’m also learning to have courage and believe that whatever happens to my loved ones, good and bad, both have purpose in life and I don’t have power over that. It helps to remember my co-dependent tendencies when I want to rescue. I’d rather be a respectful mother, not a rescue mom. It feels better to let go of my fear and grant them the dignity to grow and live their own life. To do so, I have to accept that it may not be what I would choose, but accepting nonetheless.

I’m betting that after Dorothy returned to Kansas she was a different person – her experiences shaped new beliefs and attitude towards life. Because of my program, I am a different person too; I would say “a better person”. My recovery program has enabled me to have a relationship with my sons that would not have been possible if I continued to act irrationally, force solutions, become unreasonable all the while living in denial. Courage, Wisdom and Faith, it was there all along. There is no place like home.

Sober Living Environment, hope from a mothers’ perspective

As I sit in my car waiting for my son to finish the paperwork outside a SLE (Sober Living Environment) intake office, I ask myself, “How many times have I been here?” Well, at this particular one? Probably… 3-4 times (counting all family members).  It’s a 45 minute wait in my car – my choice.  I see a couple get out of their mini-van.  Mom, from the drivers’ side, dad, slowly follows behind her.  At first I think its dad that’s checking in… after a few minutes the son begrudgingly emerges from the sliding door and trails behind.  This must be their first time.  That’s what I did too, I led him in – after all, this was what I wanted.  Please take my son and fix him – at a minimum house him because I can’t do it anymore.  Months, maybe years later, the 2nd time, he went in without me.  I was still the vehicle and bank – willing to finance but less psychically involved.  That time he was anxious having just been expelled from another SLE.  There was much drama around that.  This 3rd time seems different – is it?   I, once again, am just the vehicle and bank.  Ironically, many years later and I’m still here – am I expecting a different result?  I wonder.  I’ve accepted that this is my son’s revolving door, his battle with substance abuse and addiction.  I don’t hang on to any expectations (for long).  I’m grateful there are people with places that offer SLE’s; multiple chances, alternative opportunities, do-overs for many, the outcasts who may or may not change. 


Phone tips help this mother in co-dependency

If you are like me, you grew up with a sense of duty and obligation to answer the telephone if it is ringing. It’s just not polite to ignore the incoming call! Over time, the phone became my life line to family members, employers, banks, or just shooting the breeze with a good friend. Then, with the advent of the voice mail and growth in technology, I could still get the news if I missed the call. I remember how great it was to be able to “phone home” and retrieve voice mail! The cell phone made it even better, taking care of business and personal outreach while away from the house.

In my home, the family disease of alcoholism and addiction progressed and transformed my telephone from a necessity of convenience to a powerful stress-inducing-power-booster to the agony of involvement. I wasn’t even aware of it. In recovery, I had to revisit who’s in charge and has control at my house: the telephone or me! This is an example of counter intuitive recovery training through a 12 Step Program – the telephone no longer is a luxury for living, for me it has morphed into an archenemy. Strategically placed in many rooms of the house, it often brings bad news.  The ring alone induces anxiety – who knew? I got some tips along the way:

1. Don’t answer the telephone just because it’s ringing or vibrating. You have the power to decide if and when you want to be disrupted by a caller (most people leave voice mail if it’s important)

2. If it’s someone with a crisis, I don’t have to commit to anything without waiting a day or two. I do better if I buy some time before I react because I tend to want to help you with anything.

3. Stop dialing for pain – calling them just to “hear their voice” because I was worried may sound like a good idea, but 9 times out of 10, I regretted it.

4. Unplug the phone at night (worried about an elderly parent? Ask a sibling, neighbor, close friend to be on night call). Truth is, without sleep, I’m no good for anyone.

5. Revisit that answering machine. My cell phone is the “call to” number for family and friends. Who’s leaving voice mail on my house phone? Creditors, bail bonds, Global Tel-link, Politicians, marketing solicitations, strangers – no one for me. Sometimes I employ #1 above and in so doing, I get to hear them leave the message and then I have to re-play the message (hearing it yet again) before I can delete the message! Double the pleasure if you are into pain. See #3 above!

6. Do I really need a telephone at all? I’m not just “dialing for pain” – I’m paying for pain once a month! Note to self: Re-visit the telephone!


Giving thanks for addiction

With teen addiction in my family tree, Thanksgiving has the potential for myriad emotions:  trepidation, joy, chaos or gratitude, to name a few. Last year, with several years of recovery in our wake, I made note of my many blessings.  I try to say a prayer of gratitude every night before hitting the sack, but with Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I’d like to look back on what I wrote down last year about the holiday, which holds potential for both joy and chaos…if I let it.

I am thankful that my son has claimed a life of recovery, one day at a time.

I am thankful that people are beginning to understand addiction as a disease of the brain.

I am thankful that I discovered Al-Anon.

I am thankful for the friends that addiction has ushered into my life.

I am thankful for the opportunity to support others though their own child’s addiction.

I am thankful that my marriage survived our son’s addiction.

I am thankful that I have had the resources to help support my son’s recovery.

And thanks to addiction, I am appreciative of the perspective I’ve gained about what really counts in life.

Count your blessings…..and let me know what you are thankful for.