If I Knew Then…a Mother’s Reflection on her Daughter’s Addiction

You can learn more about guest blogger Linda and her daughter Tiffany in the Emmy award-winning documentary Collision Course.

I am often asked, “What do you wish you knew earlier about your daughter’s addiction?” by parents I meet at treatment centers in my community. I think back to how naïve I was and how little I knew about addiction.  First off, I was surprised that the pills prescribed to Tiffany were so addictive.  The labels on the sides of the bottles warned of the possibility of respiratory failure or liver damage if not using the proper dose.  They said not to drink alcohol with this medication or take other drugs with acetaminophen because there could be liver damage. But I thought surely her doctors would monitor her closely, and because I was home with her, I made sure she didn’t take more than she was prescribed.  The two pages enclosed with the prescription never mentioned the word “addicted” – only “habit-forming.”  I take an aspirin a day and this is habit-forming for me but not addictive.  Tiffany was taking pain meds for the pain from her broken neck.  I didn’t see this as an addiction – not yet anyway.  I didn’t really notice what was happening until she moved out of the house.  She was still on Paxil for her panic attacks, and  Ambien to help her sleep – both addictive drugs prescribed by her doctors.

I could understand the reasons for Tiffany’s medications at first because breaking her neck in the car accident was both painful and traumatic. Many more prescriptions continued from that point on.  My husband and I were clueless at first.  Tiffany couldn’t just stop taking her pain medication without going through terrible withdrawals.  I wished I was more educated.  At first I thought this was the only way she could stop. I didn’t know what detox was or what an interventionist or intervention was all about.  When we first came to the ER because Tiffany had overdosed, I thought they would keep her overnight and help her get well.  They never gave us places to call or a list of places they recommended for us to go get help. We didn’t know where to look except on the Internet, which offered a multitude of listings.  How can you tell the good treatment centers from the bad?

Summing it up, I wish I knew more about addiction – that it is an illness –that Tiffany couldn’t just stop.  I had seen addiction in my family tree, but I didn’t see it as an illness.  I saw it as making bad choices.  I remember thinking – I wished there was someone or somewhere I could go that would teach me about what’s going on in my daughter’s life.

I wish I knew who to turn to for help.  Seems like even the family doctor doesn’t really understand addiction.  I once went to an addiction specialist who decided she was going to handle Tiffany’s pills and give her 1 pill every 4 hours so that Tiffany didn’t take too many.  Even I knew by then how crazy that sounded!

I wish there was a way to find out if you have a predisposition to addiction.  Did Tiffany have this OR does addiction just happen if you continue to take addictive drugs like Vicodin over a long period of time?  The answer to that question is too late for my beautiful Tiffany, but it may save other children.


Calling Dr. Spock: How do you deal with a teen’s emerging substance use?

What do you do when you discover your teen has been using/abusing drugs or alcohol?  Do you start yelling and laying down the law in your home?  Speed dial a family counselor or spiritual advisor?   Call the police?  Or look the other way, cross your fingers and hope for the best?

I, for one, didn’t know what to do when we realized our child was living a secret life of drugs and alcohol.  I dialed a local recovery center but hung up when they asked the age of my child.  I confided in my sister but certainly didn’t reveal our dirty little secret to friends.  I sought help from a counselor only when my own life spiraled into despondency and paralysis.  I hit my personal bottom when my son hit his, and that prodded us both into seeking help.

For parents today, the road map to recovery is much clearer, thanks to a research based guide that was just released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The research-based Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment outlines the critical elements in nipping adolescent substance use disorder in the bud.  For example, it is illuminating for me to read that “Adolescents can benefit from a drug abuse intervention even if they are not addicted to a drug….Parents and other adults should monitor young people and not underestimate the significance of what may appear as isolated instances of drug taking.” This issue had been a stumbling block for our family:  If our child was merely “experimenting,” was an intervention the answer?  Was our problem serious enough to call in the big guns and possibly drive away our child?  The way our child’s chemical dependency played out illustrates NIDA’s  guidance on this point.  We took action way too late in the game, our child became addicted while—or because—critical neural pathways were forming, and we lost precious years as a result.

“If I had known them what I know now” is the sad chorus sung by families of children who developed substance use disorder.  With this NIDA guidebook in hand, parents are now empowered with the wisdom to make smarter choices and protect our families.

Early Intervention Helps

I’m so proud that today’s parents, when concerned about their child’s substance abuse, have courage to take action and start early intervention.  I don’t know if I could have done this myself given the strong sense of denial I was in.  But then again, the drug epidemic we have today was not publicized when my kids were in their teens.  Had there been a documentary like Pathway to Prevention’s  Collision Course, Teen Addiction Epidemic, maybe I would have been paying attention more.

I recently heard some heartfelt testimonials at a fundraiser event for an adolescent treatment center.  To witness recovery through individual achievements as was presented at the event was truly miraculous.  How wonderful this community has options for parents who seek help for their children and family.  And the bright future for these young people brought tears to my eyes.

Recovery takes dedicated team work and money to support its professionals, operating and infrastructure costs to that end.  Generous donations, sponsors and private funding as well as volunteers in service by individuals continue to be the backbone of many non-profits.  Now that we have more places that offer treatment, how much is this going to cost? Parents are often shocked at the costs associated with recovery treatment.  As noted by Dad on Fire, in his blog post “Insurance Woes for Addiction treatment”, it seems “there isn’t a shortage of treatment centers but a shortage of dollars to provide for the care.”

One thing is certain: left untreated, addiction costs are far more costly and damaging than any prevention measure.  Every little bit we can do on education, prevention and treatment will make a difference, because early intervention really does help.

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….