The Accidental Addict/The Accidental Enabler

Photo of a woman.Real Simple magazine featured an article, “The Accidental Addict,” about a young woman who inadvertently became addicted to prescription medications.  Aren’t all addicts accidental?  Who would intentionally choose the life of destruction called addiction or alcoholism?  No addicted child that I know said, “Gee, I want to open a Pandora’s box of destruction and quite possibly put my life on the line.”  Instead, I imagine he or she thought, “ I’d like to  fit in/ hang loose/ have fun/ not be the oddball/be popular/feel comfortable in my own skin” or something of that nature.

By the same token, enablers come by their craft quite honestly.  Love First, A Family’s Guide to Intervention highlights the genesis of two distinct types of enablers.  One type is the  “innocent enabler” who can’t even imagine that drugs or alcohol underpin a loved one’s inexplicable behavior.  The other variety is the desperate enabler who cannot bear the thought of the decimation of substance abuse.  My own enabling started innocently and then became desperate as I worked tirelessly to prevent the family boat from capsizing while keeping my child out of harm’s way.  That balancing act made me crazy, made me sick and didn’t solve the problem.  In fact, it made it worse.

The distance I’ve put between me and my child helps me take a clear look and how we got to where we are.  That’s been a very good thing: understanding the accidental origins of addiction and  co-dependency  helps me find forgiveness for myself and for the beloved addicts in my life.

Teen addiction and treatment; what’s that look like?

teenage boy contemplatingThis is a guest post by Jeremy Stanton, owner and CEO of Haven House Addiction Treatment in West Los Angeles

Alcoholism and drug addiction can look wildly different when comparing a teenager with an adult. The differences between these two groups of addicts necessitate treatment plans that focus on characteristics particular to each group. A serious point of emphasis in the recovery of one addict may not always be applicable to another. While the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and its accompanying shift in action and thinking are relevant to everyone regardless of age, teenagers struggling with substance abuse have a specific set of issues that need to be addressed and resolved.

The consequences of drug abuse that teens face are very different from adults. There are no homes to lose, marriages to dissolve or careers to implode. Simply put, teen addicts have less responsibilities to forego and fewer achievements to tarnish. Addicts and alcoholics can be notoriously shortsighted, and in the case of teenagers, parents’ primary concerns involve their child’s future. This raises serious concerns about how to address drug abuse with younger addicts. Focusing on immediate consequences can be a more fruitful approach than stressing the potential for their decisions to affect them in the future. Poor performance in school, loss of interest in hobbies and dangerous risk-taking behavior are all relevant and important aspects of addiction that will be immediately noticeable. For teens, there is no baseline with which to compare their current behavior. The adult addict is able to reflect upon the progressive nature of his or her illness and acknowledge its increasing severity. Parents should instead focus on how their child’s addiction has affected their priorities and interests and has had some form of immediate consequence. Remember that treating addiction is only effective when an addict self-diagnoses and admits to their illness; always show rather than tell how drugs and alcohol have impacted their life.

Sobriety can be a frightening experience for anyone, regardless of their age, for plenty of reasons. Younger addicts may associate abstinence from drugs and alcohol with a lack of social life or an inability to have fun. At such a young age, fears of being shut out by their peers can also prevent teenagers from expressing the willingness to seek sobriety. Much of a teenager’s identity revolves around their social and groups and friends. While experimentation is common for this age group, there is a difference between recreational and dangerous abuse of drugs and alcohol. This distinction can be difficult to notice, especially for those who have had little to no history using illegal substances. As teenagers continue to use drugs, they may not be able to see addictive patterns. Fortunately for younger individuals requiring help in overcoming addiction, there are many AA and NA groups across the country that focus on recovery in teenage populations. Having someone who is a similar age recount their own struggles with drugs and alcohol is a big deal for an individual who is conflicted about their own desire to get sober. No amount of parental concern, school suspensions, trips to jail or other consequences will have the impact of one addict speaking with another.

There are several other issues involved in helping teens in recovery that should also be acknowledged. Teenagers will often have a sense of invincibility about some of their behaviors and decisions, and substance use is no exception. Denial is especially powerful in younger populations. Even when they have a sense of self-awareness about their substance abuse, procrastination can also make it difficult to seek recovery. Younger people often feel that there will be plenty of time in the future to address things, even issues as serious as addiction. A large part of treatment involves education and scientific evidence. Misconceptions and misinformation, usually related by friends, contribute a lot to someone using drugs for the first time. Without using traditional scare-tactics, parents or other people in the addict’s support system can have an open and honest conversation about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse as well as the progression of addictive behaviors. Teens may fear punishment or blame from parents which can prevent them from admitting to their problems with drugs and alcohol.

Teenagers need a caring and supportive environment in order to recover from addiction. Sobriety is a difficult journey to walk, as anyone with the experience will tell you, and may seem even more frightening to a teenager. Anyone who can be honest with themselves is capable of recovery, and countless teenagers across the world can tell you that addiction is a strong, but defeatable opponent.

Jeremy Stanton is the owner and CEO of Haven House Addiction Treatment, a recovery community offering Detox, Outpatient, Inpatient and Continuing Care services for all ages located in West Los Angeles. For more information visit http://www.havenhouseaddictiontreatment.com or call (424) 293-2259.

The scarlet letter – fighting the stigma of addiction

Letter A Tin LettersWhen I first really “got it” that my son was addicted to opiates, I was saddened, shocked, terrified and embarrassed. Somehow, it felt like I was responsible, that I had failed as a parent, that I had led my child astray. I felt like I was wearing the scarlet letter “A” for all the world to see. I expected to start bleeding spontaneously from my heart, my hands. If I had known then what I know now, the isolation would have vaporized and I would have felt in good company. My neighborhood is no different than the rest of the nation, where 20% of high school kids abuse prescription meds, according to a recent CDC study. Helloooo, neighbor! Is that loud teenage cursing coming from your house or mine?

Those feelings abated as I became more educated. For those who insist that addiction/alcoholism is a disease of character, I refer to babies who are born addicted… what juvenile delinquents they are and how they demonstrate a stunning lack of willpower and character. That generally turns the conversation in a different direction.

I know that most people don’t know what I know about addiction/alcoholism:  that it was defined as a disease more than 50 years ago; that brain imaging reveals the misfiring parts of the addict’s brain; that nutritional approaches show great promise for recovery. I try to share that knowledge with others because wisdom is key to recovery for parents and their beloved children.

As addiction becomes more understood and more public, we have an opportunity to support the other moms who are joining our ranks in fear, despair and sorrow. Together, we create a life brigade of experience, strength and hope.

What’s it feel like after detox, and how to move on?

siblings talkingWhen your loved one first emerges from detox, he or she will be very raw, hurting, angry, and more. Detox essentially rips the band-aid off of whatever they’ve been doing to self-medicate themselves or to navigate through life in a way that is manageable to them. Now they are out in the open, with nerves fully exposed and nowhere to hide. They also have to look in the mirror and see the damage they’ve done to themselves and others. How painful that must be. No wonder the siren song of self-medication is so unrelenting.

There’s an expression about recovery: “The only thing that has to change is everything.” When you think about how profoundly challenging the world looks to someone in early recovery, that expression makes perfect sense. Someone in recovery needs to figure out an entirely new way of living life. They have to manage their sorrow, shame or grief – whatever they were drowning – without mood-altering drugs or alcohol. They have to learn or re-learn the logistics of school or work. They have to deal with the emotions of righting the wrongs they committed. And they have to mend relationships that have been torn apart. It’s a tall order, and it takes a team of friends and families who love (although they may not like) the person who is struggling to regain their equilibrium. That’s the secret of recovery for all, for as Buddha said, “In separateness lies the world’s great misery, in compassion lies the world’s true strength.”

Sunday Inspiration for Parents of Addicts and Alcoholics

How high can you jump for joy?

Ten reasons that your addicted or alcoholic child will give to get out of rehab

checklist to keep our kids safe

Forewarned is forearmed.  Get ready for your beloved addict or alcoholic to tell you why they can’t stay in rehab:

 

  • The rehab just wants your money.”
  • I’ve got my drinking/drug use under control now.”
  • Everyone here is worse off than me.”
  • We don’t do anything worthwhile here.”
  • I’m all better now” or “I can get better on my own.”
  • I know better now and have figured things out.”
  • The counselors are mean and have stupid rules.”
  • The food is bad here.”
  • I don’t like going to the meetings.”
  • I need to get back to work and stop wasting my time here.”

 

So how can you respond? Here are some options:

  • Just say “Oh” or “Hmmm” or “Let me think about that.” 
  • That sounds like something you could discuss with your counselor”
  • We support your recovery here, and if you choose to leave rehab, you’ll have to find somewhere else to live.”
  • This is the right place for you to get healthy.”
  • I love you, and I know you can do this.”

Denial is the antithesis of knowledge and acceptance

Mental Illness and AddictionSCENARIO: You have received bad news again, either from your son or daughter directly, their employer, landlord, friend, relative, fill-in-the-blanks. This time the emotional roller-coaster is curving through the anger turn. You think, “This is the 6th, 7th, 12th, 100th or another LAST time!” In yet another opportunity to drill into them the PROBLEMS they are creating for themselves, maybe this time you blast them with righteous indignation about the problems they are causing YOU.

ME: “I don’t understand why you do it!”                THEM: “I don’t know why I do it!”

Who’s right? Both! “I just don’t understand why” was often said from my mouth. Yet my actions for many years did not indicate any desire to try and learn about it. Moreover, I did not hear myself when I said the words: I don’t understand – I was preoccupied with WHY. Yet it armed me with ammunition: I don’t understand, therefore I will fight-fight-fight.

In recovery I have learned that understanding is mental action of study which is sometimes measured through aptitude tests and scoring. Acceptance is a spiritual action of study with notable behavioral changes in attitude: serenity, kindness, gratitude and love. The further along I get in my own recovery, the less important “why” becomes. Knowledge has provided me with information – it was the resistance to this information that kept me in denial. Denial is the antithesis of knowledge and acceptance. And the battle of the non-Al-Anon vs. Alcoholic/Addict continues on or maybe, this time, something changes…

 

Stop talking and start mending things with your addicted child

Photo of teen girl talking to woman.One way I have learned to improve my relationships with my adult children whose issues with substance abuse bothered me is to remember to keep my big mouth shut…tight!  My friend says “I have the right to remain silent; I just don’t have the ability to!” Finally, I’m given a reason for my behavior – I’m powerless over the desire to comment!  A symptom of co-dependency, it perpetuates my unhappiness with the outcomes.  Even though I’m aware of the negative consequences, I forget the tools that help me behave differently. Slowly, I remember those tools before my tongue takes over and my ability to communicate with maturity improves.

I use to override or completely miss the signs that the other person doesn’t want to engage or is put off by something I have said. I tend to do this uncensored with the ones closest to me. For example, I want to offer advice that wasn’t requested from me or offer a better solution to something they share. Their reaction is silence, withdrawn or irritated outburst. Outbursts are unpleasant, but silence seems worse! The sound of silence triggers my need to break it with a question. Questions can be aggressive. Usually, I ask prying questions under the guise of being loving or interested. A question can put people on the defensive and coupled with substance abuse, there is also an open invitation for lying. Questions can also be perceived as prying and nosey. That is not the kind of mother I want to be and if I had continued without change, I would have pushed others further away from me – the exact opposite of what I desire!

Understanding my role in the family disease has helped me appreciate the significance of the slogan W.A.I.T.    This is an acronym I picked up in Al-Anon which stands for “why am I talking?” A good reminder to keep my urge to say something in check.  Another problem with questions is I’m usually not prepared for the answer! I’ve grabbed onto the saying, “Don’t ask if you don’t want to know!” Learning to listen and accept the situation, without comment, gets easier the more I practice. I have come to realize that silence is not unpleasant but rather a time I can compose myself to breathe, invite my Higher Power in, and be mindful of my own character defects.

To learn more about communicating successfully with your loved ones, explore Parent Pathway’s Meeting in a Box: Communication

Being a Super Hero is exhausting–and dangerous–work if you are the parent of an addict or alcoholic

super woman capeOne of our readers commented on a previous blog post that, “Staying out of the way is a tough one.  Especially for someone like me.  I have spent my life rushing to be a hero.  Here I am to save the day.  Finally, someone reminded me that what I save, when rushing to clear the debris of a using addict, is one thing:  that they survive yet another day without responsibility; leaving them free to create more chaos.  If I do this long enough, they might actually die.”

Being a Super Hero is exhausting.  And saving someone who needs to save themselves is futile and even potentially deadly. How can we remove ourselves from the role of rescuer and enabler?  Here are some ideas:

  • Instead of jumping in to solve their problems, just say “Oh” or “Hmmmm” or “I’ll have to think about that” or “I know you can figure that out.”  If you are accustomed to having the answers for your child, this new approach may make you anxious.  How can they possibly figure it without SuperParent assistance? The truth is they will never figure it out if you always solve it for them. Handing them the power and responsibility of managing their own lives requires both parent and child to change. This is about you, Mom and Dad, as much as your child.
  • If you leap into action to stop a barrage of threats or accusations (for example, “It’s your fault if I can’t get to work!”) then pull out the S**T shield.  Imagine a magical force field that protects your from incoming threats, hatred and abuse.  And tell your child, “I will not tolerate that kind of language,” and let them know they have to leave if they continue to speak that way. (Reminder!  You have the right to a serene and calm home.)
  • Let your child know that the rules of engagement have changed.  When your child accuses you– “You USED to be nice and let me crash on the sofa”–  tell him or her, “I’ve changed.  That’s not OK with me anymore. If you are using drugs or alcohol, then you cannot sleep in my house.”
  • Finally, use difficult confrontations as reminders to take care of yourself. When your child presses you for money, go treat yourself to a coffee or flowers or new paperback. When yoru son complains that you don’t care if his back aches (which is often a result of opioid abuse), then go get yourself a massage.  When your daughter complains that she needs new clothes because left her old clothes at her last crash pad, go put on something warm and cozy.

Tough Love is tough—on them, and on us.  Seize your superpower to take care of yourself and give your child a reason to change.

 

To restore healthy boundaries, check out our “Boundaries Meeting in a Box.”

 

A sibling’s view of addiction as a family disease

siblings talkingWhen I first heard that alcoholism is a family disease, I balked at that notion. I did not consider how all my thoughts and energy fields were directed on them: to get them to stop, to get them to see the light, to rescue or make excuses for them. I did not see my behavior at all – after all,they were the ones with the problem, not me! I might admit my stress level increased, but I’d justify “you’d be worried too if your kid was struggling!”

After I joined the Al-Anon family groups and started working the steps, I began to see how my actions, my feelings, my health and well-being were directly proportional to the degree of involvement with trying to control the addict. As the disease progressed, my obsessions increased and I started showing physical symptoms from the stress.

I had the opportunity to understand this from another perspective from a sibling of someone struggling with substance abuse.   She shared how awful it was to see her mother spend all her waking moments worried about her sister. It seemed all her mother did was focus on the sister; wonder and wish she’d get better, always talk about her, often sad about her, …and if her sister was doing well, her mom’s attitude was better. She was learning to please her mom by being the “good daughter.” She believed that she herself could somehow make mom happy. When that didn’t work, she lost all sense of self-worth. The frustration she felt with her mom often made her angry. She wanted to scream “what about me?!! I’m here and I’m doing all the right things”! Then the notion that she could somehow control her addict sister in attempt to “smooth things over” in the family soon became her new obsession.

Hearing her story put things in perspective.  In many ways I related.  I was able to look at how my behavior towards the “problem” might have affected other family members and friends who cared about me. Was I so preoccupied that I closed them out? I was seeing proof from others who shared their experience. There is a commonality of the symptoms. With proof I no longer had doubt about this being a family disease.