7 Truths About My Son’s Addiction that Took 5 Years to Learn

teenage son struggling with addiction

I feel deep empathy toward parents just beginning the terrible journey of their child’s drug addiction — and those facing the turmoil of a potential next step: rehab, incarceration, considering dislodging your child from the family home. Examples like these are still fresh wounds for my wife and I.

We have learned and faced several difficult lessons throughout our journey, all of which we previously denied in the beginning. We constantly fought with ourselves and each other about these things. It didn’t matter who was telling us the truth, because we knew better. After all, he was our son. We have come to accept these truths, and today it is much easier to deal with the heartache. We have become more effective at helping our son through his addiction, and much more effective at helping ourselves through the process.

1. Parents Can Be ‘Enablers’

We love our sons and daughters. We would do anything to remove any pain they are feeling. We would do anything to take away the addiction and smooth the tough road ahead. We would give our life if it would help even a little.

I once wrote a letter to my son about using drugs. I used the analogy of him standing on a railroad track when a train (drugs) is coming forward as fast as ever, blaring its horn. However, during all of this, he hears nothing. I told him it was my job to knock him out of the way and take the hit because that’s what fathers do. I now understand that I was wrong all along. All that would do would leave me dead on the tracks, leaving my son alone to stand on another set of tracks the next day.

We raised our children the best way we knew how. At some point, they made certain decisions that led them down this path. In the long run, we can only support them and provide different opportunities to help them make the right decisions in life. That is why different role models such as sponsors, recovering users, police officers, probation officers, correctional officers, pastors, and counselors should all work hard to show the person struggling the correct path. Unfortunately, this tends to be a difficult thing to do. However, at times, we cannot always do what they need when they need it — we cannot always prevent them from hurting, because they need to experience the natural consequences of their actions in order to get better.

2. Parents Cannot Completely ‘Fix’ This on Their Own

This statement is regarding what I have previously wrote above. This is a problem only the person with an addiction can fix. A concept such as this is very hard for a person like me to accept because I try to fix everything. No one is allowed in the addicted person’s mind except them. They are the only ones that can decide to change their lives, for better or for worse. This will not end until they decide to end it. Many times, parents try to make that decision for them and it only winds up resulting in more frustration and failure. What parents can do is help encourage them to seek help or treatment, and let them arrive at the decision themselves.

3. An Addicted Person Can Be a Liar

An addicted person will say anything to hide their addiction, and will take any action to mask the problem. I honestly believed at the time that they did not realize they were lying and they just said whatever they thought a parent would want to hear. I believe that children seek approval from their parents and look to give us pride. I believe that people struggling with addiction dislike themselves and do not approve of what they are doing, but believe that they have no way out. Their only mechanism for survival is to seek some kind of approval through lies, even if they know they will eventually be caught. As a father, I believe that ‘approval’ offers a similar instant gratification similar to drugs. Even a glimpse of approval from a loved one gives them a certain kind of rush, even if it lasts for a couple seconds. When my son tells me he is not using, I really don’t hear it. I tell him often, “My eyes can hear much better than my ears.” Just as we seek evidence of their using, we must seek evidence of their not using. Do not rely on faith alone that they are not using, just because they have spoke those words. And when you do catch them doing something positive, when they’re not lying, give them positive reinforcement — even if it’s for something small.

4. An Addicted Person Can Be a Criminal

Symptoms of this disease can definitely include illegal behavior. That is why my son is incarcerated. Face up to it, Dad and Mom — He has made mistakes and he must pay the price. As some may say: “It is his debt to society.”

When we see others who are incarcerated in the spotlight, we tend to think about how much they deserve to be there. However, our babies are nothing like that, right? We can justify and separate the wrongs by misdemeanor and felony, but those are only legal terms. Every person is someone’s child. Overall, I now understand that my son has illegally done many things to land him in jail. He must pay for his wrongdoing and must understand why that is so. Again, it’s part of the natural consequences of his actions that I can’t save him from; only discourage him from.

5. Others Might Not Want An Addicted Person Around

My son has wronged many people and I have come to terms with this. It is OK to feel uncomfortable around drug users. We are his parents and family, and it is unconditional love that keeps us by his side. It is not wrong for friends or relatives to have their own feelings and pain about this situation. Some families in this situation have may give great support and stick by their side through thick and thin. But some people decide they can’t handle the trouble the person struggling brings to them, and they make the decision to break from them. We, as families, get to make the choice and there is no wrong choice — either one is OK. You have to do what’s best for you and yours.

6. Life Will Not Be The Same

At 5 years old, my son thought he was Michelangelo of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He used to run around the house with an orange bandanna tied around his head, brandishing plastic weapons and fighting evil. When we look at our children who are addicted to drugs, at times we see that 5 year old and mourn the loss of a child. We would try anything to get them back.

My son is now a 21-year-old man. He is an adult, with a child’s maturity at times. However, our world recognizes chronological ages, not maturity levels. Parents must learn to do that, too. I will always believe that Michelangelo is lost inside of him. Those that are lost sometimes find their way back, but some do not. I can grieve this loss, but it will not help either of us in doing so if we don’t move forward. A person who is addicted does not live in the past or the future; they live in the here and now. If you want to help someone struggling, you must live in the same world they do, and understand where they’re coming from.

7. Homelessness May Be The Path A Person Who is Addicted Chooses

My wife works in downtown Kansas City. When you drive down there, you can see people living on streets and under bridges where they hold up signs asking for food or money. They are dirty and they are hungry. They can very likely be someone struggling with addiction or suffering from mental illness. They are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends to someone. That doesn’t change their situation. If our son makes the decision to live this way, it will hurt me terribly but he will do this until he thinks it is time for him to change. I can try to help, I can try to encourage him to seek help, but I cannot make him change.

Why is This Important for Parents to Learn?

We struggled mightily against these truths and have fought with every ounce of strength. We have lost our fight and have accepted what we wished would not be true. My learning is: until you understand the truth, you cannot find peace within yourself or really be able to help your child who is struggling with addiction. Accepting the truth, and proceeding from there, allows you to help both yourself and your child.

I do not hate my son for using drugs and for putting all of us through this pain. I hate the disease of addiction and the things he does because of it. I hate the lying, the stealing, the using. I love my son very much, but I hate his ways. It is perfectly okay, and necessary, to separate the two.

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973 Responses

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    Sandy

    November 11, 2018 at 10:57 PM

    My smart, beautiful and quick witted baby boy is lost. I’ve been chasing him for 8 years. He has been in 25+ Rehabs, Hospitals, Detox Faculties, Methadone Clinics on Vivitrol injections, Suboxone and Subutex. In AR, MO,NV,FL,IL,KY,CA. I’M not just any mother, I’m his mama and I adore my son (I grew him), I have been through hell and back a 1000 times trying to keep him alive and out of prison. I am out of plan “b”, “c”,,etc,,,, I sold my home and have a good man waiting for me to be emotionally able to move to FL and have some peace in my life. I’m so afraid to go and I don’t have any more ideas or hope left inside. I am broken and I don’t know why I am writing this really. I don’t need some clean staff member to call me and try to get him in the rehab that they used or work for. Been there done that more times than I honestly can remember. I can’t lose him, he’s me and I’m him and I don’t want to walk through this life without him. I can’t

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      Josie Feliz

      November 12, 2018 at 2:20 PM

      Thanks for your message Sandy. We have forwarded your message to one of our helpline specialists who can help better answer your question, and she will be reaching out to you shortly.

      Our Helpline is a good place to start if you’d like to talk to someone about what you’re going through. Feel free to connect with us in whichever manner you choose in the future: https://drugfree.org/helpline.

      Thank you. -The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

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    Justine Smith

    October 26, 2018 at 8:13 PM

    Hi I am mother of 21 year old son he doesn’t work does weed coke and drinks alcohol daily he steals off me regularly has sold all his belongings and sold lots of my belongings too he liars to everyone owes thousands of pounds to people including lots of drug dealers he puts me through hell I don’t sleep but have to work everyday I am now in great financial difficulty because of him taking most of my earnings but I am scared to make him leave my home incase something bad happens to him so frightened he will die please someone give me some advice he refuses to seek any help

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      Josie Feliz

      October 29, 2018 at 2:04 PM

      Thanks for your message Justine. We have forwarded your message to one of our helpline specialists who can help better answer your question, and she will be reaching out to you shortly.

      Our Helpline is a good place to start if you’d like to talk to someone about what you’re going through. Feel free to connect with us in whichever manner you choose in the future: https://drugfree.org/helpline.

      Thank you. -The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids

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    Tom

    June 14, 2018 at 1:55 AM

    My longtime girlfriend only son is 23 and addicted to oxy and may have used Heroin since he was 14 or 15. She is mentally ill and a epileptic and has enabled him for years. She is easy to manipulate and he runs right over her. I have been her care giver but I really feel her son is trying to do us and other family members in. We are all miserable , he is a lier and thief and can steal from anyone and not care. My intentions are to leave my girlfriend in the coming months because I can’t take any more. I truly hate this kid . I intend on turning him in and putting him in prison for his crimes and ruining so many lives. I truly hate this person. I did not deserve this.

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    GG

    July 17, 2017 at 12:31 PM

    Thank you for this article. I’ve saved it on my desktop years ago and refer to it when I forget to stop enabling and accept that these are my son’s choices and there’s nothing I can do to help him. Only he can help himself.

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    Lesli

    June 19, 2017 at 12:38 PM

    Me too my brother is a 44 year old man who has struggled with addiction since he was 11 years old. It’s really bad now he’s just totally given in to the addiction and accepted the fact he’s an addict and that all he will ever be. It’s worse than ever now on me and my mom who are supporting him letting him live in mom’s house. So difficult and no one can offer any help.

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      Pat

      June 20, 2017 at 3:37 PM

      Hi Lesli,
      I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to watch your brother sink further into his substance use problems and the impact that it is having on your family. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself so that you can develop resilience and continue to live your life.

      That said, I’m wondering if your brother would consider any kind of treatment. There are some medications that can be helpful to address cravings that he might not be familiar with. Or, would he be willing to go talk to a counselor about cutting back on his substance use?

      There are many other great ideas as to how to help a loved one in the book Beyond Addiction by Dr. Jeffrey Foote. You can see more about it by clicking the Learn tab above and then go to the bookstore. It was written specifically for families like yours who feel hopeless and are looking for a way not only to cope, but how to turn toward a healthier lifestyle for all.

      Wishing you all the best,
      Pat

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