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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1027 Responses

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    August 19, 2019 at 10:10 AM

    Hi There! I am a 60 yr. Old woman struggling at not knowing what to do with my 36 year old son.my husband is so ready to get him out, and it breaks my heart.i sometimes think the easy way out of all this misery is for me to leave far far away. I realize this is a cowardly thought and not going to change anything, but it sure sounds good at times.i feel so helpless and dumb many a times.

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      Candice Besson

      August 19, 2019 at 10:58 AM

      Thanks for your message Ester. 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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    Sarah Ellerker

    July 31, 2019 at 12:03 PM

    My son is 18, first took drugs at 14, cocaine. Now in assisted living due to the effects of addiction on the family. I have supported the best way I can, but now realise that I have given my son a safe place with all his needs met when his life becomes unbearable. I am in emotional turmoil while my son is lapping up the comforts, only to be stolen from days after. The cycle still continues. I adore my son, he is a kind, loving human but drugs have turned him into a monster.

    It’s so desperately hard for all the family as each time he comes back telling us all the changes he’s going to make and of course we believe him.

    With the heaviest of hearts my saving days have to be over. It is the hardest thing to do, let your own child live a hellish life. As he lives in a place of no reality the reality of his choices are very real to me, and the devistation they bring.

    To anyone reading this and going through the hell that it can be, I wish you peace, so much peace and hope for the future.

    Nothing good can ever be lost.

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    June 30, 2019 at 8:27 AM

    My son is 20 and has had a drug and alcohol problem since he was 15yrs.He has been close to death on many occasions ,once he had a grand mal seizure from too much Wellbutrin but still craves this drug.We have been well known to the ED and police and because he is a well presented young man he gets off time and time again.The lowest point was two days ago when he stole my script pad and wrote himself a script for Lyrica.I am a GP and can be investigated plus he can be charged.Remorse,nil,he says he should be allowed Lyrica as it makes him feel better.So sad the beautiful son we had is effectively gone and there is nothing we can do.

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    June 10, 2019 at 1:32 AM

    Our son is 34 years old now, it was in his later teens that he first began using illegal substances. The 18 years since the beginning haven’t always been as bad as they are now. He is now homeless and we are trying to set boundaries to discontinue the enabling that makes life tolerable for him. He tells half truths and I think truly believes. I am so stumped on giving of myself anymore.

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      Josie Feliz

      June 10, 2019 at 11:02 AM

      Thanks for your message Shelle. 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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    Ann Price

    April 23, 2019 at 10:15 AM

    My son is 38 in June – it all started when he was around 16 – cannabis – but unfortunately he got a good job which paid well so then he moved on to the hard stuff ! so for the past 20 odd yrs he’s been in and out of prison – homeless- his dad died nearly 8 yrs ago – he had a girlfriend druggie too ! they had a beautiful child that had to be adopted because her mother just couldn’t be clean and has since died – my son has robbed me of my granddaughter and I hate him for it ! I also hate the fact that I met a wonderful man and married again and was open about my baggage but here I am 60 and alone – my new husband just couldn’t cope ! Im not saying its all my sons fault but it went a long way ….theres no guarantees in this life so I feel very sorry for all though going through this hell!!!
    I could put him into rehab but I think it would be a waste – Id like to think he could claw back and get a good life and pray every night that he comes to his senses but no – I have now told him I will not be harassed for money any longer although I have agreed I will take him a bag of shopping and a few quid once a week only – am I a bad Mom – no way he was given all the love in the world and threw it in our faces ………forever hopeful x

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      Josie Feliz

      April 23, 2019 at 10:40 AM

      Thanks for your message Ann. 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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      May 16, 2019 at 11:12 AM

      I so feel what you are going through. My daughter is 31. Her addiction began around 14. I tried everything to help, but it didn’t work. She had five children, and at 58 I am raising them. They are what gets me through, but raising my 5 grandkids alone is tough. My daughter has been in and out of prison and only comes around to get money. She doesn’t come much anymore because I learned a long time ago that any money I gave her just fed her addiction. It doesn’t stop her from trying or making up lies to get me to give her money. Whenever she is around, she reeks havoc on her kids’ lives. I finally had to tell her to stay away, something you think you’ll never have to do as a parent. She lived a very happy childhood and was a state DARE contest winner at 11. She was smart and a talented athlete. None of that is left. She is miserable, all of her teeth are black and rotting out. You can’t believe a word she says, and she tells and posts horrible things about me all the time. The pain is constant, and I just want peace,, which unfortunately I get the most of when she is locked up. You have to have lived as a parent of an addict to understand just how devastating this is.

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      May 19, 2019 at 4:00 PM

      I needed this today. We recently learned the extent of 23 year old’s drug addiction, although looking back, I think we knew for quite a while. We just couldn’t accept it until it became impossible to rationalize his behaviors. It’s amazing how much we can live in denial when the truth is too painful to confront. When we confronted him, he chose to leave rather than get treatment. We told him that we loved him, but the only help we would offer him at this point was to get into treatment when he is ready. I pray for him everyday. I don’t know what the future holds. I hope and pray that he decides he wants to get clean, but I understand that he is the only one that can control that and make the choice. I pray he lives through this. The fact that he may not, is the hardest part to come to grips with. This is the hardest thing we have ever faced as a family.

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