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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995 Responses

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    Kay

    January 9, 2019 at 10:28 PM

    How can you tell if your adult child is using drugs? He dosnt live with me but he and his wife are constantly broke. They are both in their 30’s.

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      Josie Feliz

      January 10, 2019 at 12:58 PM

      Thanks for your message Kay. 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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    Kim

    January 8, 2019 at 10:48 AM

    My daughter now 27 has been struggling with addiction since around the age of 18. She steals, lies, overdoses but she also tries to get and stay sober. However; she hasn’t been successful for more than 15 months, and this last time not more than 5 months even after living at a recovery facility. I hurt for her daily because I’ve watched her struggle over the years and just like the story above, I see her as my little daughter that we raised, loved and took excellent care of. Currently she is incarcerated because her bond was revoked (bond from a previous issue of stealing) due to overdosing on New Years Day which nearly took her life. She had court on January 2 (this was her final pre-trial and was to probably be sentenced to some time in jail). I feel as if she was trying to find a way out from it because she feared going back to jail. She had previously in 2015 been sent to jail for 31 days. After her overdose on Jan 1, she did appear at court on Jan 2. As I said, her bond was revoked and due to the overdose. It’s been tough on me not to take her calls from jail or to go see her but I did write her a letter letting her know how much she is loved. During her active use both in 2015 and 2018, she broke the law by stealing and was out on the street using daily. I feared for her life and decided it was better to have her arrested than dead. Although I know it has probably prolonged her life, I also feel a tremendous amount of guilt for doing so and I wonder did I do the right things to save her life at least for a little longer. I don’t know if she’ll ever beat this addiction and feel as if I’m being defeated by the drug and the dealers that lure them in. Not sure what to do from this point other than to let her see that it’s not ok to keep doing this and guide her toward future rehabilitation for herself once she’s released from jail.

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      Josie Feliz

      January 8, 2019 at 2:28 PM

      Thanks for your message Kim. 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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