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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    Kevin M

    September 19, 2015 at 6:57 PM

    Our daughter was arrested on 9/15, she sold heroin to an undercover policeman 6. We knew this was one of the two paths left for her, the other was death. She is being held in protective custody because her uncle is a corrections officer and her brother is a policeman.

    Our daughter graduated college, got a good job, bought a house and lost it all. 4 years ago our youngest son broke his neck and became paralyzed. Her “baby” brother was broken. She tried to mask the hurt with pain meds, This was the beginning of the nightmare. Slowly she lost everything and we were blind at first. We had an intervention it didn’t work. She went to rehab in California she learned to shoot heroin. She went to rehab in New York she made drug contacts.

    Now she sits in a cell 23 hours a day facing up to 28 years. My wife is a wreck, I long for the little girl that called me poppyseed. But I know that being in jail is what is going to save her. I was told it takes at least a full year to get the physical cravings out of their system. I can deal with a year but I am 57 and odds are probably against me that I make it to 85.

    The author is right in so many ways, I just hope that we can accept we have now.

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    Tom

    September 18, 2015 at 10:56 PM

    Hi,

    I’m 23 yrs old and a recovering addict. I have been sober since May 17th, 2014. I enjoy researching addiction and understanding it through other peoples perspective, which is how I landed here, writing this post…..This is quite strange for me, seeing as this is my first ever post on really any website other than Facebook or twitter! ha ha. But after reading this, I felt my heart telling me to share my story. I’ll give a brief (because its long) intro about my personal situation and then lead into what parents need to know, that their kids wont tell them… (remember, I was one of them.)

    I started using pain pills when I was 17 (senior year of HS) for no particular reason besides hearing through the grape vine that it “made you feel good”. Being young and naive, I took a few Vicodin I found in our family cabinet. In hindsight, this happened to be the worst decision of my life.

    I continued casually eating pain pills that year and into my freshman and sophomore year of college. During those years, taking pain pills was a WANT and not a NEED. There is a difference!! I ignored my friends (who didnt use) warnings telling me that if I didnt slow down, i’d soon become an addict. I wish I would have listened….. I gradually did more and more and thought I was soo invincible that I took a total of 120 percocet in a total of 5-6 days. On day 7, at age 19, I found out, for the first time what WITHDRAWALS were. To sum it up quick, although im sure majority of you have witnessed, heard, or read about it. It is literally Hell. Think of the worst flu you”ve ever had and your only medicine(pain pill), to take, costed $30 for 1hr but put you in even more pain after that hour was up. I was stuck in a trap! That “want” turned into a “NEED”…….. I was addicted.

    I was devastated. Here I was, 19 years old, in college, came from the most LOVING family I could ever ask for. Some of the best friends in the world, was a 3 sport athlete, and now an addict………. I was an addict for 3 years and brought such heartache to my family and friends, that it still hurts me thinking about it; and probably will for a long time. **(I can get into more detail if anyone has questions. I just want to try shortening this up so I dont take up 5 pages lol )

    After going through 3 years of hell (which by the way, was 150% MY FAULT), I finally had someone who really cared about me, corner me and forced me to come clean in May 2014. That day, being an addict, I was angry at being “forced” to come clean to my family, but the real me, the kid in me that was buried deep within, felt so relieved. It was the best day of my life.

    While reading this page, today, I could not believe how spot on this was!! I agreed with 99% of it. The 1% of what I didn’t fully agree with was the last sentence in #7. Living in your sons shoes, it helped me tremendously, knowing I had a bed to sleep in…especially at my parents home. It was comforting; otherwise I would have felt even more hopeless….—-Here is my advice coming from someone who has lived this life:
    —–Looking back, although still fresh, the best start to becoming clean is TELL YOUR LOVED ONES. Having my parents support (instead of getting angry and start crying and screaming at me) was extremely, extremely RELIEVING. No more having to fake a smile, pretending nothing was wrong; while im going through full out WD’s . ** This allows for your child to feel comfortable and loved while going through the unbearable sickness.

    PARENTS: Please do not give up! Know you are not alone. In fact, im sure my parents visited this site as well; trying to figure out what was wrong with “their little boy”. Some signs and red flags to look for if you are unsure as to what is going on: 1) *Weight loss ( I lost all of my muscle from sports and weight lifting– also looked brittle) 2.) LACK OF MOTIVATION 3.) THE SIZE OF THEIR PUPILS (very small=most likely opiates) 4.)VERY SHORT TEMPERED/MOODY 5.) THINGS OF VALUE, RANDOMLY MISSING FROM YOUR HOME/ THEIR PRIZED POSSESSIONS SLOWLY DISAPPEARING. 6) PACING, CONSTANTLY CHECKING THEIR PHONE. 7) LEAVING IMMEDIATELY AND UNEXPECTEDLY (not like themselves) and getting very angry with whomever tries to stop them. 8) FALLING ASLEEP AKA “NODDING OFF” WITH ITEMS STILL IN THEIR HANDS (cell phone, remote, ect..) 9) OFTEN ZONED OUT IN FRONT OF A TV OR COMPUTER . I could keep going but this is a lot in one message…

    Sorry for the long read, rambling and little- to- no structure! This was an impromptu post but really felt it in my gut to share. I have soo much more to say/share but instead of this being very very long, i’d leave it up for anyone to ask me specific questions. Although I was in a dark place as an addict, i still learned a lot, a lot, a lot about addiction by being observant through it all. And trust me, I’ve seen it all !! I know the things said behind closed doors, behind their parents backs, how they are truly feeling inside and so on. This is because I once lived it. There probably isn’t 1. question I don’t feel comfortable answering! Please, ask away! I want to help as many people as possible. If this helps even just 1 person, I will be the happiest person! 🙂

    -Tom

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    Gabriella

    September 18, 2015 at 6:05 AM

    I am sadly comforted by this as it means we are not alone, that their are other families going through the same thing. My daughter has been an addict for 10 years and all you say is 100% true but it took me several years to come to this point. Unfortunately even her having my grandson 5 years ago wasn’t enough for her to decide enough. My grandson now lives with his other grandma. All so sad.

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    Reece

    September 8, 2015 at 2:38 AM

    I think conventional thinking is wrong… I was a drug addiction for years from when I was 15 I don’t do “drugs” but I still struggle with alcohol however you need to realize that the more you push your kid away… And that could be even in minor things you make him/her lose trust and hope in you any more… Js I’m a Christian and a functioning alcoholic

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    matt

    September 7, 2015 at 10:40 PM

    Wow lot of comments about a miserable issue. I have never left a comment on a notice board but after reading the above mentioned post felt compelled to do so. The truth of the matter is I am your son or daughter, most likely all of the above and below but worse. Addiction is a miserable existence that I don’t believe anybody really chooses just bad decisions that progress to be worse. It’s funny well probably not really but about 15 years ago my own mother who mind you is not an unbalanced person drove me to the largest bridge in our city, pulled over at the top and told me to jump off it and kill myself. As harsh as that may sound, I now can completely understand where she was coming from. She explained to me that it would be better for everybody. She didn’t do it because she was bad or mean, I believe she was trying to be companionate. I was like a dead set hurricane, causing destruction and misery to anything and anyone in my path for years and years and she was just over it. Can you imagine the place you would have to be in to attempt to assist your child to kill themselves? Desperate as it gets. I could go into 100 of these stories but I won’t.
    Anyway, I am now 38 years old, clean; I work in the drug and alcohol field as a youth worker, am married and have two beautiful children of my own. I can’t explain how it exactly happened or I landed on my feet, it just did. I should have by all rights been dead at 18 and 50 times over since. In the early 2000s I witnessed my first child come into this world opiate addicted and to this day and everyday don’t think I will ever witness anything worse. For whatever reason that was the last day I used, His mother left 3 days later and we have rolled together ever since. My son’s name is Caleb and he is the best human ever, straight gift from god, if such a thing exists.
    My point is I don’t know how your own loved ones have a Caleb moment, an event so tremendous that it is indescribable and completely rocks and addicts world upside-down. I like to explain it as an unstoppable force hitting and immovable object, there is always a crazy explosion. I can only hope that your loved ones find an immovable object in their path to sway them off addiction and that you can have the grace and non judgemental attitude required to wait for that moment to come, it just cannot be forced, and hopefully not drive your loved ones to a bridge in the meantime.
    May luck, time, grace and goodwill go your way.

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