I am in recovery from a substance use disorder and work in the field of advocacy, peer support, harm reduction and treatment. I have days where I wake up fighting mad, and others where I smile, hopeful at the small bits of progress we are making.
The number one rule for me in working with people with addiction is to always remember the last Dumpster I slept behind or the last blast of crack I took. Never forget where you came from. I believe that those struggling with substances are my people. How could I not? I see myself in each person I work with. To this end, I fight for common-sense drug policy, users’ rights and patients’ rights. Realizing there are those who would harm the people in my community, however inadvertently, fuels my passion.
The same is true for being a parent. I have an amazing two-year-old son, Kaleo Lawless. Every time he defies me – like spinning in a circle and giggling when I ask him to turn around, I get frustrated and my wife laughs and says, “He’s definitely your son.”
When we had Kaleo, my passion for helping other people’s children increased tenfold. I understood what the love of a parent meant and gained a new perspective on the folks I worked with.
Being a parent isn’t easy; being a parent of a child using drugs can seem impossible at times. This feeling of hopelessness is often magnified if your child ever needs treatment for a substance use disorder. There is a lot of bad information and advice out there regarding substance use treatment and recovery, and it can be difficult to sift through it all.
Here are a few things I’d like parents to know so they can best help their child – and themselves – through treatment and recovery.
There are many different paths to recovery
The most common mistake I see in my day-to-day work is the widespread belief that only the 12 Steps are an effective measure in dealing with substance use disorder. This is simply not true. Although 12-Step Recovery is extremely effective for some — I myself used the 12 Steps in my recovery — it is illogical and irresponsible to believe any person who uses drugs must subscribe to a specific program if they wish to have any semblance of a meaningful life. There are many different approaches to recovery, and they are all effective for certain individuals. The 12-Step founders themselves have stated that they do not believe they have a monopoly on recovery, but rather, a program that may be of use.
There is a difference between treatment and recovery
Simply attending addiction treatment is not recovery. Treatment is seeking clinical professional help for behavioral issues related to substance use or any number of underlying issues.
Recovery, on the other hand, is a personal, voluntary lifestyle comprised of sobriety and health, where a person subscribes to a pre-determined set of principles and holds themselves to that standard.
I have seen countless people enter a program seeking clinical guidance and instead be held to the standards of a recovery program involuntarily, even if it doesn’t fully work for them. This is an all too common occurrence. We must consider the individual’s beliefs, thoughts and feelings when seeking treatment or recovery.
There are alternative recovery programs that are lesser-known, but can be effective
Many alternative programs have emerged in the recovery world, some based in therapy, some in faith and others in science. For every individual, there is a program. However, the choice should be left up them. Programs include SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery and Celebrate Recovery. Some people have found success simply utilizing therapy and social support, while still others utilize harm reduction or self-help books.
It's okay to use medication to deal with a medical issue
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) — medication meant to curb the negative effects of opiates — can be extremely effective. These medications include buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex) and methadone.
However, in abstinence-only treatment programs and 12-Step recovery programs, participants are taught with fervor that MAT is trading one addiction for another. This is simply not true.
Be careful of recovery principles crossing into the treatment field and ignoring scientific evidence. With the current opioid epidemic we are facing, we cannot afford to fool ourselves. Let’s clear up some facts here.
- The use of other medication in treatment is widespread; in fact, over 90% of patients admitted to a facility for substance use disorder will be placed on medication within seven days of admission. These medications are often the same combination used for nearly every client indiscriminately. Seroquel, Gabapentin and Prozac, among others, are often prescribed to users seeking treatment. Although these medications are useful when given for a proper diagnosis used in a nonchalant manner, they can have severe effects on the individual.
- On the flip side, Suboxone, Subutex, methadone and other MAT options can be extremely effective when paired with clinical care and support.
- Medications, MAT or not, should be a personal choice. Discuss all medications with a doctor who has gone to medical school, graduated with a degree and has a license. Peer support recovery groups are effective, but they should not dictate what medication you use.
Like I said, being a parent isn’t easy. But always remember that helping your child is your top priority. Do your research, take a deep breath and don’t let anyone else’s judgment get in the way of your family’s personal choices for treatment and recovery.