Part Three – I Can’t Cure It
In 1987, the American Medical Association officially defined addiction as a disease.i People debate it. Someone dear to me once said, “Addiction is not a disease! It’s like obesity. Put down the cheeseburger!” Due to my personal experience as the parent of an addict, I want to believe it is a disease. It would perhaps be easier to accept that my son has an illness with no cure. I could compare it to diabetes or asthma. As long as he takes care of himself, he’ll be all right. I am, of course, biased. We’re talking about my only child.
A few months ago, the debate was whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug. ii, iii Today, I no longer have any doubt, because marijuana was the gateway for my son to alcohol and opiates. Let’s face it, no one wakes up in the morning and says, “Hey! I think I’ll become a heroin addict today!” No, it’s more insidious. To my son, it was, “I’ll try weed just once,” to “Weed didn’t hurt me, so nothing else will.” It is flawed thinking, but made perfect sense to him. With that mistaken sense of the immortality of youth, he joined the ranks as an opiate addict.
When I brought my four-pound little boy into this world, I never imagined that words like “benzos”, “mollies”, “huffing”, or “splifs” would be part of my ever-increasing vocabulary. Until about a year ago, a bowl was something you ate ice cream out of, and aluminum foil was for putting on the grill so the vegetables didn’t fall through. Vomiting meant the flu, and red eyes meant conjunctivitis. There are things I will never see in the same light again.
In the 1950’s, the American Medical Association first declared alcoholism is an illness.iv Chronic drinking leads to changes in the brain, in both its structure and how it works.v Changes in the brain structure and how it works are also caused by drug abuse.vi Although the problem begins initially by choice, as the user makes the choice to begin drinking or using drugs, the changes that occur in a person who is addicted are, in my opinion, undisputable. I watched my son change right before my eyes.
Through family education through the Kids Escaping Drugs Program, I’ve learned about the physical changes that occur with the abuse of alcohol and opiates. The brain becomes incapable of manufacturing necessary levels of dopamine. Neural pathways are destroyed. Worse, an addict in withdrawal cannot see past 15 seconds, and in those short 15 seconds will make decision to lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, whatever they believe they need to do to get their next fix. Parental ranting and micromanaging are useless.
Through extensive personal conversations with alcoholics and addicts alike, whether the drug of choice is opiates or alcohol, the addict believes he needs the next fix or drink just to feel “normal”. The feeling of the first high becomes a panacea they determinedly seek but can never attain. Every addict I spoke with felt worthless and depressed, even after having time in recovery. And if that isn’t enough, the people I spoke with had all, bar none, relapsed at least once. As I write this, my son has joined the ranks of those who have relapsed, and is again in rehab.
I learned about relapse in family education as well. At six months sober, post-acute withdrawal in recovering adolescents is at its worst. As early as at two months sober, they may experience symptoms of increased impulsivity, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, just to name a few.vii This is when the probability of relapse is greatest.
The fact of the matter is, whether I believe addiction and alcoholism are diseases or not, I cannot cure my son. The damage he has done by his substance abuse has to heal, and healing process of the brain takes years. I must keep in mind, too, that his brain will heal if and only if he stays clean and sober. That choice lies with him alone.
I also continue to seek education. A documentary I found particularly educational is called, “Pleasure Unwoven”. I highly recommend it, whether you have an addict in the family or not. I read books by specialists and parents alike. “Beautiful Boy” by David Sheff is an excellent book from the viewpoint of a parent whose child is addicted to crystal meth. “Everything Changes” by Dr. Beverly Conyers is also an excellent book that gives suggestions on how to take care of the addict while still taking care of yourself. I attend Nar-Anon meetings, a non-profit support group for families of addicts. It helps to listen to the experiences of other families to see what has worked for them and what doesn’t, and to know I am not alone. I take what I need and leave the rest.
I know my son has chosen a path he will fight to stay off for the rest of his life. As frustrating as it is for me, I can’t fix this. Addiction is bigger than I am. I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it. I can, however, support my son in his recovery. If you are struggling with the addiction of a family member, please reach out for help. You don’t have to face this alone.
About The Author:
Serena is a mother to a 16-year-old recovering alcoholic and opiate addict. This is a three part series of articles on opiate addiction from a parent’s perspective based on the three C’s of Nar-Anon. She writes these with the hope that her experience can be of help to others.
© 2011 Steven Burton All Rights Reserved
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