I get many comments from readers in despair over the addiction of a loved one, so I’m re-running this blog entry from last year:
“Just found out my son who is on suboxone treatment, is also taking Xanax from a dealer. He came home this a.m. and dropped into a dead sleep. I checked his phone and found a message requesting Zanny from a certain Austin. I do not want to be his cause of death. Do I get tough and kick him out, or continue to try and help him? I am worried that his doctor will not continue to give him the suboxone if he tests positive for Xanax. I am worried if I kick him out, he will go back to heroin use. I feel damned if I do or don’t. I am a believer in prayer and God, but right now I am in a quandary. Any suggestions?”
It’s not just the addict who suffers from this disease of addiction; families also feel pain. Addicts are fooling themselves when they say they have a right to do what they want with their bodies because they are only harming themselves. The addiction causes the addict and all who love him to hurt.
This mom wants to know what she should do, and I’m tempted to give advice.
On the one hand, anything she does to make it easier for her son to use drugs is making his addiction worse. She should call his doctor and tell the doctor what’s going on, and let the doctor take it from there. If her son decides he wants to keep using Xanax rather than get into recovery, that’s his decision, not hers, and if he’s over eighteen, then his recovery is his responsibility.
And then on the other hand, it’s more difficult to overdose on Suboxone and Xanax than on a full opioid like oxycodone and Xanax. But overdose is still possible. If he stays on Suboxone, at least that’s reducing his risk of death. In the end, his doctor is going to do drug testing and it will become obvious what’s going on.
Not being a parent, I can only try to imagine how difficult her situation is. Most people are overwhelmed and unprepared for such grim circumstances. When she says she’s “damned if I do or don’t,” she’s right. She cannot control the outcome. She cannot cure him.
I know a mom who allows her son to live in the basement, fully knowing he is injecting heroin. She sometimes gives him money to he won’t have to commit crimes to finance his addiction. She says if she turned him out and he died on the street, she would feel awful, like she had abandoned him. On the other hand, I know a mom who did the same thing, and her son overdosed and died while living in her basement. She now feels like she didn’t do enough to help him, and that she contributed to his death by enabling him. At an Al-anon meeting, I heard a mom crying because her son died from a violent assault from a drug-using associate, shortly after she kicked her son out of her house for using pain pills. She felt like he might still be alive had she provided a safe place to stay.
This disease often kills young people, no matter if their families enable or provide tough love. Families can set boundaries, do interventions, and give consequences for continued drug use. They can reduce harm to the addict who is still using, by giving clean needles and a safe place to life. And the result may be the same either way.
I do know this mom needs to get help for herself. She can go to Al-anon, a 12-step recovery program for friends and families of alcoholics and addicts. It’s free, available in nearly every city, and it works. There, she can meet other moms and spouses and adult children of alcoholics who can share what they did to restore sanity to their own lives, independent of what their addict or alcoholic is doing. Or, she can go to a therapist to help her decide what course of action – or inaction – is right for her.
I had an addicted family member. I decided to be direct with him. I told him how I loved him and how I was worried his disease would kill him. I told him that I would pay for a treatment center, if he would go. I would go with him to 12-step meetings if he wished. I would support him in any way he thought necessary. The first time we talked, he made a joke of it, said I was worried for nothing, and he didn’t have a problem. Even though it wasn’t the response I hoped for, I felt better, because I said something I desperately needed to say. I was able to speak my truth to him in a way that felt good. I didn’t blame or shame him. I just told him I loved him and I was worried, and if he wanted help, I’d move mountains to make it happen.
I didn’t cut him out of my life, but decided what my boundaries should be in order to maintain my sanity. I couldn’t be around him if he was obnoxiously drunk. When I visited him, I always drove my own car in case I needed to leave if I started feeling overwhelmed. And I would not, under any circumstances, buy alcohol for him. I told him I didn’t allow drinking in my house, and if he came for a visit, he couldn’t bring alcohol with him to drink. I believe he did his best to honor my requests, but he couldn’t control his drinking, and I did have to shorten a few of my visits.
I didn’t nag him, but after he was admitted to the hospital with liver failure, I again offered to help in any way I could. This time, he said AA might be a good thing if a person needed it, and if he ever got that bad he’d go to AA. His drinking continued, and he died of liver failure four months later.
I would feel wretched if I had never spoken what was on my heart. It sounds like such a simple and obvious conversation to have, but in alcoholic families, conversations about alcohol consumption are often taboo. Logical and necessary conversations often feel bizarre in addicted families. In my family, we were silently aware that our family didn’t talk about such matters.
It took an unexpected amount of courage for me to be able to talk to my loved one about his drinking.
Besides Al-anon, individual counseling can help a great deal. A therapist, knowledgeable and experienced with dealing with families of addicts is worth her weight in gold. With either option, this mom will learn the threes C’s of Alana: you can’t control his using; you can’t cure him; and you didn’t cause his addiction. For some reason so many parents seem to think their son or daughter’s addiction is their fault, which of course is untrue.
With help, this mom will be able to think more clearly. She’ll be able to decide where to draw the boundaries. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong with boundaries. Each family member gets to decide where their limitations will be with the addicted love one.
Nar-Anon is a 12-step group for the families of addicts: http://www.nar-anon.org