The Family of an Addict

“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?”

I saw this comment on my site today and thought it would be an excellent topic for a blog post. My heart goes out to this mother.

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.

For more about Al-anon, you can go to:

Families Anonymous, a similar group, has this website:

Nar-Anon is a 12-step group for the families of addicts:

7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Debra on September 16, 2012 at 1:25 am

    OMG I wish I would have known about this blog site years ago. It’s really a great site. I love how you hold nothing back. I never get into putting anything personal online. Kind of private ya know? Anyway, I started shooting herion when I was 15 yrs old. I am now 58 and have been clean since 1991. I have always wanted to share stories with young people or even older people to get them to stop what they’re doing. I have so much to say and offer but I have no idea how or where to begin. Please send me a personal email with any questions, etc. if you’re interested. So much garbage has happened in my life due to my addiction and would love to save at least one person from experiencing all the drama and trauma I’ve gone thru. I need to be completely anonymous tho. Thank you so much for helping anyone who needs help. HepC treatment 3 times and prison a few years is not a nice way to live your life. Again, Thanx


  2. Posted by Benjamin K. Phelps on October 6, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Whoa! What a difficult situation to be in! It reminds me of my mother & father; trying desperately to help me, yet not wanting to be too tough or too lenient at the same time. I wonder if the mother considered (this is ONLY a thought – not advice, etc) talking to the son, acknowledging what she knows (yet not talking to his doc just yet,) & insisting that if he’s gonna stay there, he must start taking an at-home comprehensive urine test from the drug store (heck, make him pay for it if you must) that includes benzos (BZO on the test strip, if you’re not sure) anytime she randomly asks. She could turn off the water in the bathroom before asking (under the sink & behind the toilet – a 30 second mission, at most) and tell him he must NOT turn them on or touch anything else until he’s handed her the cup to test with the strip (or use the cup w/the built-in strip). Rite-Aid carries these comprehensive tests, though they’re like $40. You can get them MUCH cheaper online! Set up consequences if he fails… 1 failing: you call the doc & share your info after the lab confirms (this is usually free w/most tests.) 2 failings: you kick him out of your house. Etc, etc. Again, THESE ARE MERELY THINGS TO THINK ABOUT for her… NOT suggestions as to what she “SHOULD” do. I’m trying to offer up some type of alternative, so to speak, to immediately telling the doc & putting his treatment in possible jeopardy. That said, most docs won’t snatch treatment away (kick him out) from a single + test; usually they’ll just increase the frequency of observed doses/coming in to get prescriptions (which costs more $, & is therefore undesirable to the addict.) Also, this gives the doc a chance to urine test more frequently, too, so it may not be a horrible thing if the doc knows, after all! To the mother: these things said, since you believe in prayer, pray on the issue, consider this & other things that you’ve no doubt been told by now, & we’ll all hope & pray for the best for your son! I wish you both the best.


    • Posted by kelly on December 9, 2012 at 12:25 am

      I am a mother of an addict. I have 4 children and he is my oldest… 22 yrs. Since high school my husband and I have spent a fortune sending him to wilderness camp, boarding school, and a few rehabs. he is living at home now and has held a steady job for about 8 months. He has done pretty good until recently… we are finding him falling asleep anywhere and everywhere. I know he has smoked some of that bath salts stuff that is legal to buy….. he is on Suboxone. My husband wants him out of the house and I am afraid that if we make him leave he will never get the help he needs… and maybe die. I know it isn’t fair to have my other children witness to this… especially if we are enabling him. I am torn… I have a lot of faith and have prayed so much. I love all my children so much and I cannot bear the thought of kicking him out I know there is no answer you can give me to make it better. This is killing me…. I will never be the same.


      • Please consider going to Alanon, for friends and families of alcoholics and addicts, or at least getting some counseling for yourself. Addiction is a devastating disease that affects everyone in the family, as you have so eloquently described.

      • Posted by Benjamin K. Phelps on December 15, 2012 at 1:52 am

        Kelly, please do as Dr Burson suggested – no matter where you do it, FIND THE SUPPORT YOU NEED that will help you to get through this & be strong until the day he finds his recovery. I am not a parent, so I won’t say I know the utter hell you’re in & facing everyday, but I have been in the situation w/my parents when I was the addict, & I know & will know everyday for the rest of my life what I did to them & made them try to live & sleep through every day & night of their lives for those 8 years. I am not proud of that, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come since then – 10 years clean & counting! I only hope I can make up to them for what I did put them through before they’ve passed, in some way. I pray for you, & I hope that your nightmare is almost over – that your son is very close to beginning to find his way out of that addiction you describe. This is a subject that I have many thoughts & feelings about, as you can probably tell. I wish you, your son, & your family the VERY BEST. Lastly, please know that it’s not the Suboxone that is causing your son to “nod” or appear sleepy – he is evidently taking something else w/it, & he either needs to have his dose evaluated, be switched to a medication that doesn’t have a ceiling effect (Suboxone stops getting stronger at a point, where methadone does not – some people require more effect than Suboxone can provide,) or maybe even to try some other form of treatment altogether. It’s important that you understand that these medications DO WORK, but may not be right for your son, or may not be at the right dose level for him. Many people will guilt, shame, & even threaten to turn from their loved ones b/c that person needs to be on medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence & they think it’s a bad thing or something to be done away w/as quickly as possible (& while I agree that nobody should be kept on medication longer than needed, opioid maintenance therapy is based on the theory that long-term damage to the internal opioid system that every human has is possible & even likely w/some long-term &/or high-dose opioid addicts, which therefore can mean life-time treatment may be necessary, or at least long-term.) It sounds like you’ve not taken that stance as of yet, & I commend you for that. But just know that just b/c he’s not yet doing well, it doesn’t mean the treatment is no good. Some opioid addicts will respond well to an increased dose, which blocks the opioid cravings better; others may still attempt to use on top, as they are poly-substance abusers regardless of any other factor. I was more of an opioid addict in particular, & I would occasionally attempt to satisfy my cravings w/other drugs when opioids weren’t available. MUCH information is available about this topic, if you’re interested. If so, please let us know here, as Dr Burson has much information of this kind, as do I. There are others here that do, as well. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I’d be happy to try to help you any way I can, whether it’s to educate you a little about certain aspects or treatments, or just to provide support in some way. Please let me know if I can help you in any such way. I hope you have the best possible holiday season this year.
        Benjamin Keith Phelps

      • Posted by Kelly on December 16, 2012 at 1:30 pm


        Thank you for your input.. As you know any suggestions and even stories are helpful to hear. As for you, I am so happy that you were able to overcome your addiction… And please know your parents are not looking for anything from you to make up the stress you caused them. The best thing for them is to see you thriving as a happy and healthy person! That is the gift they want… And that is all! You have even gone above and beyond by helping others with your story and suggestions… Thank you. Keep up the good work on yourself…. Karma is a wonderful thing! May you have a blessed holiday.


  3. Posted by Benjamin K. Phelps on December 20, 2012 at 12:56 am

    Thank you very much, Kelly. I appreciate your kind words. Again, I wish you the very best holiday season this year, & hope/pray that your dilemma is almost over. Take care.



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