Crystal meth addiction almost killed my son – and it nearly completely destroyed me in the process. As a parent, you want to shield your children from pain and protect them from the dangers of this world. I used to believe a mother’s love was enough to overcome any adversity my son would ever face. I was wrong. As my son spiraled downward over the course of 12 years, I did everything in my power to put an end to his self-destruction. In the end, I learned I was completely powerless over his illness. I simply could not gain victory over the disease of addiction. Ultimately, I collapsed in defeat and I prepared myself to get the call that my son had died of a drug overdose. I am happy to report that our story has a happy ending, but not every parent is so fortunate. If you have a son or daughter who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, this message is for you. You are not alone. Millions of parents across the United States are living the nightmare you are. I know it well – it kept me up many nights. I want to tell you that there is hope. You may feel like you are drowning in the darkness, but you can find the light – whether your son or daughter gets clean or not. I want to share with you a few things I learned on my journey. I hope this helps.
Here are 14 things I learned from having an addicted son:
#1 Addiction is a Complex Brain Disease
As a result of my son’s addiction, I have learned that addiction is a complex brain disease – one that profoundly affects those who are trapped in the addictive cycle. This was perhaps one of the most difficult (and important!) concepts I had to wrap my mind around. But, now it all makes so much sense. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain.” NIDA also says addiction is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness. “Addiction is the most severe form of a full spectrum of substance use disorders, and is a medical illness caused by repeated misuse of a substance or substances.” This is all backed by science. Check out this National Geographic video that simply explains the scientific nature of the disease of addiction. It will help you better understand what your child is experiencing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vm4lxNiFnBs
#2 Addicts Aren’t Bad People – They’re Sick People
I am the first to admit that I was very angry at my son in the early days of his addiction. Enraged, actually. Until I became educated about the disease of addiction, I condemned his behavior and shouted at him on a regular basis. I realize now that I was never really angry at my son. I was angry at the way his illness was affecting him and our family. He definitely exhibited his share of “bad” behavior in his pursuit to get that next fix. BUT, that is the nature of addiction. It is not the true nature of my son. I now know that addiction is not a moral failing or some defect of character. It is a clinically recognized illness. As I mentioned, this assertion is backed by science. Plus, multiple medical authorities in the United States (including the American Medical Association) have affirmed that addiction is a brain disease. I want to shout this from the rooftops to anyone who will listen: addicts are not bad people who need to be punished; they are sick people who need to be healed! This includes your addicted son or daughter!
#3 There Are Still A Lot of Myths Out There About Addiction
I grew up in a strict evangelical church. The topics of “sin” and its appropriate punishment were common themes in our congregation. The pastor saw every sermon as an opportunity to tell us that eternal damnation was a very real threat if we engaged in certain behaviors. This included drug and alcohol use. We were essentially taught that drugs addiction came straight from the devil. I believed that for many years. Today, I know better. As an adult, I have sought fellowship at a very loving church where we are taught about redemption, unconditional love, and forgiveness – which is what addicted people need more of in their lives. Of course, science and religion generally don’t mix. Our church does not discuss the science behind the disease of addiction. I had to learn that on my own. But, I can tell you that I believe many churches are doing our community a disservice by saying that drug addiction is caused by some sort of demonic possession. This is an antiquated view – one that is likely leading to preventable deaths among those who are sick and need treatment (not more religion). Get educated about this decision. Dispel any myths you have about it. Knowledge is power.
#4 Every Addicted Person is Worth Saving
American society continues to evolve in how we relate to addiction and the suffering addict. But, we have a way to go. There is still such a stigma that surrounds addiction. Addicted people are judged harshly by people who don’t understand the nature of the disease. (I admit I used to be one of these people.) In my experience, addicts feel incredible shame, guilt, and remorse for their actions when they are using drugs or abusing alcohol. Many regard them as worthless “junkies.” I have even heard it said that addicted people should do us all a favor and hurry up and die. The world would be better off without them, they say. WHAT?! Of course, it is easy to have such a punitive attitude toward addiction – until it happens to your own son or daughter. Or your parent. Your spouse. Your friend. When someone you love is addicted, you will go to any lengths to save them – because they are worth saving. EVERY addicted person is worth saving. Any statement to the contrary is based in unadulterated ignorance.
#5 Addiction is Not a Choice
Understanding the concept of the disease of addiction was difficult for me. But, what was even more difficult was understanding that addiction is not a choice. I argued at great length with my therapist about this one. The way I saw it, my son was CHOOSING to use drugs. He was choosing to steal, and lie, and be a criminal. He was choosing drugs over his own family. How was it not a choice? Time after time, I watched in agony as my son “chose” to get high in spite of all of my efforts to keep him clean. Of course, it was his choice. Wasn’t it? As hard as it is to accept, I learned from my son’s addiction that he was powerless over his disease. At the height of his meth use, I finally realized that he stopped making choices long ago. The drugs were running the show. I once again turned to science to understand that addiction is not a choice. In simple terms, addiction is a disease that disrupts the neuronal circuits that enable us to exert free choice. Understanding this concept finally convinced me that addiction truly is an illness – and a complicated one.
#6 No One Wants to be an Addict
The truth is, no one wants to be addicted. I firmly believe that not one person who tried crystal meth or cocaine or heroin thought, “You know what? I think I will become hopelessly addicted to this substance. Ruining my life and destroying my family sounds like a fantastic idea. Yup, death’s door seems like a really groovy place to hang out.” Sure, trying drugs or alcohol may be fun at first. That is the allure. It feels good, it’s fun, and it makes life interesting. Many people try drugs and go through a phase of drug use. Then, they move on with their lives with no problem. This is not the case for people who are predisposed to the disease of addiction. Their brain latches onto the high and it never wants to let go – consequences be damned. When substance use has progressed and tolerance shows up, the party is over. There is no more fun. The addicted person has been robbed of free will, and they must sustain their habit in order to function. In short, addiction becomes an intolerant slave master who demands more dope at all cost. Who would willingly choose to live their life this way?
#7 His Addiction is Not My Fault
It took me a lot of therapy and family treatment to finally accept that my son’s raging addiction was not my fault. I blamed myself and beat myself up relentlessly for the many mistakes I made as a parent. I believe every loving parent goes through this when their child is addicted. I learned the three C’s – I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it. I am no more responsible for my son’s illness than a parent with a child who has leukemia. I did the best I could to raise my son in a stable, loving, healthy environment. Kids don’t come with instruction manuals, as the saying goes. I wasn’t perfect. But, I can say now (after a lot of self-work) that I was a good mother who absolutely did the best I could. It is not my fault that my son made the decision to experiment with drugs and get hooked. It is not my fault he relapsed after rehab. It is not my fault he went to jail. It is not my fault that he refused help when it was offered time and time again. None of it was my fault.
#8 My Son Has No Moral Compass When He is High
I raised my run to respect the rights of others. I taught him it was wrong to steal and cheat and lie. I spent the first 18 years of his life training him to become a good man, a responsible adult, and a respectful member of the community. All of this went completely out the window when he was high. There were no lengths he wouldn’t go to get his next hit. As the addiction progressed, so did his willingness to follow any code of morality. He was some kind of heartless zombie – dead inside and devoid of any self-respect, dignity, kindness, or mercy.
#9 My Son Will Do Anything to Get a Fix
I have absolutely no idea how much money my son took from me and I don’t want to know. I just remember the days when he would steal my cash and credit cards, pawn my valuables, manipulate me into giving him money for drugs, and lie with impunity. I tell parents with drug addicted children to open their eyes. I tell them to get the right mind. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. Your beloved child WILL do things you never imagined to get that next fix when addiction is in the driver’s seat. You may think, “Oh no…. not my baby! I raised him right! She would never do that to men!” Think again. If you have a son or daughter who is addicted to drugs, they will break your heart a thousand times doing things you never thought they were capable of in the name of “one more.”
#10 Addicts Aren’t Having Any Fun
Not only did my son do terrible things to sustain his addiction, but he also turned into someone I did not recognize when he was high. Not only did addiction affect his behavior, but they also destroyed his looks. He no longer resembled my sweet boy. In a word, he was a monster. He became a shell of a person – a body with a brain and a pumping heart, but one who lacked any other characteristic of what it means to be human. He looked like the walking dead… and in a way, he is exactly that. They say drug addiction can take a human being down to an animalistic level. I have seen this first hand. Addicted people live very difficult lives. Imagine revolving your entire day around getting the next fix – knowing you are going to have to lie, cheat, or steal to get it. Most addicted people will tell you that shame and guilt are their constant companions. But, because addiction is such a cunning enemy of life, they have lost the ability to do something about it. Addiction is ugly and brutal and destructive to all who come into contact with it. It is not a party. It is not fun. It is a nightmare for the addicted person and everyone who loves them.
#11 I Should Never Rob Him of His Self-Inflicted Consequences
I believe most parents fall into the trap of enabling when they have an addicted son or daughter. It is absolutely devastating to see your child – once so full of hope and potential – become a soulless zombie who is slowly committing suicide with drugs or alcohol. I would plead to God to give me his pain so that he could be free from crystal meth addiction. I was desperate. I was willing to do anything to save my son. In my own ignorance about addiction, I made a lot of mistakes in the first couple of years of his drug dependency. I bailed him out of jail several times. I hired a high-priced attorney for him. I paid his rent and other bills to prevent him from being homeless and without power. I gave him cash. I drove him to the drug dealer’s house. I called in sick to work for him. The list goes on and on. I had to learn that my codependency was killing him. I don’t necessarily believe that you have to allow your addicted son or daughter to hit rock bottom. But, I do believe that he or she should face their own consequences as a result of their addiction. This is the only way they will experience the kind of pain that will drive them into recovery.
#12 We Still Have a Long Way to Go When it Comes to Addiction Treatment
Science is making incredible advancements in the name of addiction treatment. This is great news. But, in my opinion, it isn’t happening fast enough. Drug overdose fatalities are at an all-time high in this country. The American family is in crisis. In 2017, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC) reported that there were 70, 237 drug overdose deaths in the United States. This is the highest number of drug-related deaths in our nation’s history. Drug rehab is readily available in America. However, it is not accessible for many who need it. Estimates suggest that only one in 10 addicted people who need addiction treatment actually get it. We need to bump up against these numbers and make rehabilitation available for all. We also need to invest more in medication-assisted treatment, a technology that can bring about a cure, and harm-reduction strategies.
#13 My Son is Responsible His Own Recovery
Under the powerful force of addiction, my son made poor decisions. His consequences were the direct result of his actions. It still makes me sad that he lost so many years to meth-manufactured madness. But, the fact remains that it has always been and will always be his life to live. Not mine. I can not force him to stay clean. I can not make him recover. I cannot compel him to work the 12 Steps or go to meetings or call his sponsor. Just like I cannot stop him from putting drugs in his own body. Believe me, I tried! My son is a 33-year-old grown man with a wife and children now. It is his life to live and he has the freedom to live it however he chooses. I have done everything in my power to get him to a place of wellness. It is his responsibility to maintain his own sobriety.
#14 I Need Help Too – Addiction is a Family Disease
It wasn’t until I began therapy and attending Al-Anon that I learned how truly sick I had become as the result of my son’s addiction. I engaged in behaviors and activities I would never do in my right mind. It is pretty sick to take your son into the hood to go to the dope dealer’s house so he wouldn’t disappear again for weeks. Addiction affects the entire family – NOT just the individual addicted person. It is a family disease. Whether the addict gets help or not, I strongly urge parents with addicted children to reach out and get help for themselves. I have learned that I can have peace and joy in my life, no matter what my son decides to do with his. I no longer run around frantically to make sure he is okay. I am okay. I am responsible for my own recovery just like he is responsible for his.
By the Grace of God, A Happy Ending
I can tell you that it was a long, hard road out of hell for me and my family when my son was at his lowest point. But, today, I am happy to report that he has eight years clean. My son shares honestly about his struggle with addiction. He is a substance abuse counselor who has dedicated his life to help addicts reclaim their lives. He is free. My son has found a supportive group of recovering friends at Narcotics Anonymous. I am forever grateful to the men and women at this wonderful program. They have so selflessly helped him learn to live and enjoy life without the use of drugs. He is part of a fellowship of other recovering people who support one another. My son has made true amends to every member of our family. He has completely turned his life around. At the end of his addiction, I was convinced that he would die – despite all my efforts to save him. I learned that my love was not enough. He had to learn to love himself, and that was something he had to do on his own. By the grace of God, my son is alive and doing well. No matter how hopeless your situation may seem, your son or daughter may have their own happy ending one day. It may not seem possible right now, but all things are possible!
Some Final Thoughts for Parents With Addicted Children
If you have a son or daughter who is stuck in the vicious cycle of addiction, my heart goes out to you. Every night, I pray for parents in this situation because I know how painful it is. I know how powerless it makes you feel. I know how terrifying it can be. I remember the many sleepless nights I spent obsessing about what I would do if my son died in his addiction. I feel you. I would tell every parent to love your child unconditionally, but to get help for yourself NOW. You are not equipped to deal with this monster. It will win every time unless you have the proper tools. Encourage your son or daughter to go to rehab. You may need to stage an intervention as we did. Set some clear and firm boundaries that you are no longer going to help them kill themselves. You will support their recovery, but not their continued drug or alcohol use. Keep the faith. Where there is breath, there is life. And, where there is life, there is hope.
Resources for Parents
If your son or daughter is addicted to drugs or alcohol, these resources will help: A complete resource guide for parents with an addicted son or daughter. A Self-Assessment Quiz: Is your family member addicted? Ask yourself: Am I codependent? What to do if your family member is an addict? Here are seven signs your family member may be addicted. Find an Al-Anon meeting near you.
May you and your family find peace, health, and healing.