Matthew’s parents have been worried about him for a while now. The lifestyle and set of behaviors that Matthew has chosen is not leading him down a good life path, and his parents don’t know what to do. The hardest part was admitting to themselves that their son is an addict.
Matthew’s parents had to learn about addiction in order to help their son.
What is addiction?
Addiction may start as experimentation or recreational use, but the disease is progressive. Just like cancer and diabetes, drug and alcohol use will only get worse when left untreated. Casual use will lead to abuse and eventually to addiction because the component of compulsion is added.
How can I identify addiction in my child?
The authors of the book Uppers, Downers, All Aroundersidentified what they call the 4 Cs of addictive behavior:
- Loss of Control
- Compulsive Drug Use
- Cravings for Drugs
- Continued Use Despite Adverse Consequences
Matthew’s parents recognized the 4 Cs in their son. Matthew was unable to stop using even though he expressed a desire to stop. He ran into legal complications and lost a job because of his drug use, but he kept on using. Do you see these behaviors in your child?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2011 survey results reveal that, of the total population of high school students:
- 21.9% have consumed five or more drinks of alcohol in a row within a couple hours on at least one day (during the 30 days before the survey)
- 39.9% have used marijuana one or more times during their life
- 6.8% have used cocaine, or a form of it (powder, crack, or freebase), one or more times in their life
- 2.9% have used heroin one or more times in their life
- 3.8% have used methamphetamines (crank, ice, etc.) one or more times in their life
- 8.2% have used ecstasy (also called Molly or MDMA) one or more times in their life
- 20.7% have used prescription drugs one or more times in their life without a doctor’s prescription
- Prescription Drugs: OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Codeine, Adderall, Ritalin or Xanax
6.8% of the entire U.S. population is age 15-19. 20,866,000 high school aged kids are living in our country. That means that 4.5 million young people have drank at least 5 drinks in a single night. Over 8 million have tried marijuana, and over 4 million have already experimented with highly-addictive prescription drugs.
Matthew’s parents are not alone, and neither are you.
As Matthew’s parents learned more about addiction, they started seeing the warning signs and symptoms in their son.
Behavior: Drastic Changes as Indicators of Substance Abuse
Matthew was acting differently at home. When he came home after school or later in the evenings, Matthew would avoid his parents and go straight to his room. When one of his parents would try talking with Matthew, or asking him a question, he would avoid eye contact and offer only minimal answers.
One night Matthew came home after his curfew. His dad was waiting up when Matthew walked in the door. Matthew smelled like alcohol and something his dad could not identify. His pupils pinpoint, much smaller than normal, and did not react to the light his dad flipped on. Matthew was not speaking without slurring, and he didn’t appear to be walking properly.
Matthew’s father searched and found that Matthew was showing signs of alcohol and opiate abuse.
Hindsight: Early Signs of Addiction
As his dad thought back over the years, he realized that there were signs all along of Matthew’s compulsive behavioral style. Matthew would pour a cup of coffee, add a lot of milk and sugar, and then down the whole cup on one gulp. Matthew would fill the cup up again the same way, and down it again.
Matthew would stay up all hours of the night playing video games. He did not know how to stop. He wanted to stay home from school, as a young kid, and play the latest and greatest video game all day.
When Matthew was introduced to poker, he was hooked. He would organize poker nights with his friends in high school, and Matthew would crave gambling for weeks at a time.
Is your son or daughter a black-and-white thinker? Does he or she seem to have an all-or-nothing outlook? These can be early signs of a possible progression toward addiction.
In Matthew’s case, he may have been first addicted to videogames and caffeine, and then to gambling. The disease of addiction can apply to any substance or behavior that is compulsively used to the point of the 4 Cs (Loss of Control, Compulsive Drug Use, Cravings for Drugs or Behaviors, and Continued Use Despite Adverse Consequences.)
Transfer of Addiction
The concept transfer of addiction says that an addict may be addicted to one substance or behavior now but when choosing to go without or when forced to go without that drug/behavior of choice, the addiction will transfer to another substance or behavior. For example, a woman is prescribed Vicodin for pain after a car accident. Vicodin is an painkiller that falls into the opiate drug classification. When she takes more pills each day than prescribed, and is not yet able to obtain a refill, she may turn to heroin, also an opiate, to avoid withdrawal symptoms and to fill her need for a painkiller. In this example the addiction was transferred to Heroin instead of Vicodin.
Another example is Matthew playing video games, then gambling, and eventually using drugs and alcohol. His addiction transferred from behavior to substance.
Matthew is an addict. Do you think your son or daughter is an addict too?
If you can identify with Matthew’s parents and say that your child is an addict, what’s next?
Getting Help: Which program is right for you?
It’s time to determine what approach will get your son or daughter to say yes to treatment. Matthew’s parents contacted treatment centers to find out what program would be best for their son. Based on Matthew’s level of use, the counselor recommended he start with medically monitored detoxification immediately followed by an inpatient residential program.
Levels of Treatment:
Matthew’s parents learned that detox is the process that rids the addict’s system of all harmful substances. It is important to be monitored because withdrawal from certain drugs, like alcohol, can be fatal. Other drug withdrawal is extremely painful, for example withdrawal from opiates like heroin and prescription painkillers, so a program that incorporates medication can manage pain and discomfort appropriately. After physically getting all toxins out of the addict’s body, the formal treatment process can begin.
As is recommended to most addicts, Matthew and his parents chose an inpatient residential treatment program, which means that clients live on-site, are monitored 24-hours a day, and participate in individual and group therapy with peers who also live on-site. Residential treatment is also referred to as “rehab.” Often groups are gender-specific, so women have one treatment schedule and men have another. Sometimes the groups mix for lectures or combined group sessions, but most of the program is completed with same-sex addicts and alcoholics.
Clients go through the entire treatment day together, and create a community. Mutual support when trust has been established offers camaraderie and real friendships that often continue when the treatment program ends.
An outpatient treatment program often immediately follows an inpatient program. The continuation of what was learned in the inpatient program helps clients as they slowly return to parts of their previous life, or they create a new one. Clients live off-site, either in a sober living community or at their own home, and attend substance abuse treatment services either during the day or in the evening.
Clients can continue to work, take care of a household, or tend to other responsibilities as needed while learning how to start a new life without drugs and alcohol. Individual and group therapy is a part of the treatment day, and often groups are divided by gender in outpatient programs as well.
Sober living is generally recommended for every addict who completes treatment. With weekly randomized drug and alcohol screens and other responsibilities, living among other recovering addicts and alcoholics helps the individual in the early stages of staying sober.
Life in Recovery: Its not over when rehab ends
In Matthew’s case, residential inpatient treatment was for 90 days. He then moved into a sober living home and participated in outpatient treatment for another 60 days. Matthew then got a part time job, continued residence at the sober living home, and attended continued care a few nights a week plus 12 Step meetings everyday.
Is your son or daughter ready to make the decision Matthew made?
Matthew did really well in rehab. There was no cause for concern when he completed each level or treatment and kept working on his recovery in 12-Step meetings, continued care programs throughout the week, and complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol.
The hard work of formal treatment is just the beginning though. Rehab is not the solution for addiction, but it is a great start to a new life. Realistically, relapse is a part of recovery; not in the way that you automatically expect your son or daughter to use again, but in the sense that there is a lot of pressure with the odds stacked against them.
Addiction is powerful and when a difficult situation triggers past emotions or coping skills, sometimes the craving for drugs and alcohol beats out recovery. In some cases a relapse lasts only a day (more of a lapse), but in other cases it can send people back into the throes of addiction.
Your Part in Recovery
As the parent of a recovering addict, be optimistic but honest with yourself. Support your child and show how much you care, but try not to add any extra “please don’t relapse” pressure. You can attend family nights during all levels of treatment. You can go to Al-Anon meetings for your own peace of mind in your child’s recovery, and you can develop your own community of parents that support their newly-sober kids.
Your Own Self-Care
All too often, parents were enablers; not on purpose, of course, by they did not learn how to say no. As your son or daughter goes through his or her own healing process, you also need your own time to heal. Were you still financially supporting your child in any way during active addiction? Have you continued to let your child live in your home, even though you knew substance abuse was happening in your home? In your own therapeutic undertaking, you can work out the role you played in your child’s addiction. There is no blame, just healing so that you and your child can build a healthy relationship.
Looking Forward: One Day At A Time
Congratulations on taking the first step in helping your son or daughter. You can be proud of yourself for admitting you need help and that you cannot help your child on your own. Recovery is possible for all addicts and alcoholics and your child can start a new life.
The next few years of your child’s life will be challenging, but there is a saying in 12-Step based programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous that says, “Easy does it!”. Your son or daughter is also taught how to live one day at a time in 12-step programs and to rely on a power greater than themselves.
Believe that you and your family can heal, change, and repair. The future is bright, you will make it through the darkness to the light of an alcohol and drug-free child.