Articles have been written about drug addiction and the effect on the addict. My goal is to address the signs of substance abuse as well as the feelings and experiences family members have dealing with addiction in the family.
When I use the word "addiction" I am referring to alcohol and drug addiction. There are different stages that family members go through on this bumpy road of addiction. In this article I will describe one of the most common stages parents experience, denial.
Is my family member an addict? You may be asking yourself that question, or be confronted by a concerned friend. If the person in question is your teenage daughter or son your first thought will be denial.
Denial is easier to handle than the instant pain you might be feeling in your chest. The feeling that I am referring to is your gut feeling. When you have a "feeling about something, we often sense it in our body. In my life experiences, I have learned to go with my gut feeling. I have found that it is better to be safe than sorry.
Perhaps your thoughts might be:
- NOT my child.
- My precious child would never do drugs.
- I've raised my child in a loving home.
- My child knows right from wrong.
- I've taught him, her to be a respected member of society.
- We are educated people.
- My child does not do drugs!
- He does not have a problem with alcohol.
- He knows addiction runs in the family.
- He does not want to end up like his uncle, or aunt, cousins, grandparent, etc..
- My child is just a normal teen. He likes to have a beer or two with his buddies on the weekend.
We often make excuses for our family members substance abuse. For example:
- "Billy drinks to drown out the sound of his parents fighting, he doesn't have a problem."
- "Cindy needs to relax so she smokes weed every night."
- "Jared only gets drunk and passes out on the weekends. During the week Jared drinks a little but does not pass out. He must not have a problem."
- "Brenda needed those pills to relax. I don't think she realized she took more than the doctor prescribed. Brenda seems out of it all of the time. But I don't believe she is an addict."
- "My kid was at the ER with alcohol poisoning, high school boys do dumb things!"
When confronted with the possibility that a family member may be an addict it is natural to deny it. It is not something we want to believe about someone we love. We may have our own suspicions from observations we have made. Other people may have brought the problem to our attention.
Sometimes we see some of the symptoms and make excuses for the person that we love. It is easier to believe our teenager is going through a difficult time, or is ill or suffering from depression. It is appropriate to consider all of the options when addressing Addiction.
If we are finding empty liquor bottles hidden in the closet, under the bathroom sink, in the car trunk, we still might look the other way. Admitting that someone we care about has an addiction can be terrifying.
Finding drug paraphernalia in our kid's room should be a sign that there is a problem. Empty pill bottles, missing pills from parent's medicine chest, missing money, secretive phone calls and texts can be a clue.
Did a concerned friend warn you that your teen is using drugs or alcohol? A warning may come from another parent or another student. Try using an open mind instead of being on the defensive immediately. Is there a possibility that your teen is using drugs? As a parent it is worth investigating, you might save the life of your child.
Substance abuse and addiction knows no boundaries. It affects all socio-economic backgrounds, races and religions. It happens in families with good parents, abusive parents, divorced parents, loving families, poor families, rich families, educated families, uneducated families. Substance abuse is everywhere. It might be in your own home.
There are signs to watch for if you are concerned that your family member is using drugs or alcohol. For example there may be changes in mood and behavior. The teen that was once outgoing is now withdrawn, isolating himself, changing friends, constantly ill, missing school, not doing homework, not participating in family activities.
Or the teen that was shy and withdrawn is suddenly hyper, has mood swings, is losing weight, not sleeping, and has different friends. He may have developed a bad attitude or disappears for extended periods of time. Depression, anxiety, and paranoia can also be signs of substance abuse.
Teenagers are known for being flighty and irresponsible, that is part of their charm. Most parents can attest to that! This is different than a teenager that suddenly becomes irresponsible, rude, with an "I don't care about anything" attitude. Suicidal thoughts and self-harm are other signs to watch for.
If the drug or alcohol use becomes excessive the teen that once cared about his or her looks may appear messy or unkempt. The same teen may become involved in risky behavior and become sexually promiscuous.
Did your teen suddenly lose his or her job, or get into legal trouble? Does he have dark circles under his eyes, red eyes or dilated pupils? Is your teenager constantly sick with symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and constipation? Did they stop eating, or do they only eat candy? Drug addicts often eat sugar to feel better.
Does your loved one become agitated or have a short fuse? Have you ever been afraid of your own teen after he or she used drugs or alcohol? A teen with a substance abuse problem can become violent when coming off of drugs. As a parent there may come a time when outside help is needed. The safety of your teen as well as your family could be at risk.
Family systems are affected in a negative way when a teen faces a substance abuse problem. It is okay to ask for help when faced with addiction in the family. Contacting a licensed therapist or counselor should be the first step for an assessment.