I recently spent time with some friends who just had their first child. He’s now a six-week-old, bright, blue-eyed baby boy. Eli is the light of his parents’ lives – and with good reason. He’s one of the most precious things I’ve ever held. From his tiny hands and feet to his little smile, Eli is brand new to this world and has so many things ahead of him.
A new baby brings so much joy and excitement. Parents watch in awe as their children have their “firsts” – first smile, first tooth, first steps, first everything. They want the best for them and it’s thrilling to watch them physically grow, learn and develop their own unique personalities. We imagine all the different paths in life they may take: Will he play football? Will she want to be a ballerina? Is he going to be creative? Will she be good at math? Will he be a doctor?
With a brand new baby, the possibilities and opportunities seem endless.
One thing that doesn’t cross parents’ minds when they imagine their children’s futures, however, is the possibility that their baby will grow up to become addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Addiction may seem like a far-off, distant problem that may never affect you or your family. But the reality is, millions of parents across the country are facing the nightmare of having a drug-addicted son or drug-addicted daughter every single day.
Parents of drug-addicted sons or daughters react to the pain in many different ways: Enabling their child, trying to “fix” the situation by absorbing their consequences, turning a blind eye to the problem, or even just hoping that their addiction will go away on its own. In the meantime, parents lose sight of reality, lose control of their own lives and often lose hope.
If you are a parent whose child may be struggling with addiction, the following points are four things you need to know – and remember – as you face this battle:
How To Recognize Addiction
Addiction can be one of the most difficult diseases to recognize – especially in the beginning stages. Drug and alcohol addictions don’t know race, religion, gender, report cards, careers or socioeconomic status. Addiction can affect anyone. Addiction can come on quickly and it can also develop gradually over time. The fact is, you can’t always recognize it just by looking at someone.
One of the difficulties in recognizing addiction stems from secrecy: Those in active addiction are often good at hiding their behavior from their families and friends. You may have heard the saying, “Addiction is the only disease that tells you you’re not sick.” Those who are addicted will protect their ability to keep using – regardless of the consequences.
Because addiction can be so difficult for families to identify and acknowledge, it’s crucial to know some of the physical and behavioral symptoms of addiction.
- Weight changes
- Dilated or constricted pupils
- Bloodshot or glazed eyes
- Bruises or infections of the skin
- Changes in personality or attitude
- Increased aggression or irritability
- Sudden change in friends or social circles
- Depression or isolation
- Dramatic changes in priorities
- Financial problems
While there are many more physical and behavioral symptoms of addiction based on the specific drug of choice, these ten symptoms are some of the most common and most telling.
Understand You Are Powerless
This point is one of the most difficult for the loved ones of those in active addiction – no one more so than the parents. As a parent, you’ve strived to help your child through hard times; you’ve always been there for him or her because you hate to see them suffer. As a parent, making things better for your child is a natural instinct.
Drugs and alcohol are no different.
You may want to try to fix your child’s addiction by calling in sick for him at work, hiding her car keys so she can’t go and buy drugs, or bailing him out of jail after his third DUI. You may try your best to change or absorb their consequences – and make excuses for them when you can’t fix the situation.
It’s crucial to understand that as a parent of an addicted child, addiction is bigger than you and addiction is bigger than your son or daughter. Addiction is a disease and you are powerless to fix it on your own. Addiction requires medical and behavioral help and treatment. You alone cannot force recovery on your child.
How To Care For You
It may seem like an impossible challenge when your child is sick: keeping your own life together; keeping your peace of mind; maintaining your own health and happiness despite the tragedies unfolding in your child’s life.
Remember that just because you have no power over your son or daughter’s addiction, you do have control over your own choices. Choosing to love and care for yourself while your son or daughter is in active addiction is a conscious decision. If you are not intentional in your thoughts and actions, it’s easy to slip into a world consumed by your child’s problems.
Caring for yourself means reaching out to a professional therapist, counselor or doctor – specifically one who specializes in family therapy, care and support. There are also several groups for family members with addicted loved ones including Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. These meetings will help you to connect with other parents who have gone through – or are going through – situations similar to yours. You’ll learn firsthand how to deal with the difficulties of loving an addicted son or daughter and how to hold onto your sanity. For more on self-care through a loved one’s addiction, check out this article.
There Is Help And Hope
In the throes of a loved one’s addiction, it can be difficult to see or feel what a life beyond drug or alcohol addiction, pain and suffering may entail. After all, there’s a good chance that your child’s addiction has consumed your thoughts and actions for a long time.
It’s important to know, however, that as long as there is life – there is hope. Hope is always there – it’s a matter of finding it. Even if your son or daughter isn’t open to treatment at this time, believing in his or her ability to recover, offering support, encouragement and love can help break down his or her barriers to seeking help. Holding onto hope can foster hope in your child – and it can make a difference in his or her successful recovery.
Know that despite any setbacks, there is help available. We are here for you.