Loving Your Child Through a Crisis of Their Own Making
Loving your child through a crisis of their own making may be the most difficult part of parenting. This is especially true if your son or daughter struggles with drug or alcohol addiction.
As parents, we blame ourselves for our children’s misdeeds even though there is often no correlation between the love we give them and the decisions they make.
Unhealthy decisions in the context I am presenting them are typically the product of addicted or mentally ill young adults. The point here is not to malign these young people for their legitimate struggles, it’s to show support for their parents who often feel alone and ashamed.
Nearly all of my client’s aim only for their children to be happy regardless of how old they are or what problems they have. It can be difficult though necessary for parents to set aside their own emotions about their child’s behaviors.
Many assume affluence buys your child a more positive outcome, think again, but according to an article published in the Independent, Girls from top schools are said to be three times more likely to suffer from drugs and alcohol-related problems than their less privileged peers, even in cases where they performed “exceedingly well” in school and were thought highly of by teachers and friends.
I receive a lot of phone calls from parents whose children are still drinking and using after going to multiple treatment centers. It’s not uncommon for me to hear about ten or more rehab experiences most of which have been paid for out of pocket by the parents - the cash price of treatment is about $1000 per day which can quickly become financially exhausting.
In cases that involve multiple treatments attempts it’s best to begin by focusing on the parents' relationships with their children - these well-meaning mothers and fathers may be enabling their children’s decision to continue using drugs without knowing it. Addiction is a family disease that victimizes the addict and non-using family members.
I suggested to one such parent a treatment center in Israel where her son’s opportunity to walk out would be significantly reduced - she immediately responded by saying that’s not going to work because he has a girlfriend in Miami. Her comment caused me to say out loud, “who cares about the girlfriend, your son’s life is at stake”!
It’s unlikely that a family like this is going to have success without a complete systemic change. Nonetheless, this mother had been suffering through her son’s drug addiction for years and was exhausted from riding the merry-go-round of relapse.
Having sent your kid to multiple treatment centers is daunting considering 40 to 60 percent of people who have been treated for alcoholism or addiction relapse within a year according to a study reported in US News & World Report in 2017. A number that I assume has increased since the study was published.
For many families these crises are not strictly limited to addiction problems, they are also forced to contend with mental illness, such as depression, chronic anxiety, suicidal ideologies, and self-harm.
Imagine coming home to find your teenage daughter on the bathroom floor in a pool of her own blood after she’s cut up her arms and thighs with the blade from an eyeliner sharpener. This is not a suicide attempt per se, but there are cases where people have accidentally killed themselves because they passed out and weren’t found in time, for example.
As the parent walking into this crisis you're frantically wrapping your daughter’s forearms in bath towels and calling 911 at the same time. What follows is the ambulance’s flashing lights outside your house informing your neighbors of your desperate situation.
Not to mention the forthcoming weeks visiting the psych ward every day after work and reassuring her and yourself everything is going to be okay. For parents, experiencing this for the first time it can be traumatizing. Other parents may have multiple stories like this to share.
The same horror applies to parents who find their kids in the midst of an overdose. If you know your son or daughter is using drugs it makes sense to keep Narcan readily available which reverses the effect of heroin and fentanyl. Police and paramedics have reported needing to use much higher doses of Narcan to reverse the overdose than in the past - an indication street drugs are becoming even more fatal.
An overdose is a horrible thing to have to be prepared for but the alternative is clearly worse. I tell people all the time as long as your addicted family member is still alive there’s always hope for them to recover.
Being the parent of an addicted or mentally ill son or daughter can be a daunting experience which leaves you feeling powerless. There are steps you can take that will help through difficult episodes:
- Attend Al-anon and other family support groups;
- Get support from a therapist or interventionist;
- Learn to identify the difference between manipulation and genuine threats, and don’t be afraid to uphold boundaries.
I have had parents tell me their kid is threatening suicide if they send him to treatment which is a highly manipulative thing to say. We must always take suicide threats seriously, however, I find a lot of young people are good at controlling their parents.
Being a parent of an addicted or mentally ill child is scary. So much of your life’s success is based on how your children turn out. The idea of losing them to addiction or mental illness is so threatening.
It’s important to know you’re not alone - other parents have been here before you and have survived. Do not be afraid to ask for help even though you think you have everything figured out. Sometimes I think I have all the answers for a problem and refuse to seek outside suggestions. Then when I finally do I ask myself why I didn’t reach out to this person sooner.
Marc Kantor is an interventionist based in South Florida who works with families struggling with drug & alcohol addiction; he can be reached at 202-390-2273 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.