Loving a Child With an Addiction: 5 ways to recognize the addiction; 5 ways to cope
Updated: 09/20/2022 – If you are a parent, you understand the love that you have for your children. Can you imagine loving a child with an addiction? It feels as though you are on a constant roller coaster.
My Friend Kathy
I had the opportunity to spend a weekend with an acquaintance who had become a friend a few years ago. We became acquainted with each other in an unusual manner. I met her when her boys had to appear before me in court during my time on the bench.
Kathy was a single mom who always seemed to have her hands full with the two of them. They weren’t bad kids, they just seemed to always do things that brought them to the attention of the local cops.
I reconnected with Kathy at a political function. We just seemed to click. I knew so much about Kathy’s life that she never felt that she had to explain anything to me.
So, this weekend we headed to a spring weekend at the beach. We did some shopping, eating, board-walking, people-watching and talking.
She opened up about her life. It hasn’t been very pretty.
In the Beginning
Living through life surrounded by drugs and alcohol, Kathy was never the person with an addiction. Everyone else had one and she was left to cope with them.
Kathy grew up in a small city north of Philadelphia. An only child, she was raised in a household with a father who was a heavy drinker.
“Holidays were always ruined,” Kathy said. “He would finish work on Christmas Eve and start drinking and never stop through the next day.” She couldn’t remember a specific Christmas that was particularly bad – every one of them was the same. “Because of the drinking, the day would always end in a huge fight.”
“Daddy was a welder for a heating unit manufacturer. Any day off would be a day for him to drink. That went on until I turned 14 when he couldn’t drink anymore. He had developed emphysema from his workplace because there was no ventilation in the area that he worked.”
He died when Kathy turned 18. That same year, she graduated from high school, went to work, and moved out on her own. She has never stopped working and continues working a full-time job to this day.
Starting a New Life
Kathy met and married Tony. They had two sons, born eighteen months apart. What started out happily, didn’t last long.
“Tony had served in a combat unit in Vietnam. He was a tank sergeant.”
She got a Western Union telegram one day (that’s how a family usually received notification that your loved one was injured in the Vietnam War) that he was wounded. His tank had hit a land mine. He suffered numerous injuries including complete hearing loss in his left ear.
He was diagnosed later with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. To compensate, he drank…a LOT. It didn’t take long for the domestic abuse to start.
During their six years of marriage, Kathy herself developed many health issues and underwent six major surgeries. She had developed thyroid cancer, hyperplasia and had her gallbladder removed.
At 34 years old, she left her marriage and became a single mom of two young children.
When the boys began their teenage years, Kathy moved her family to a small nearby town.
One son, Anthony, never had to put forth an effort to get good grades. Things came easily for him. For the elder of the two, Bill, not so much. He worked hard to get decent grades.
The boys kept her on her toes. They became independent at a young age. In order to pay the bills and keep food on the table, Kathy had to work two jobs; no less than 65 hours a week. There was no way that she could always be there to supervise every hour of the day.
Boys Will be Boys
Curfew in the household was 8 PM. Both boys always honored that rule.
But, by the time Anthony was 14 years old, he was smoking cigarettes, and, unbeknownst to his mom, marijuana as well. He became very defiant and started getting involved in petty things and some drinking.
Because they lived in a small town and she knew the local cops, she would call them for help. The officers tried to talk with Anthony. But things grew worse. He eventually was sent to juvenile detention for selling pills.
While in detention, Anthony ruptured his ACL. After surgery, he was given Oxycontin for pain. That’s when he got hooked.
Anthony moved into the city and started street shopping. He stole a car and was now dealing cocaine.
Late one night, while strolling the streets of Philadelphia with a friend and someone they had just met, three young men walked up to them. Unbeknownst to them, they had just stepped into a gang initiation. One of the approaching boys pulled a gun and shot Anthony in the hand and killed one of the others who was with him.
Late-night Phone Calls
Kathy was always waiting for that middle-of-the-night phone call. She had gotten them in the past. This phone call was the worst of all.
Her son Bill drove her to the city where they were escorted by the police into the trauma unit. The unit was on lock-down. She was told that it was protocol because there were times when gang members followed their victims into the ER to finish them off.
It took two surgeries to reconstruct Anthony’s hand. He didn’t come home to recuperates; he went back to his city apartment. And back to big trouble.
It didn’t take long for him to move on to using heroin. Kathy rarely saw him and when she did, he was always tired.
Anthony was full of hard-luck stories and she’d always give him money. She wanted to believe him even though she knew that he was probably lying.
But, she truly loved her child, despite his addiction, and she was going to do anything she could do to help him.
One of his last felony charges happened when he was in the middle of a home burglary and the family walked in on him. He was high as a kite but he was still able to get out. It wasn’t long before the police caught him.
Twenty Years of Drugging
Throughout twenty years and seven prisons, Anthony continued drugging and a life of crime as well as breaking parole. He was in and out of correctional facilities as though they had revolving doors. Anthony detoxed in prison three times; he went to rehab three times.
Believe it or not, his addiction got worse during one rehabilitation center stay because he had a friend deliver his drugs through a first-floor window.
Anthony is now going on two years clean after his last incarceration in a state correctional facility. Kathy credits his sobriety to the fact that he transitioned out of prison into an apartment that was paid for six months by State Parole.
Now 40 years old, “he came out with something to look forward to”, Kathy said. He also got a steady paying job with the opportunity for advancement.
He still lives in Philadelphia, in the same neighborhood, but this time, she hopes that he is able to stay clean.
Recently Anthony came home to attend the funeral of an old friend who passed due to an overdose.
Kathy noted that this will be the first funeral that he has attended of a friend who died because of drugs. “He missed his friends’ funerals because he was locked up. He even missed his step-brother’s funeral. Gene died in 2017 due to an overdose. My stepson died alone in his house and wasn’t found for three days after his passing.”
How do You Know if Your Child has an Addiction?
When I asked Kathy if she could compile a list of things to look for if you have suspicions that a loved one is using, this is what she learned the hard way:
- Avoidance: Anthony would not come around the house. No phone calls. And when there was a call, it was usually brief and not very conversational.
- Hardship stories/Lies: He would be full of stories which had a lot of holes. Many of them were unbelievable.
- Tired and lethargic: He never had energy when he did stop by. He’d be tired, sleepy and listless.
- Missing items: Make sure that valuables are put away so as not to create temptation.
- Rumors around town: When you hear them, understand that there is a likelihood that there is some truth in what is being said.
Staying Sane While Loving a Child with an Addiction
What did Kathy do in order to maintain her sanity?
- Incarceration: When Anthony was in jail, she had time to recover. It was a total relief and she could breathe and reset easier. Even though she knew that he was incarcerated with people who had committed horrific crimes, she knew that he had a higher likelihood of surviving than if he was on the streets
- Friends/support system: When the boys were well into their twenties, Kathy tried to have some kind of normalcy in her life. She and a girlfriend went on a fair amount of bus trips and traveled. She got as far as Hawaii, California, Washington and the Bahamas. Allow a friend into your life; one who will listen
- Hobbies: Kathy loves to read. She would pick up a book and get lost in the story
- Focus: Find something to take your mind off of things. Visit a museum; go out to eat; try retail therapy. Whatever you decide to do, immerse yourself. Do something for you
- Work: Having a job that involves complete concentration and occupies many hours
Final Thoughts for Someone Who is Loving a Child with an Addiction
“There is no magic bullet for any of this. Take one step at a time and keep pushing on. But don’t ever give up hope,” Kathy advises. “Continue loving your child with an addiction.”
And remember, once someone becomes an addict, they will always be considered one. There is always the potential for relapse once they are in recovery. But that does not mean that once they are in recovery that they cannot stay there.
If you are loving a child with an addiction, the following thoughts may provide some relief.
- Do not feel guilty. This is an illness. Addiction did not happen because of something that you did
- Do not take responsibility for your loved one’s actions – it is out of your control.
- Know when to step back. You have to care for yourself or your own health may falter. This does not mean that you cannot provide him/her with support
- Never feel shame. Substance use disorder is a disease
- Always love him/her. You may not like what they are doing or understand why. But they are your child. And a child with an addiction continues to need love.
- Don’t ever give up hope
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
There are many local, state, and national drug addiction hotlines that offer resources to those affected by substance abuse.
Here is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) hotline: 1-800-622-HELP (4357). SAMHSA is a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agency who offers many resources and services.
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