Acceptance Doesn’t Mean Condoning a Loved One’s Addiction

It is difficult to recognize what acceptance is in this context. I went through this with my family for the past two decades – going back and forth about what it means to accept that my child has a problem with drugs.

The initial reaction to drug abuse is often resistance and disgust. Parents and teens can dance a pattern of cause, effect and reaction; again and again, not realizing what they are dealing with until it is too late. In doing this, we lose opportunities for early intervention. We are too eager to believe our kid’s half-hearted contrition’s and resume the illusion of “normalcy.”

That’s the trap.  It is important to notice behavior in a teen and consider drug tests (Note: While home drug tests can be unreliable, having a doctor perform a drug test can be a helpful tool; Although be aware that teens find all sorts of ways to beat these tests and even professional tests can be inaccurate) to determine if a positive result should lead to intervention. If the result is oxy’s, heroin, meth, or anything like that, then, YES!  Accept it and map out some solutions. And in the process, don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Unfortunately, our communities offer too little assistance and are quick to toss young addicts in jail for their petty drug-related crimes. Drug addiction in anyone’s family is a big cross to bear and helping an addict is not an easy path. Acceptance helps.

Acceptance and courage are old attributes. In life, we all get a chance to test these qualities; like the farmer watching his crops flood alongside an overflowing river.  His first reaction is denial! After accepting the urgency of the condition, the farmer would build sandbag levees. That is acceptance and transformation of agony into  courage and action. A parent building the levees of preparation for intervention or treatment for a teen bitten by addiction is like stepping into a vision that recovery and redemption are entirely possible.  Acceptance in that context does not mean condoning drug addiction.

A parent can be tempted to believe that their child has ruined his life, but that person still needs to be accepted and feel hope. Addiction has a path of its own, and can trump what you do, so be prepared.

Have a plan without feeling a need to force it.  View:  Adolescents and Relapse  Look hard into the condition you are faced with.  Be intentional, but don’t try and be God.  When an opportunity arises, you will be ready to take action.

Even with all the money or support in the world, it simply is not a parent’s sole responsibility to solve this problem for their child; your loved one has to choose recovery and believe they can succeed.  At the end of the day, we are often left feeling powerless, but that doesn’t equal “giving up” or “rejecting an ugly condition”; it is a stark recognition of what one does not control. That is what acceptance feels like.

Living with a Drug Addict: Holding the Line Also Means Letting Go

M. Scott Peck said in his book, The Road Less Traveled, that “Life is difficult.”   If you have an addict in your family, I would add that difficult is an understatement.  It’s the hardest thing you will experience.  After years of hard work and raising kids: BANG!  You painfully realize your kid is a drug addict!  Difficult has just become impossible. And here’s the kick: By the time you discover your teen is using, he’s actually been using for a long time.  You took action but it was too late for prevention. Like many others, I took the easy road — accepting my teen’s repeated contrition’s and just going on.  Denial, you might say. Then the heartache!  Much later, you discover you’re living with an addict.  This is when you know difficult is an understatement.

Living with a drug addict is not workable — you have to grab this bull by the horns or be gored.  For some, it becomes kicking the addict out of the house.    For others, it might be enabling and continued denial.  And for many, it’s spending your life’s savings, while watching your addict carted off to jail or worse. To understand the household dynamics of living with an addict, read Ron Grover’s The Seven Truths About My Addict.  An addict does what he or she wants within the context of a potentially vicious chemical dependency.

Addiction is a disease.  It changes brain chemistry.  Addicts will go to any length to get what they need.  It is a disease that gets poor attention from the medical industry, leaving families abandoned.  We know now that treatment and recovery are a process and not an event, yet it still feels like an event. Families are encouraged to invest a bunch to make that event a success.  Stubborn addicts don’t see it that way and private treatment centers know better, so a non-refundable deposit is required.  Frankly, a new treatment paradigm is needed. We can’t deal with this alone. Hillary Clinton was right when she said, “it takes a village to raise a child.” On my website, I posted a poetic gem written by a wonderful mother called Expectations.  She said, “You have to let go of the child you once knew in the future…” What a truth!

I found, for myself, that I needed to step into a totally new dimension of reality.  Being a parent of an addict is a social disease of its own merit with its own 12-step protocol.  By the time you know this, you have already gone down a hard road — truly a road less traveled. You know the meaning of loss, and you have to act in the context of having no time and merely chasing at the heels of the problem.

Eventually, we act, for better or worse, but don’t let this disease take you down.  Get help!  Talk!  Lobby!  My addict lives with me only if ground rules are followed, and for that reason I often miss him. Holding the line also means letting go in a way you never have before. The serenity prayer embraces the essence of what I need to do.  God! Grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

Your Addict on the Fringe

When a teen becomes an addict, that person you once knew and planned a future for has effectively checked out.  What you experience is an addict who will play you better that you can play them.  After a period of time, your teen’s brain becomes progressively “hard-wired” to his or her drug of choice, to use a colloquial term.  Re-setting and adjusting their brains requires a period of abstinence, which is near impossible for young restless addicts without early intervention.  Public detoxification is often available but short-term.  It is rarely enough without serious follow-up.  As your teen’s addiction progresses, it is a matter of time before he or she ends up on the streets or in jail. Given the stress of having an addict in your house, either you or the addict will initiate a new chapter in your addict’s addiction:  homelessness.  Fathers tend to be hard-nosed and quiet about it, mothers often the opposite.

Early intervention and keeping them off the streets is the best scenario for young addicts. Teen drug users are a tough population to win over.  They will exhaust their family.  Most parents will attempt intervention or treatment, but readily defer to their teen’s half-hearted contrition, wasting your time and your kid’s hope for early recovery.  A recurring catch-22!  Ultimately, it is up to your young addict to want this.  Just know that by the time they feel that sense of urgency or “bottom”, their addiction may have progressed too far for you to handle alone. In that sense, if professional intervention is not financially feasible it may be wise to hold your teen legally accountable for any criminality that arises, including legal accountability from a parent.  That is tough to ask of parents who would do anything to keep their kid out of jail.  Unfortunately, if that lesson can’t be learned early enough, the advent of a more progressive addiction and criminality is a far bigger problem down the road. I once had admirable visions for my child.  I let that go.  Achieving sobriety is a remarkable objective.

Our jail systems are a heavy consequence for a young adult addict.  Few addicts have funded diversion apply to their offenses. Their criminality trumps their addiction.  Reform is emerging that will engage screening and address addiction as causal where appropriate and deal with the disease. The trend we are seeing is addiction becoming a public health issue.  It is a chronic liability to a public that wants accountability to the impact of addiction. Consider this one single instance. I witnessed my own addicted family member imposing a cost to Los Angeles County treatment centers, jails and ER facilities of over $25,000 while living on the streets for less than a year.  How would that translate overall when you factor in estimates of opiate, cocaine, methamphetamine and other types of drug addicts numbering roughly 4 to 7 million individuals nationwide and growing, depending on who you include in the classification of a drug addict? That’s worth getting a handle on, not only for our immediate well-being but for the nation as a whole. Dad on fire.

Courage, Change and Acceptance

We’ve heard that necessity is the mother of invention and that change emerges when you can’t keep doing something the same way.  Mental balance is sometimes that necessity.  Positive change and acceptance are more than just talking and coping.  It’s not necessarily as complicated as it sounds.  Change in context to acceptance is powerful and it takes courage to break through the destructive patterns that are in the way.  Change is born of courage.  Acceptance is what we give something we know we are powerless with.  Wisdom is knowing that difference.  In a nut shell, that’s the serenity prayer.  It has served those impacted by the actions of an addict as much as it has any addict.

In a 2007 film about addiction, Things We Lost in The Fire, Benicio Del Toro plays a heroin addict so convincingly you might think you’re right there feeling acceptance and compassion for his struggle.  It works both ways.  The film shows an innocent side to addiction as a disease and the miracle of compassion that is attracted when courage and acceptance meet.  After years of shooting heroin, Jerry (Del Toro) endures a brutal detox in the home of his best friend’s widow, Audrey (Halle Berry).  What you see, is how much courage and acceptance it takes for an addict and those around him to see life as it is and contrast it to what it can be.  The message flows in all directions.  Acceptance is the key to making a choice to change because, in the face of many of the things we would like to transform, we find that that we are powerless.  It is like the want of a quick cure in context to the difficult struggle to save a young addict or resuming a “normal” life.   Acceptance gets us out of the way of opportunity so a clearing for action is possible.  It is not giving up.  Acceptance is a baseline for clear mindedness in the wake of discovering a family member suffering from drug addiction. Regardless of what our actions were, most of us knew then as we know now, that reactive and destructive patterns made a problem worse.

Wisdom and introspection can clear up where we have power and where we don’t.   Change becomes a possibility when a clearing is seen through the barriers of our destructive patterns.  Many American families face the long road of living with the impact of addiction.  They know great losses, relapses, incarcerations, hospitalizations, deaths and tough recoveries.  Yet, we can be resolved with all of it.  No one helps anyone, including themselves, without remaining balanced.   For me change is partly acceptance and partly the courage to keep moving away from old patterns.  By sharing the experience of parenting a loved one who fell into the abyss of addiction, I can make a difference to someone struggling to transform coping and anguish into acceptance and action.  Co-dependence and addiction is like quicksand.  Without courage and some outside help it easily sucks you in deeper.  Out of our listening emerges compassion, which is the glue of recovery.  Compassion is what comes when one accepts the struggles of another as part of a larger picture in which we all belong.  Compassion is ultimately what will make the biggest difference in addressing America’s dark nightmare with drugs.

Moving Away From Enabling

The best thing you can do for yourself or any addict you care about is to not enable their addiction.  Parents can fail in this regard when they are unable to accept a family member’s addiction as real.  With the best of intentions, parents can unknowingly support their kid’s drug use by enabling.  As sad as it is for parents to see this; it is equally an enigma to an addict as they find their mental condition progressively responds only to their cravings.  Not to underestimate an addict’s ability to rob and pilfer their family on their own merit, the point is this.  Doing everything you can to not feed the lifeline to addiction can save lives.

Too often, young addicts steal and a part of enabling, that is very difficult, is to not hold your kid accountable for that.  Jail time, shame and the fear of loss paralyze families.  Those who live with a drug addict and have endured many violations know a madness that can’t be explained.  It is a sobering thought to ask what is more dangerous to an addict’s life on the streets and to know that jail isn’t it.  Mom and dad’s instinct is to protect their child at all costs, but addiction doesn’t rationalize what a second or third chance means.  A disease has a course of its own, unless interrupted by an intervention.  For most disease that intervention is medicine and care.  Cancer doesn’t ask permission to be brutal, neither does addiction.

From a medical perspective, addiction is accepted as a disease.  Some may argue that addiction is a moral issue, but facts now show that it is a medical condition.  Brain chemistry is targeted and often shows co-occurring mental disorders — the perfect storm for a young addict.  This is where I see the worst.  As addiction progresses, violations to an addict’s family progress and something has to give.  If a parent can’t pull together the resources for intervention and treatment, they often resort to denial and enabling.   There are things we can do for a family member struggling with an addiction that are not expensive.  Behavioral changes, for starters, are free and make a big difference.  In the 2nd Parental Deadly Sin, Karen Franklin addresses “enabling” as a first step for families in dealing with a loved one’s addiction. 

Acceptance is also a great tool.  Accepting the addiction without judgment or supporting it is key.  It is not giving in to it.   A disease, however, is a disease.  It won’t go away because you tell it to.  Replacement drug therapy is the medicine for addiction and can be a second step to get longer term users off street drugs.  View this website for more information:  HBO.com – Treating_Opiate_Addiction.   While effective, replacement drugs require an iron will for an addict to stay off street drugs.  Post acute withdrawal symptoms and cravings can last for months or years and are always a threat to relapse. Finally, find some patient counseling and psychiatric opportunities for the addict, so they can stay involved with recovery and deal with themselves more effectively.  NA and AA work well to keep new addicts from re-integrating into street life. It works for some.  Not to make light of any addiction, many do need outside help and one way to stand in the way of that is to deny the disease of addiction exists.  Denial feeds enabling and is a tough dilemma for families.  Accepting your child’s addiction means re-visiting all expectations and allowing sobriety to take front seat.

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