I have felt my heart break a lot lately, reading obituaries and front page (and back page) headlines about individuals struggling and dying from opiate addictions. In this day and age, while we acknowledge that there are addictions, and we even use celebrities as examples of successful or not pictures of addiction (think of the differences between Robert Downey, Jr. and Amy Winehouse), we still turn a blind eye within our own households.
Not my child!
But the fact is that anyone–anyone–can become addicted to opiates. The gateway drug is not marijuana, as many folks would like to think, but cigarettes. But even these bad habits cannot explain how individuals morph from an occasional toke or an occasional drink of beer to a full-on addict. The reasons are complex, but a few pop to mind. Our world does not provide the kind of security our parents knew. A job can be lost in a heartbeat, so having that college degree does not guarantee employment anymore. We are lost in a digital world, with little personal contact or communication, and even that in sound bites (are you not reading this on-line?). We are polluting the Earth, and everyone is fighting over whose fault it is rather than remediating the issues. Ethnic and racial and gender issues fire up because some folks fight hard to avoid recognizing the rights of The Other. Terrorism and wars are like a black plague, spreading everywhere so that nowhere is truly safe. Public schools have become a breeding ground for confusion rather than for education as test taking is more imperative than knowledge or skills training. The rich are becoming obscenely rich while many working families cannot afford decent healthcare. Etc., etc., etc.
Addiction is sneaky. It is insidious. It ravages the brain’s ability to distinguish between what feels good and what doesn’t. It arouses centers of the brain to the point where the individual cannot feel joy anymore–and they keep trying to reproduce that first high, but they cannot. It is a mad carousel of chasing something you cannot catch, while knowing the whole time that nothing else will ever feel “right” again. It does not just cost money, it costs lives–the lives of the addicts as well as those around them. Their families, their co-workers, their fellow students, their neighbors, their friends. It does so mercilessly and ceaselessly.
And it can happen to your child.
Even if we argue, conversely, that the world has never provided easy answers, that there have been and likely always will be wars, that economies crumble and rebuild, etc.–each individual experiences the world as an individual. What is easy for you may be very difficult for someone else, and vice versa. What is peaceful and stress-free to one is not to someone else. Parents and caregivers see the world through their own lens, as do their children–we do not see things the same way as someone else! Your child may be naturally resilient, or naturally anxious, whereas you may be the opposite. Whether or not you have struggled with addictions does not mean that your child will or will not. Not only that, for those who have struggled with addiction, the nature of your child’s potential addiction will be different from your own, so you cannot draw black and white assumptions about their drug of choice, the intensity or duration of their addiction, or even whether or not they will survive it. That is why addictions are so scary–they can happen to anyone. They do not always present in exactly the same way or for the same reasons for the same type of personality.
And it can happen to your child.
Have frank and open discussions with your child(ren) about substances. If you do not know what to say, there are many resources. Below are some resources. Most importantly, do not make the assumption that so many parents/caregivers make: that if you love them enough, they will stop/change/improve. Outside help is necessary when the “one time” becomes once a week or once a day or when the individual is stressed/depressed (as in, they are now self-medicating). You may begin by placing their child in intensive outpatient therapy–but at least begin! Just remember that the younger a child is when they begin using any substance (think underdeveloped brains!), the more likely they are to develop addictions and/or to experiment with more deadly substances like opiates and develop addictions that way. There are wonderful therapeutic and rehabilitation options out there that can help when the use becomes routine. Do not wait until things spiral out of control. Ask for help!
And believe it: it can happen to your child.