Liz was a bright, sweet, athletic kid who actually seemed innocent in her freshman and sophomore year of high school. Things changed as she began to hang out with a different crowd and started to drink and smoke pot.
I remember being devastated to learn that she smoked cigarettes! Little did I know how bad things would get.
I trusted for as long as I could until I found drugs in her car and room. A confrontation followed, along with day treatment programs and, ultimately, numerous inpatient programs.
Nothing seemed to work. I remember being so hopeful, and having those fragile hopes dashed time and again.
I attended Al-Anon meetings faithfully. The people there helped tremendously. I also had to get some counseling to help deal with the monstrous situation. Finally, I had to ask her to leave, and she did. Then, the next phase of anxiety, loss and sadness ran over me like a huge wave. The devastation was so complete.
I remember running into an acquaintance soon after, and she asked about my family. When she asked about Liz, I responded with the generic answer that covered all that she was going through.
Slowly, things began to look up. We supported her emotionally as she made it through an inpatient treatment and a sober house stay. Her life began to come together. Once she re-enrolled in college, I felt hope again.
Well, nine years later I can tell you that she made it and is now working in an outpatient treatment facility and raising her two young children. She had to go through the process in reverse when she had to ask her husband to leave due to his continued drug use.
If I can tell anyone who is going through this process, take care of yourself and your other family members. They have to understand that natural consequences of negative behavior are essential to helping an addict find their way to recovery. And yes, there is hope even when things seem hopeless.
First and foremost, it’s critical for parents to learn how to recognize red flags such as rapidly changing grades. That’s a very common consequence of drug addiction, experts say. Other signs include isolation, sudden aggression toward family, hanging with a totally new crowd of kids and changes in sleeping and eating habits.
In my experience, if parents believe something is awry, they should take that feeling seriously — and act on it by seeking professional help.
As your story shows, that takes courage.
Parents are often embarrassed and frequently try to hide the serious problem, in hopes it will just go away or dissipate over time. They fear people will look down on them and view them as failures. Despite the attention now being focused on the country’s opioid crisis, addicts and their families still deal with stigma and shame.
Parents should never blame themselves. Instead, a good first step is to take your child to a doctor who can screen for drug use with a series of questions or a urine or blood test. Parents can also contact an addiction specialist or one of the 3,500 board-certified physicians who specialize in addiction.
Studies have shown that treatment works. But the process often takes a lot of time, tender care and support. As in your case, recovery is often like a roller-coaster ride with a series of violent ups and downs.
As for your daughter, I’m so happy she is sober. She’s a true survivor, and her story of hope of success can be an inspiration to others. I’m saddened to hear that she had to experience the flip side of addiction in dealing with her husband’s addiction.
These are Palermo-Reddy’s opinions based on her experience with a range of patients, but are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Every case is unique and complex and requires individually designed action.
Alicia Palermo-Reddy is an opioid addiction counselor. She invites readers touched by the scourge to send their stories. She will select some to publish and offer her experience. Names will be withheld but must be verified. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org