I was nine years old when I took my first drink of alcohol. I’m Colombian and we’re sociable, fun-loving people, so the family party that was going on was not unusual. Everyone was having a good time and they weren’t particularly keeping tabs on little old me, so when I found a bottle of Aguardiente, an aniseed-flavored spirit that is the national drink, I had no trouble taking a slug of it, and then another one.
I was a rather awkward child, unsure of myself and not feeling cool at all. The alcohol made me feel better, more confident.
And that was the start of the slippery slope that led me to any drug I could get my hands on, with alcohol a constant companion, being easier to get hold of.
I ended up addicted to methamphetamine, an alarmingly common “party drug” that makes you feel happy, energized and kind of infallible, immortal. In other words deluded and stupid.
I could think of nothing else but getting high and having a “good time”.
I ended up in prison for two years. I went to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but only to get out of my cell for a while, and even when I was released and tried to clean up, I failed, relapsed and became suicidal.
Eventually, my parents took me to a center where I got proper alcohol rehab and drug rehab treatment, and now I have been clean and sober for nine years. I have a new life as a successful businessman in the tech world. I’m fit and healthy and have a good social life. And I’m reunited with my parents, after all, I put them through.
Many are the nightmares that haunt parents as their children grow. Life is a lottery and we just hope and pray that the cards we are dealt are good ones.
It would be unwise to grade the nightmares on a scale from disturbing to terrifying, but alcoholism and drug addiction are certainly up there.
My unpleasant but undeniable qualification for writing this piece has given me an overview that I want to pass on to parents who may be going through some of the pain that mine did.
Colombia at that time was a bad place to be. It was the era of the drug cartels and that whole sorry situation you’re probably seem dramatized on TV.
So my parents get us out of there. They moved the family to Southern California, where they thought my brother and I would be safer.
But they couldn’t protect me from me.
They learned a thing or two during my dark days and I see the situation from my own perspective, so here are our combined five things a parent can do to help an addicted child.
- Learn about addiction and recovery
It’s very difficult to fight something you don’t understand, so learn about addiction in general. It’s a complex subject, but knowing more about it will help you understand what your addict is going through and that it’s not really him or her you’re fighting, but a disease.
People talk about someone being “hooked on drugs”, but what does that really mean? Alcohol is very different from cocaine and marijuana is not like heroin. Likewise, detox recovery from alcohol is different than that of other drugs. You will get no respect from an addict if you don’t know what you’re talking about.
- Keep the bad people at bay
It is easy to attribute your child’s bad aspects to the influence of others, and sometimes you’re wrong. But sometimes you’re right and you need to learn to spot them. If a certain person’s company seems to bring out the worst in your child, do what you can to keep that person out of the picture. That can be difficult even when it’s right under your nose, and you run the risk of being seen as the bad guy, the spoilsport, the old person who is out of touch. But it’s an unpalatable thing you have to do.
- Distraction and new interests
Distraction is a well-established technique for dealing with young children. But it is surprisingly effective with older people too. Try to get them interested in something new, something healthier. Get them mixing with a different crowd, thinking about different things.
- Don’t be an enabler
When you see someone wild-eyed, begging on the street, you may decide not to give them any money because you suspect they will only spend it on what has made them wild-eyed in the first place.
Unfortunately, it can be necessary to apply the same thought process to your child. If they are broke because they’ve spent all their money on alcohol or drugs, maybe you can buy them some food, or clothing or whatever they actually need, but don’t just hand over $100 in cash.
- Never stop the love
There are a million and one things to learn about parenting and the top of the list is constantly changing according to circumstances. Some parents won’t have to deal with the addiction issue but may have other horrors to face, which you don’t.But the one thing an addict needs more than anything is to know that their parents love them. They may defy you, they may disrespect you, belittle you, criticize you and generally make you feel pretty useless, but that’s a potent mix of the drugs talking and normal youthful rebellion.
The love of their parents is the bedrock of a child’s existence, even when that “child” is a hulking great adult with opinions, desires and – let’s not forget – achievements of their own.
And that’s the thought I’d like to leave you with: the person you’re dealing with has not stopped being the little person you gave your heart two years ago. They are just growing up and they’ve been attacked by an illness that they need help with.
I am living proof that it can be done, so hang in there, give what you can, be firm where necessary, be wise and be clued-up.
And good luck.
Have you been through this mill yourself and come out the other side? Feel free to leave a comment and tell us about it.