I have interviewed dozens of drug addicts and alcoholics. As a mom, I looked for the magic bullet that would keep my own children from that dark path.
But there isn’t one.
As a freelance writer, I have the opportunity to interview some really fascinating people. My work led me to interview dozens of drug addicts and alcoholics over a 2year period, some have since remained clean and some have fallen back into their addictions. Most of the addicts I’ve interviewed spent time in jail, watched close friends die, tried to commit suicide, committed theft and robbery, some were prostitutes (male and female), lived on the streets, were beaten and abused, and all knew what it was to live without hope.
Not a single one of those people chose to be an addict as their life’s ambition. Addiction was something that happened as they struggled to fit in, to be something they weren’t, to stop feeling bad, or to feel good. Many wanted to escape the reality of their own lives, at first just for a few minutes. Now, I’m a writer not an addictions expert, but the more interviews I did, the more parents of addicts I spoke with, a few warnings said in retrospect continued to repeat themselves.
Many many of the addicts I interviewed only had one core group of friends whose influence ran very deep. So deep, that they were reluctant or unwilling to go against the group. I try to make sure my kids have friends in different places based on different interests. They have their church friends, friends from school, after-school activity friends, and neighbors (many of whom don’t attend their school). And this is true in my own life, I have church friends, neighbors, work friends, etc. If one group decided to shun me, I’m hurt but I still have other friends.
2. Be Informed
So many parents said they just didn’t know what to watch for. Many addicts had stories of how little effort it took to hide their drug use from their parents. The time to teach kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol is between 8 and 12 years – before it’s a real issue. Many addicts I spoke with said they began experimenting at 12 or 13, some were addicts before 16. Do you know the popular drugs in your area? How about facts like heroin is easier to find in the port cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax – whereas inland you’re looking at prescription opiates like Oxycontin. Do you know what codewords kids use for Ecstasy? Some of these drugs are so easy to find, and will be available at any kind of party and out of classmate’s lockers. And don’t think this is only a city problem. I spoke with one addict who worked on a buffalo ranch in northern Alberta who had drug dealers delivering to him in a field. It’s everywhere. What does someone look like who’s high? One teen informed me that he wore long sleeve shirts all summer to hide the track (needle) marks on his arms, and while his parents were curious they never pressed him about it. Be informed!
3. Find Something They Love
I have tried really hard, and worked hard for the extra money, to find activities that my kids love. For now, my tween daughters have a paper route to help pay for the extracurricular activities they participate in (because they chose really expensive ones). You have to really love something to be willing to deliver flyers in a snowstorm or sub-zero temperatures in Canada all winter. They’ve had that paper route for over a year now. They skip other activities to go to the ones they love. They rush to do homework so they don’t miss their activity. Is there something in your child’s life, an interest, hobby or sport, they won’t give up not even to peer pressure? Find it, nurture it, encourage them. Most of all – give them your time. Go out and watch them, know their coaches and teammates. Be involved.
4. Open Communication
“I just couldn’t talk to my parents” is a comment I heard a lot. ‘My parents didn’t have time to listen,’ or ‘all they did was judge me.’ Parenting a teen is hard – I’m only just beginning on that journey so can’t speak to it too much. But I want my kids to know they can talk to me about anything, and I will listen. I don’t always agree with them, I don’t always have an answer or solution – but I want them to feel heard. And know that they can come to me with anything and be accepted as they are.
This seems to be a popular catch phrase in parenting lately, but so many of the addicts I spoke with were either sheltered too much or not enough. Many addicts learned how to use drugs by watching their own parents or family, picked up beer bottles every Sunday night after a weekend of partying, and made excuses to teachers for their parents. A good many others grew up feeling severely restricted by their parents and turned to drugs as a way to escape or rebel. But there was also a large third group that I hadn’t expected to see. These were kids whose parents removed them from the natural consequences of their actions. Life is hard. When my kids are late for school because they dawdled – they have to explain why they’re late. I don’t jump in and write a note. If they don’t get their homework done (as per household rules) then they miss out on an activity.
I heard of one mom who went downtown to buy her son drugs because she was afraid he’d get killed if he went himself. That’s enabling.
One of the most remarkable stories I heard was one set of parents who refused to give their son money they knew he’d use to buy drugs. In a rage, he stormed out declaring they were forcing him to go rob a store to get the money. The father called the police and the son was picked up in the midst of a convenience store robbery and sentenced to jail time. It took a long time for him to forgive his parents, but it set him on a straighter path because he saw that his choices weren’t leading him anywhere good.
Are you aware of the dangers of drugs and alcohol? Have you begun to teach your kids about it or do you rely on the schools?
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“It would be different if one had tried to tell the whole truth. That would have some value.” – Ernest Hemingway
“A woman is like a teabag – you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Eleanor Roosevelt