Syringes to Sobriety

Stories and Advice from a Real Heroin Addict
help for families of drug addicts

Help for Families of Drug Addicts-My Mother’s Perspective

Sometimes, knowing there are others going through what you are going through is enough help for the families of drug addicts.  The road to recovery is long, rough, and never a straight line to the destination.  Families get frustrated, not understanding why their loved one would ever want to live that way.  In turn. the addict gets frustrated, unable to be the shining example of recovery they believe they should be for their family.  Words are exchanged, mistakes are made, many many mistakes are made.

On this point, it is entirely UNHELPFUL to critique a family on how they have attempted to help their addicted loved one in the past.  Every single drug user is an individual, and as we state repeatedly on this site, our recoveries are as unique as we are individuals.  If you have a recovering addict in your family who has been successful, great!  Sharing your experiences will be warmly received by most families searching for help with the addict in their family.  However, judging the decisions they have made or acting like there is only one way to go about recovery is counterproductive and, oftentimes, harmful.  

My beautiful, talented mum, (whiom I inherited my wirting skills from, thankfully) has volunteered to share her personal experience dealing with a drug addicted child.  It should be noted that early on, when my parents had just discovered my addiction, their instirnct was to hide it.  They had no experience with this type of thing. In their time, it was not something families spoke about outside of the immediate family.  I assume kids in their generation were sent off to boarding school or something, kind of hidden away, in an effort not to bring shame unto the family or maybe to protect the child’s reputation in the community.  I bring this up for a reason…

Until we ALL start sharing our experiences, drug users, recovering drug users, families and friends of drug users, with each other, we will continue to see carnage brought about by opiate addiction.  With doctors playing the role of drug dealers, phentynol emerging by the boatload, and a failed War on Drugs, it is clear things are not geting better.  We will continue to see spikes in death and drug use if we dont talke the stigma out of talking about it.  

So, thank you again, to my brave mum for sharing her experience with Syringes to Sobriety readers.  If you are searching for help coping with a drug addicted family member, please reach out in the comment below or to syringestosobriety@gmail.com. My mum or I will write you back personally and one of us will refer you to a support group or counselor who will help.  I have a feeling some of you may just feel better after reading this, knowing you are not alone.

On behalf of all drug users out there, both in active addiction and in recovery, with families who love them,

WE LOVE YOU TOO.  WE ARE ALWAYS ASHAMED AND ALWAYS SORRY.  DON’T GIVE UP ON US.  

help for families of addicts

Without further ado, here is the guest post written by my mum:

The Shame of it all …the Beginning

help for families of addicts

It was while dining in Puerto Vallarta with a group of dear friends on my 59th birthday that I took a collect call from the Maricopa County Women’s Detention Center, also known as Estrella County Jail. It was my daughter calling to wish me Happy Birthday; trying to keep a stiff upper lip and a cheery tone but ultimately breaking down and describing the latest in a series of indecent, horrific experiences in that hellhole that Sheriff Joe proudly proclaimed as fit but which is actually a cross between a horror film and a third world prison. This was the place that ANA was hauled off to because she inadvertently carried a lighter into the jail to which she had been on a court-ordered work release program. At the time she was in recovery and holding down two jobs, one of which was teaching toddlers to swim, a passion of hers and of vital importance to those of us who raise children in AZ.  She lost both jobs the next day as she was unable to communicate outside the jail and would be forever changed by the ensuing months in the Maricopa Jail system.

My beautiful daughter, then sober, in recovery and serving a work release sentence, was subjected to a bus ride downtown at 4 am in hand cuffs and leg shackles and subjected to an involuntary internal exam for drug possession. We only discovered all of that several days later as she disappeared at Christmas and was not allowed any outside calls for several days.  Imagine the pain and worry of our whole family…Did she relapse and die from an overdose? Was she arrested? What went wrong…she was doing so well? We discovered later that she was sitting in D-Tower, otherwise known as ‘the hole.’ She has since recounted the story but the bottom line is that this was not a place you would want to find yourself on any day, but here she sat, the day after Christmas 2017. She spent 14 days in solitary confinement for inadvertently carrying a lighter into the jail while on work release! Are you shocked yet?!? Even the United Nations considers the routine use of solitary confinement in the US to be a major human rights abuse issue and has called on the US to abolish the use of solitary confinement as a punishment! The National Commission on Correctional Health Care has also declared that prolonged  solitary confinement is cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, and harmful to an individual’s health. So how is that in Sheriff Joe’s jails, the mere possession of a lighter could result in such harsh treatment?!?

But I digress …back to the phone call on my birthday. On this occasion ANA was on night duty at her “job” an inmate trustee. The guards had given her and fellow inmate the task of cleaning out another inmates cell who had no business not being under psychiatric care.  The inmate had been ;left in her cell, by herself, for two weeks, while she defecated and urinated in the corner.  She did not even have the faculties to find the toilet and use it.  The guards did not want to clean it up, so they had my daughter and another inamte do the dirty work.  


My dinner companions found me in tears outside the restaurant and what followed was an evening of finally unburdeninghelp for families of addicts myself with these dear friends. Stigma and shame had kept me from sharing the tragedy of my daughters struggle with addiction. I have since found that, as soon as you share your story, there is inevitably someone else in near proximity who has been affected by the opioid crisis that is killing and ruining the lives of a whole generation.

For me, it all began as my daughter ANA was entering her second year of law school.  A bright, articulate and attractive young lady would later become an unrecognizable manipulative, destructive addict.  As a parent who loved her unconditionally the transformation was unfathomable…and gradual.  This girl was a popular over-achiever, a cheerleader; an actress, and part of a travelling group who toured middle schools to teach kids about the dangers of tobacco; a member of mock trial and held her first degree before she was legally old enough to have a beer but 3 years after she could have been deployed to Iraq to die for her country.  What could possibly go wrong?!?   

I was out of town on vacation when her call came in.  As was her usual mode of operation, she was delivering devastating news to her mum but she already had done the research and had a solution to the problem.  She had seen her GP who had referred her to a suboxone doctor and she had set up an appointment with him to see if he would take her as a patient. Would I like to meet with him? Thus began my unwanted and scary immersion in the world of opiate addiction which was soon to become a national crisis. Little did I know that I would find myself in places and situations and interacting with people that in retrospect would defy my naïve perception of the world.

How did this happen? Here is my perspective, albeit diffferent from ANA’s, these things are so subjective to the person experiencing them. 

Because of ANA’s grades and the extra credits earned at a private girls high school, she had achieved all her first year elective credits upon entry for her under-graduate degree.  Her curriculum in first year was therefore heavy and shortly after the first month I received a call that she had been rushed to emergency. She was having panic attacks.  I believe that was when she was first prescribed Adderall and Oxycodone.  I have since learned that people with anxiety or mood disorders account for over half of opioids prescribed in the United States. The FDA has not approved opioid drugs for the treatment of anxiety but that does not prevent doctors from prescribing.  Of course feeling good with the opioid had to be counteracted with a stimulant to allow for late night studying …thus began the cycle of “legal” drug use which would spiral over the next several years and come as a shock to her entire family.  With time we would be become aware that she was full blown heroin addict by second year of law school.

( I will note here that this is not the exact way it happened, but I think it is important that my mum is able to express her experience. And yes, it did begin with a prescription.)

A woman of action and scared to death, I immediately started my own research into the murky waters of opiate addiction and the dismal statistics. The most shocking was that 90% of addicts in recovery relapse.  Shortly after ANA’s confession to her family, came the news that renowned actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose after 20 years of abstinence. There have been many famous deaths since then but hitting more close to home for our family was the constant list of childhood friends of both my daughters who would die of heroin related causes or be labelled felons by the judicial system and have their lives ruined by a society that has made very little progress in addressing the massive problem. 

help for families of addicts

Much has been made of the misconceptions about “who” are heroin addicts and what they look like. Disheveled, skin and bone derelicts living on urban streets in large cities is the stereotypical image held by many not affected by this scourge. Try suburban housewife, successful lawyer, dedicated nurse, high school track star or your neighbor the plumber and you’ll have a better picture.  I will never forget the comment of one of my closest friends who made the comment “I don’t like him (her son) hanging around with those “low-lifes!” Shocked, I indignantly reminded her that those hopeless struggling addicts were somebody else’s children whose parents are probably as desperate as we are to find a way to help their kids to kick this horrible affliction. 

A little of ANA’s background may help at this point.  She grew up in beautiful town once named by Oprah Winfrey as one of the best towns to raise a family and still appears on lists of the same ilk. An idyllic setting and, as an aside, the home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio who may indeed be one of the worse contributors to the inhumane and archaic treatment of the addicted to ever live! From his disgusting jails, for-profit prisons, tent city, allegations of corruption, ethnic profiling and egotistical chest thumping it is truly amazing that he held his position as Sheriff for so long.

But, I digress…back to the devastating news.  At this point ANA was navigating the treacherous waters of recently divorced parents who did not speak.  Needless to say this crisis forced my ex-husband and I to work together and try to be a united front in confronting the problem.  The one thing we still had in common was our love for our 2 daughters. We talked on the phone, consulted a friend in the medical field who discouraged the suboxone treatment and who is now, ironically an advocate, and currently operates a telemedicine based Suboxone treatment program for patients with opioid dependence.  This last comment is not meant as criticism, but actually represents a compliment in that,  as my journey continued, my research and experiences caused my opinion and perceptions to evolve and I am hoping that this and ANA’s writing will educate and raise awareness in those who truly can help to change the way this problem is perceived and solved.

Stay tuned as I explore the myriad of “fixes” (pardon the pun) that we attempted to help ANA recover.  The story is NOT for the faint of heart, but it may help you as parents and loved ones of the addicted to avoid some of the pitfalls we encountered and if nothing else know that “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!” My best advice for now and one I share with ANA as well…one minute, one hour and then one day at a time…xoxo DCH

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6 comments on “Help for Families of Drug Addicts-My Mother’s Perspective

  1. This is a heart wrenching post and such a revelation  to read your mum’s account of your addiction. I was shocked by some of the treatments that Ana was subjected to in jail, and not the treatment that somebody who is struggling with addiction should be subjected to. 

    I have a very dear friend who is struggling with alcohol and her husband and kids are supporting her in a very loving way. She has been arrested on drink-driving charges on three occasions and have spent a night in jail, and she said it was horrendous how she was treated as if she was a murderer. 

    Most societies still attach a stigma to addiction, which is very unfortunate, as it does mean it gets hidden and not talked about, rather than shared and support being given.

    Thank you for opening your heart and sharing your story.

    1. I am sorry to hear your friend is struggling. Her husband and kids may find some comfort reading some of the articles on this site. Even though I am speaking from the perspective of an opiate abuser, alcohol abuse has a lot of the same effects, especially when it comes to the carnage it reaps on the family unit.  How to Help an Addict: “You did this to yourself!” may be an article you could recommend to them.  

      I won’t even get started on the way substance abusers are treated in jail.  It is a COMPLETE DISGRACE and, more often than not, makes the problem worse.  That is a post for another day, however. 

      The purpose of S2S is to to shatter the stigma surrounding addiction, as well as encourage people to support some more progressive drug policies in the US.  Continuing on with our failed War on Drugs is actually making the problem worse.  The example has to be set somewhere, maybe with the family members of those struggling with drug abuse. It took a while for my family to really gain insight into their behaviors and how they affected me, and vice versa.  Hoping our policies start to follow suit in this country.  

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. 

  2. Thank you for your eye-opening article. Thank you for sharing your story, because the stigma that surrounds this journey often trumps the empathy needed to help everybody into their much-needed healing. I have a lot of questions like how does it feel to be a heroin addict, what was your primary motivation, how do you deal with relapse, physiological changes relative to abstinence, etc., but I explored your other blog posts for answers (and will continue to do so) so that I can educate myself even more. Moms are truly amazing, and their unconditional love is truly immeasurable. Thank you for sharing this perspective, because it sheds light on how other individuals outside the family (i.e., community) can actually practice empathy. Again, thanks for opening up about your story, and cheers for your wonderful journey! – A

    1. I am so glad you were able to answer some of your questions through some of the articles on the site.  I would definitely recommend reading Medication Assisted Treatment -Taking the Edge Off for an in-depth explanation of what a heroin user experiences when they are dealing with substance abuse and recovery, as well as Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms-Timeline to gain an understanding of what withdrawal is really like.  Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  3. What a great deal of information that you have given out in this awesome and interesting article I must give you a big thumbs up… I encountered an article like this on the internet and it changed my knowledge about HELP FOR FAMILIES OF DRUG ADDICTS and gave me a new system to approach it…When people are depressed, they become drug addicts in danger, but at this point, if the family can overcome the depression with love from him, then he will never be drug-addicted, which in my opinion. From my real experience, my cousin’s family was by his side when he became drug-addicted, and with family love, he was able to overcome his frustration.

    Thanks a lot for sharing.

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