“Parenting an Addict”

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Although I do not have an addicted child, I have a close friend at church whose son in his 20’s has struggled with heroin addiction for some years. In an attempt to better understand her and to avoid all the platitudes that inundate her regularly from well meaning friends, I read A House on Stilts by Paula Becker. Becker, a writer, and her physician husband dealt with the various addictions of their oldest child for a long time. This book honestly portrays both the love they have for their son Hunter and the unending ways they attempted to help him. She struggles with the line between mothering and enabling throughout the years.

The book brought the specific pain of my friend home to me in a way that other depictions of addiction haven’t. I am not sure if it was the clarity and truth of the author or the timing of my reading, but it illuminated the anguish of a mother watching her beloved son turn into an angry, lying, stealing adult. Becker encounters denial from health professionals and school administrators for a long time as they see a white, friendly, well spoken teenager and assure her his behavior is normal. We know from what she has seen that it is not, but she struggles to believe them.

And of course the Beckers bring their own denial to the situation as would any parent heartbroken at the possibility that their bright, energetic son has become an addict. They pay large sums for treatment, continually struggle to get him food and clothing, and overlook the money and items disappearing from their home every time he is allowed in for a visit after they have banned him from the house. Relatives believe they know better and offer to help, as is the case with my friend. However, they too finally see that “tough love” won’t cure addiction.

From now on when I see young addicts on our streets or in my church’s sandwich line, I will pause to think about the mothers and fathers in deep pain over their children. And I will not judge them.

21 thoughts on ““Parenting an Addict”

  1. I’ve experienced it from the perspective of watching my mother try to “save” my brother. I think I have mentioned this before: She had no boundaries and he bankrupted her to support his habits when she was a widow who was well into her 80s. Only then was I able to take control and make sure her government pensions were used to pay her rent so she wouldn’t be evicted; her hydro bill so her heat and electricity wouldn’t be cut and her phone bill so she had a lifeline to the outside world. He no longer speaks to me because I have very clear boundaries. I have empathy for my brother but it was more important to me to protect my mother, especially given her age.

    1. I think if this couple hadn’t had two other kids at home they might well have gone further in enabling this son. I am glad that you took over for your mom, despite the fact that your brother won’t speak to you.

  2. Two of my best friends became addicted to heroin in the 1970s. One went to prison for dealing, and when he came out, he stole from his friends to feed his habit, finally disappearing. To this day, nobody knows where he is. (He would be 72) The other lived with the side effects and illnesses of the addiction, before he finally died from those seven years ago.
    Both men came from ‘respectable’ upper middle-class homes, and both had very good jobs before they started on drugs. I think of them all the time, even now.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  3. Who can understand the workings of the human mind, especially its inability to control its own self-destruction and throwing away the love of family, when there is so much to live for? I can only ask the question; I cannot answer it.

  4. It is human nature to judge, but we’re better off when we don’t. Many times we don’t understand someone’s internal demons or what has happened to them in the past. I would love to read this book. Loving and enabling can get pretty mixed up.

  5. Being the parent of an addict is a difficult situation to be in. We feel responsible and helpless at the same time… Simultaneously feel love and shame for our children. We hide the issues for fear of judgement and make excuses for their behavior. It’s so isolating. We look around and see so many addicts and yet forget that they all have someone who loves them.

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