You’re sitting with a cup of tea gone cold, staring at the wall, tears still pooled in the corners of your eyes.
“Why?” you ask yourself.
You have researched, analyzed, gone to conferences, talked with doctors and therapists, joined groups at the church and on social media. You have made it a mission to find an answer, but you still have those two lingering questions with no defined answer.
“Why my child?”
“How could I have prevented this?”
You take a sip of your cold tea, running theories through your head, creating arguments in your mind about what addiction is.
You wonder which camp you belong in?
Is it the “My child has a disease” camp, or the “My child made this choice” camp?
The truth is there should be no camp, because I believe the answer is both. In camp one we hear the arguments for calling addiction a disease:
“ If your child eats too much and is obese, he has a disease.”
“If your child smokes and gets cancer, he has a disease.”
“If he eats too much sugar and later develops diabetes, he has a disease. “
“If your child shoots up heroin, he has a disease.”
I make a distinction between the above diseases and those terrible ones where the victims do not participate in its cause at all. There is nothing sadder than seeing a mother bury a young soul through no fault of the child.
Then there is camp two, the choice camp, and it’s simple:
Your child made that choice. It’s not a disease; he picked up the drug and chose this.
Truthfully, as a mom to a recovering addict, I was first in the choice camp. I was furious at the choices my child made, angry that she was an addict, and sad that I saw myself possibly burying her.
“Why did you do this?” I’d scream.
I won’t pretend my emotions were in check during her heroin outbursts.
Then, later, something in my thinking changed after seeing countless doctors explain the hijacking of the brain by the drug, viewing charts and graphs and videos, and reading every medical explanation I could get my hands on. I started seeing the reasoning behind the term disease.
But still, my doubts lingered, and today I see the blur….there is no one camp.
I see now that the choice my child made caused her brain to change and become diseased. Once her brain was diseased, she was under heroin’s control.
The difference between this disease and the others mentioned? The others sicken the body slowly over time. Everyone eats, sugar is sold everywhere legally, and cigarettes are a legal purchase. With heroin, the disease can happen in the blink of an eye, and sometimes involves an illegal choice, so we immediately assign fault. The luxury of time to find answers is just not there. Disaster can happen at any moment, and it often does. In the meantime, help is difficult to find and addicted participants, combative.
So to answer “Why my child?” we most likely have to look at the teenage brain. A teenage brain doesn’t think of consequences, isn’t fully developed in the frontal lobe region, wants to fit in, wants to feel good; and a teenage brain thinks it can handle anything, even drugs.
NO teenager thought doing something once or twice would change their lives into a living hell.
NO teenager ever thought sneaking into the woods with friends to try something Mom and Dad wouldn’t approve of, would banish them to possible death.
Even those kids who heard the horror stories, went to DARE class, and talked with parents, thought it wouldn’t happen to them.
Kids do dumb things. Period.
Unfortunately, they are now being given life sentences six feet underground because of it.
But the truth is,
If our children do not touch drugs, they will not develop a drug addiction.
Traveling to many other countries, I have seen a big disparity between American teens and teens in Europe and Asia. Simply put, heroin addiction is not nearly as present in other countries as here in the United States. This is why I have a hard time being solely in the “disease” camp. It doesn’t just happen. First, a choice is made.
American children have the misfortune of being surrounded by drugs, often brought in from Mexico, Columbia, and even Afghanistan. The drugs make their way to street corners in every town in the United States. Lax handling of dealers creates a revolving door. If one is put away, another is there the next day. Dealers often get a slap on the wrist before being back on the streets.
The United States also has higher income households than many countries. Disposable income, even for teens, can buy a quick fix for depression and anxiety, two growing disorders among teens. Parents are often working and the kids lack supervision. On the flip side, American children also come from a country that is highest in single parent households. Stress, poverty, and growing up on the turbulent streets may cause the child to seek relief. And though poverty is real, a cheap five buck bag can provide an instant fix.
And let’s not forget doctors, ohhhhh doctors, who prescribe more than 80% of the world’s opioids here in the good old USA. This is a problem in itself, worthy of a much longer conversation, and one not for this piece. But quite simply, opioids hijack the brain in much the same way heroin does.
Once our kids are hooked, there are so many closed doors and so much red tape that precious time is lost. In many states, our kids cannot be forced into help. Our laws allow a diseased and addicted brain to choose its recovery, in some states as young as age 14. An addicted brain doesn’t want to recover, it wants more drug. Parents beat themselves against the wall, trying to get their children into rehab, only to be told “No, your child doesn’t want to go.” This problem along with privacy laws limiting access to our children’s records can prevent us from getting them the help they need. If you live in a state with involuntary commitment, count your blessings. I couldn’t even get my 15 year old daughter’s drug test results from the hospital when she was acting “erratic.” They asserted “privacy laws.” At this point I had no idea she was using, so instead, I sought help for other possible causes, when a simple conversation with her doctor would have led me in the right direction had I been privy to her drug test information.
You may still be staring at the wall, looking for answers and wondering how you could have prevented this. The answer is you cannot look back, only forward. If you are like me, we thought we did most things right, attending our children’s events, monitoring their whereabouts and friends, encouraging them to do well in school, teaching about the dangers of drugs. And even if we did make mistakes as parents, how could we have prevented a child from finding even just a moment to try something they shouldn’t? We can’t be with them every second of every day. We can only equip them with the best knowledge possible. Anything after that is their choice.
So why your child?
Because he made a child’s mistake and thought he was strong.
What could you have done to prevent it?
Other than lock him in his room for his entire life? Nothing. What’s done is done. Now we can only encourage recovery; and people do recover.
The only real prevention for drug addiction is through those famous words: Don’t do drugs.
And for doctors: Don’t prescribe opioids.
If only we could get our kids and doctors to listen.
Maureen Fitzpatrick is an author of Beyond Horizon Fall, a poetry book journaling her intense emotions through her daughter’s addiction and recovery. Purchasing edition 2 through Amazon will benefit addiction services in her community.