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Monday, May 11, 2015

A Parent With a Heroin Addict

"Chris describes detox like this: 'Your bones feel like they are made of glass and they're hollow. You have goose bumps, but you're so hot. You're sweating but the sweat is cold.'"

(Melissa Silverberg. "Recovery from heroin addiction 'a family effort.'"
Chicago Daily Herald. May 10, 2015)

Everyone knew Chris as a normal, happy kid in grade school. He had friends; he did well with his studies; and he was close to his younger siblings, Genna and Sebastian.

Then came middle school and big changes. Chris's parents divorced, and he became less interested in school. Feeling rebellious, he started smoking marijuana and drinking a little. His mother Genevieve figured his "acting out" was normal teen behavior considering the circumstances.

When Chris got three underage drinking tickets in a few months, Genevieve would pay the fines and organize his community service hours just to make it go away.

"I was enabling him," she says. "I was always just cleaning up the mess. When his car broke down, I gave him money. When he wouldn't go to school, I'd call and say he was sick."

Chris took his first opiate during gym class his sophomore year, a Vicodin pill from a friend. Not long after he was addicted to painkillers.

The first time Chris used heroin was at a skate park in Arlington Heights. A friend asked him if he'd ever tried it.

"Half of me thought it was nuts, but the other half ..." Chris's voice trails off retelling the story.

He snorted heroin for the first time that day. Thanksgiving morning was the first time he shot up.

Soon, the drug consumed his entire life.

"The farther you go down that road and the more barriers you break, you push your boundaries and you keep making your boundaries farther and farther so something like that doesn't seem that out of play anymore," Chris says today.

(Melissa Silverberg. "Recovery from heroin addiction 'a family effort.'"
Chicago Daily Herald. May 10, 2015)

According to Chris, heroin made him feel like Superman. Yet, the invincibility and the happiness were only artificial. He says his happiness became something possible only when he had the substance, and he was always thinking about it when he didn't have it -- "It's like you're stuck in this relationship you can't get out of."

When he was addicted, Chris never felt afraid to take risks although at times he could feel himself close to overdosing. Even though some close friends overdosed, he just "knew" it wouldn't happen to him. Now, his sober assessment is that he wouldn't have survived another year injecting the amount of heroin he was doing. "I don't think I would have even made it another four months," he said

In the meantime, Genevieve's fear was all-consuming as she tried to prepare herself for the inevitable.
"I almost got to a point where I came to peace with the fact that he was going to die," Genevieve said. "I'd sleep with a phone on my chest and just pray to God this isn't the night I'd get the call."

But, Chris did not become an overdose statistic. His mother and the rest of his family fought alongside him on the road to recovery.

At age 20, Chris has gone through detox -- twice -- and rehab once, but this May his entire family is marking his one-year anniversary of sobriety. Chris says he is alive today because of the love and support from his family and friends.

While Chris is ready to put his addiction behind him and plan for the future, it's different for Genevieve and his younger brother and sister. The whole family is in recovery because each of them is still dealing with the trauma of Chris's addiction and realizing that the fear of relapse is always there.

Read the entire story of this family effort by clicking here:

Many people argue that heroin addicts like Chris get exactly what they deserve -- they pay for their "sins" of bad choices with horrible suffering and even death. These people do not view opiate addiction as a disease; instead, they are convinced that weak-willed individuals cause their own destruction as they continue down the paths of dependency and addiction.

These people do not acknowledge that addiction is a disease and that repeated heroin use changes the physical structure and physiology of the brain, creating long-term imbalances in neuronal and hormonal systems that are not easily reversed. They also ignore the fact that many addicts also suffer from mental diseases before (and during the time) they become addicted.

Studies have shown some deterioration of the brain’s white matter due to heroin use, which may affect decision-making abilities, the ability to regulate behavior, and responses to stressful situations.

(Li, W.; Li, Q.; Zhu, J.; Qin, Y.; Zheng, Y.; Chang, H.; Zhang, D.; Wang, H.; Wang, L.; Wang, Y.; Wang, W. "White matter impairment in chronic heroin dependence: a quantitative DTI study." Brain Res 1531:58-64, 2013)

The truth is no one is immune to addiction and to overdose. Saving one life becomes the concern of a determined, strong family that is able to separate the horrible substance from the person and help that individual initiate proven interventions that can save his or her life, the life of a chronically ill loved one.

The outcome of saving a young person like Chris depends not only upon the strength and conviction of the addict but also upon the strength and conviction of the addict's family. Tough love and proper support are extremely difficult to master, and these aids are easily turned into enabling. Just as families who have a member suffering from any other life-threatening disease, the family of an addict has to follow clinical procedures and to practice constant vigilance to help their patient.

I have seen so many young people like Chris with loving families that have become devastated and seemingly hopeless. Some try to deal with addiction "in house" and on their own because of a strong stigma associated with drug abuse. Others seek help but believe short-term rehab will solve the problem. Still others just cannot understand why their child has become someone they no longer recognize as the love of their life -- to no avail, these people try everything "giving" in the face of a transformation from a trusted person to an evil substance.

I believe it is very important for parents to become educated to the signs of addiction and to react to them immediately. I know the tendency of parents of teens to trust their children as they age. I am a firm believer that teens need just as much supervision and help as grade-school-age youth. With their new freedoms and their increased liberties, teens also need adults to do more than threaten them and discipline them when trouble does arise: they need continual care and guidance.

I have heard it said that the bedroom of a teen is a place where addiction can flourish. The room means so much to a growing child. What Baby Boomer can forget the Beach Boys song "In My Room"?

In My Room

By The Beach Boys

There's a world where I can go
And tell my secrets to
In my room
In my room

In this world I lock out
All my worries and my fears
In my room
In my room

Do my dreaming and my scheming lie awake and pray
Do my crying and my sighing laugh at yesterday

Privacy. Trust. Love. It is a beautiful transition, but even the sanctuary of a bedroom can hide deadly secrets. No teen wants to be hovered over by distrustful parents. Yet, no parents want a teen who becomes lethargic, skips school, receives bad grades, gets into trouble with local officials, hangs with questionable friends, or does illegal drugs.

I have also heard it said that if you feel your child is doing drugs, they are. Perhaps proactive measures can help alleviate any feelings of distrust and also help save lives. To me, the bottom line is the need for a concerned, loving family unit with open lines of communication. That, and ... the need to stop enabling teens willing to risk their lives by abusing drugs. Parenthood has enormous responsibilities and it should never be taken lightly.

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