How To Handle A Drug Addicted Child: A Parent’s Story of Patience and Strength
By Michael Rass
Addiction is a family disease. It not only affects the person misusing drugs and alcohol but also has a devastating impact on the loved ones of the addicted person. Knowing how to handle a drug addicted child is essential for a successful recovery.
Like his parents, Ryan grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. Jimmy and Karen were successful business people who were able to provide a safe home in an affluent neighborhood for their only child.
“We wanted to protect Ryan from the outside world,” remembers Karen. “He was the perfect child, but then he started to hang out with the wrong kids. Until he was about thirteen, he was taking honors classes, but then things changed. We didn’t immediately realize what was going on; we thought it was part of puberty.”
Ryan became increasingly disrespectful to his baffled parents. He seemed like a different person. His grades started to drop. Karen remembers school meetings where she learned that Ryan was sleeping in class. “We searched his room because we knew that wasn’t him. We found pot in his room,” she says.
Jimmy, Ryan, and Karen (Photo courtesy of the family)
It was a wakeup call. Jimmy and Karen briefly put him into a local rehab center to convey their serious concern to Ryan, but it didn’t take. “It seemed to work for a couple of months but then he started all over again.” Ryan’s parents felt they were losing their son, while Ryan learned to manipulate his parents. He was drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana in high school, and he was beginning to misuse opioid painkillers.
“My husband tried to be the tough guy, which caused a lot of trouble in our marriage,” Karen recalls. “Ryan would manipulate me as my only child, saying ‘I Iove you, Mommy. I’m so sorry. I’ll never do that again.’ His father would try to put his foot down, and I would say, ‘Don’t be so mean to him.’ I wasn’t consistent in my punishment for him,” Karen admits. “It was a huge strain on our marriage, and I can’t believe it survived Ryan’s addiction.”
An Injury Results In Escalated Addiction
When Ryan was nineteen, he suffered a leg fracture, and the doctors prescribed opioid pain relievers. After that, his substance use disorder escalated quickly.
“When the doctors wouldn’t give him any more pain medicine, he bought it on the streets,” says Karen. “Ryan worked in our family business at the time. We heard from employees that he was showing up looking wasted.”
“When we found out he was buying on the street, Ryan finally admitted to us that he was addicted to pain pills. We took him to our family doctor, and he gave him different pain pills to wean him off the opioids. It was a disaster. Then he put him on suboxone. For six months we thought Ryan was clean, but he wasn’t. And when we found out that he wasn’t, my husband finally said to Ryan, ‘You need to go to rehab or you’re fired.’”
For several months, Ryan had residential treatment at Stepping Stone, the sister center of Lakeview Health. Karen and Jimmy were hopeful, but Ryan was not yet ready or willing to go into recovery. “He went back to his condo and his drug buddies. They got him right back on it as soon as he got home,” remembers Karen.
The Scariest Thing for Parents
It was a nightmare for Ryan’s parents. “I was always sick inside. I kept thinking he was going to die. It ruins your life as a parent. It’s the scariest thing, because you don’t know if he is going to survive. Every time I went to his condo, the place was filthy, and Ryan looked completely wasted.”
Ryan was caught in a trap he could not escape. His parents realized how miserable the disease of addiction made him. “He didn’t like being on drugs,” Karen says. “He said that he was going down in a spiral. He didn’t like it at all, but he didn’t know how to get off it.”
“My parents always encouraged me to get treatment,” remembers Ryan. “For a long time, I didn’t think I needed treatment. I thought I could manage my drug use, but then I got sick when I was trying to stop.” During his first stay in rehab, Ryan didn’t fully accept that he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. “I wasn’t working any steps, I convinced myself that I was happier using, and things got real bad,” he recalls.
Karen and Jimmy kept asking Ryan to come home with them and go back into treatment. Ryan refused, insisting nothing was wrong with him. “I was so distressed I couldn’t breathe,” Karen says. “We prayed and we prayed.”
The Breaking Point
Ryan, too, had reached a breaking point. “I quit my job. I was using a lot of cocaine and opioids. I felt like I didn’t want to live anymore,” he remembers. Then he had a moment of clarity.
“One day, at around midnight, we heard a knock at the door, and it was Ryan with his bags, saying, ‘Mom and Dad, I need help!’ He went to Stepping Stone again, and this time it was different,” recalls Karen. “He went in with a different outlook, saying, ‘I want to do this and nobody is gonna stop me this time.’ He changed his phone number, his email, and he got off Facebook. He had nothing to do anymore with the people that had such a bad influence on him.”
“This time, I realized I had to work 24 hours a day to stay sober,” says Ryan, who was 25 at the time. “I made new friends through AA, I had a sponsor, and I worked the steps.” In this time, he met Ashley, who is also in recovery. “It was good to hang out with someone who did things sober people do,” Ryan says. “I made sure I put my recovery first, and things fell into place.”
Ryan, Hendrix, and Ashley (Photo courtesy of the family)
After years of torment, his parents couldn’t be happier. Today, Ashley and Ryan are married and have a baby boy. Both try to carry the message of recovery to other addicted people by working for Lakeview Health. Ryan works in the Aftercare Services Program as an aftercare coordinator at Lakeview Health. He has been sober since March 2013.
“Ashley is just perfect for him,” says Karen. “They encourage each other to go to meetings. They do sober stuff together. He came close to death, but now he’s a health nut, always telling me to eat healthy food.”
Ryan’s recovery is a story of hope that illustrates the importance of family participation when learning how to handle a drug-addicted child. Jimmy and Karen never gave up on Ryan and took part in family therapy sessions during their son’s residential rehab. No matter how bad addiction gets, recovery is always possible. But to beat this terrible disease, addicted people need all the support they can get.