Build Awareness

Build Awareness

The truth about addiction.

First, let’s clarify terms. Addiction is not an official DSM diagnosis. It is more of a theoretical term. The technical clinical diagnosis is Substance Use Disorder, which is a complex disease of the brain and body. And, there are different degrees — severe, moderate, mild and remission. There are also the 3 C’s of addiction:

  • Unsuccessful attempts to CONTROL it
  • Continue to use despite CONSEQUENCES

Substance use disorder is a complex and multifaceted disease that is widely misunderstood by most. The technical clinical name changes over time with scientific discoveries and was previously termed “Substance Abuse.”

Substance use disorder has affected most everyone in one way or another and it behooves us all to educate ourselves so we create factual awareness to save lives and end this pandemic.

Addiction is a degenerative physical disease of the brain — plain and simple. However, it can be treated and the damage reversed through sustained abstinence, which requires a professional diagnosis to establish a custom treatment plan specific for each individual — one size does not fit all. It is a disease just like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, arthritis, hepatitis and autism, etc. Nobody wants a disease. However, if contracted, it is an illness that requires treatment. Similar to diabetes and heart disease, it is also preventable. And, everybody deserves to receive appropriate treatment for their disease.

For someone affected with substance use disorder, in order for them to achieve sustained abstinence and to reverse the physical damage, addiction requires intensive participation in a holistic treatment program for an extended period. And, if it is specifically a heroin addiction, from what I have learned from my experience they need at least ONE YEAR in a QUALITY program to give them a chance of overcoming this powerful addiction. Most importantly, they need to know it is okay to get help. In fact, it is a sign of strength. And, in some cases professional help may be the only way to overcome addiction.

It could look something like starting with an intensive intervention like wilderness at first, then step down to a 90-day Residential Treatment Center (RTC), then step down again an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), then an Outpatient Program (OP) for the remainder of the time to make up the year. And, if they are really committed to sustained recovery, working in the field to give back and help others can also provide long-term support. No two treatment plans are alike. They are custom curated based on each individual.

It is our responsibility to remove the negative stigma associated with substance use disorder and mental health and provide the treatment they need to give them a fighting chance to overcome this awful disease. Ironically, they have an inherent belief that ‘they are not good enough.’ Yet, people with this disease are some of the most sensitive, compassionate and caring individuals that we need more of in society.

In general, addicts are the most kind, compassionate, loving, caring people and this rang true with my kids as well. And, we need more people like them in the world! Yet, when they are bullied or made fun of, they turn to peer pressure to try drugs to fit in. What nobody knows when someone tries drugs for the first time is if they have the genetic predisposition to contract addiction, the brain disease. No two people are the same and while one person may be able to try drugs then stop without it impacting their life, others with the disease do not have the same luxury.

It is non-discriminatory and victimizes the smart and strong, ignorant and weak, rich and poor, young and old, black, white, asian and latino. Just like cancer it chooses its victims blindly from all walks of life and can happen when you least expect it. If you haven’t been impacted by addiction, you could be next and have an important role to play to prevent it.

Warning Signs

If you are like me, most parents are not skilled in substance use disorder. In hindsight, I have learned of many things to look out for that might indicate you are dealing with a disease — a much more serious problem than just normal teenage defiance or rebellion. And, the sooner you see the signs, the sooner you can help and possibly prevent it becoming much worse, thus saving lives.

You might be dealing with a serious opioid addiction problem if…

  1. They complain of stomach issues
  2. Your kitchen spoons start disappearing
  3. Money vanishes, you think — You start to question your own sanity and whether you counted money correctly
  4. Valuables at home disappear like jewelry, electronics — heck even tools and vacuum cleaners
  5. Your child appears abnormally skinny
  6. They need laxatives (opioids cause constipation)
  7. You start noticing they are using eye drops

Some more obvious signs include:

  1. Struggling in school, although some do fine and in fact excel
  2. They don’t want to play sports (because they require drug testing)
What To Do If You Suspect Your Loved One May Have SUD?


  • This is not the same for everyone and nothing with this disease is straightforward!
  • Keep in mind there is no silver bullet answer for any of this. One size does not fit all and no two treatment plans are the same, just like no two people are the same. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another.
  • Additionally, there is no guarantee of a positive outcome, just like cancer, heart disease or diabetes.

Let’s start by sharing a story a counselor told me. There was a kid who had returned home from treatment. The kid expressed how much he hates themself and naturally it upsets his parents. He threatened to kill himself if his Mom sent him back to treatment. She thought he might commit suicide and she was obviously concerned. The counselor asked his Mom, “what message do you want him to understand in his heart if any of those things happen.” Her reply was “that I love him and am here to support him.”

The point is that our kids unwittingly take us hostage. And, it takes a lot of insight, skill and grace to work through upsetting conversations to learn how to respond and react appropriately. There are things you can do by sticking to the principles of ‘I love you’ and ‘I want to support you,’ so at the end of the day you do so in healthy ways that actually help our children with the brain disease SUD without unknowingly empowering their addict.

The idea here is “how do you want to show up as a parent?” God forbid this would happen, but if it did, “what would you want your child to know today?” That you love them, are here for them and provide a safe place.

The challenge is that it is easy to say those things today, but if you don’t do your own work, you won’t be able to show up how you want to in the time of need when things are escalating. And, ultimately you need to be comfortable with whatever happens.

When a loved one is in active addiction, parental anxiety comes out, causing us to withhold or overstep boundaries. Being able to express love and care in a way that doesn’t allow their “addict person” to progress is a learned skill. We need to provide them the opportunity to develop problem solving skills themselves in order to become successful adults.

This doesn’t mean just stepping back and letting them do anything. There are times for intervention. And, there is a thin line between providing healthy support and enabling bad behaviors.

One other profound piece of advice I received from a counselor once was that any time I feel the need to be a helicopter Mom and that it’s my job to rescue or protect my child, I need to look in the mirror and hug myself.

The point being is to lead by example and focus on doing your own work and self care and give your child the opportunity to do their own work. You “helping & fixing” is not helping your child — it’s actually harming them.

Instead, focus on “fixing” yourself and how you show up so you like your parenting and are grounded and healthy. We parents have to transact less so our children can develop and launch successfully.

One last thing a counselor told me to keep in mind is that “worrying is praying for something bad to happen.” Instead, give attention to what you want to grow. As much as we’d like to think we can control someone else, we can’t. You can only control yourself.

Remember the Al Anon 3 C’s:

  • You didn’t cause it.
  • You can’t control it.
  • You can’t cure it.

But, you can show them that you have faith in them and trust they will figure it out. Don’t take the opportunity from them to learn critical problem solving skills as it will only delay or prevent their recovery.

Do Don’t
  • Know that people we love the most tend to push us away when there is an issue
  • Take it personal
  • Pay attention to your own anxiety
  • Make your anxiety their responsibility
  • Pay attention to your gut
  • Learn to ground yourself (links to DBT skills)
  • Create your own toolbox – FEAR
    • Reach out to people
    • Breathing

  • Respond purely out of emotion
  • Learn how to have difficult conversations and be aware of your own issues that you are bringing to the conversation
  • Lose your cool or yell

  • Live in fear of inciting the addict

    • if someone is in active addiction, then breathing and existing will incite them
  • Take it personally
  • Understand that every conversation is hard when they are active in their addiction and that they lash out
  • Ask questions like “are you high”, “have you been using” out right and over and over. If someone is actively using you can’t expect an honest answer

*Note: it is a grey area and situational. The best way to get there is to be working with a professional who can advise when it might be applicable to confront or address this directly. For example, in the cusp of an intervention or a safe place where you pose questions about their using out of love for the individual versus your own fear or need.

  • Learn how to trust your gut by practicing and training to improve your own communication skills
  • Ask questions because you are uncomfortable and asking for yourself out of your own fear
  • Approach the process with the same vigor you want your child to and the dynamics will change
  • The more you approach it as if it is your own treatment, the better the outcome will be

    • Set the example and be the barometer for family health as you pull back layers

  • Blame your child — addiction is a family disease
  • Go to therapy — Alanon meetings are free
  • Assume you know it all — it is very complex and involves multiple layers

  • Be the bad guy and allow them to hate you

    • Better you than the police or other legal jeopardy
  • Live in FEAR of inciting their addict

FEAR: Forget Everything And Run or Forget Every Available Resource

Instead you want the addict to Face Everything And Recover

  • Practice vulnerability

  • Rescue or protect
  • Seek professional help — a parent coach/counselor to learn how to care for someone with SUD

    • It is counter-intuitive to what you think a parent should do for their child who doesn’t have SUD
  • Do what you’ve been doing and expect a different result
  • Tell your loved one how much you love and care about them

    • show compassion, not punishment — and relay that you want to help them get the care and treatment they deserve
  • Be a helicopter Mom and track their whereabouts

    • you want to engage in healthy behaviors to reach their true self and get them back in control vs. their addict
  • Figure out what works for your situation and do the best you can and let go of the rest
  • Try to control them
  • Validate, show empathy, curiosity and concern
  • Judge or blame
  • Model healthy behavior; stand back and let them own it
  • Think you can fix them
  • Be calm, strong and grounded — practice letting go (pull away from the impulse to help)
  • Take action for them reactively
    • At times is there is a need for intervention to help them get to a point where they can take action for themselves (checks and balances for your behavior in the situation)

  • Contact an Education Consultant or Counselor who specializes in SUD
    • They can help diagnose and recommend appropriate treatment plans

  • Be afraid to ask for help
  • Find people that are safe to ask for help and recommendations; particularly those who have experience or education in SUD and know the difference of those who don’t

  • Ask other people from recovery to hear their experience, strength and hopes
    • Everyone has their own story and someone else’s story isn’t yours
    • Find people who are worthy of your story (don’t be an open book)

  • Put your head in the sand and think it will go away on its own — it is a progressive disease that only gets worse over time

In general, a better approach is learning not to live in fear of inciting the addict. It is always beneficial to be intentional, but to walk on eggshells is often to the detriment of a loved one suffering from addiction. If a person holds healthy boundaries with an addict, there will be explosive anger. However, using the addict’s temperament in a given situation as a barometer of health is an erroneous measure. The addict is a master manipulator and will try to hide the problem and act normal.

Even if they are willing to get help, it’s important to be aware of the “bubble.” They are most vulnerable after being in treatment and being sober for extended periods. And, there needs to be more support to transition from treatment and reintegrate into society without being labeled an “addict.” They want to be normal and fit in, but need appropriate support. Tragically, this is when we lose a lot of people – they relapse after treatment and end up doing the amount they used before becoming clean and it is too much.

How Can You Help?
  1. very complex disease
  2. Remove the stigma – tell your story
  3. Get involved in federal and local policy reform with LEGITIMATE agencies
    1. Do your homework because so many are aligned with PHRMA, a trade group that distributes funds from pharmaceutical opiate corporations, like PurduePharma (i.e., oxycontin) to different addiction advocacy orgs.
    2. For any that are a non-profit, you can look at their Annual Financial Report to see where the bulk of their donations are coming from. If they are coming from any Big Pharma companies or PHRMA specifically, it is likely a conflict of interest.
    3. You can also look at their Return on Investment report to see who their partners and members are.
  4. Here are some I recommend: