Drugs Make You Un-Smarter
Help for Parents
Finding Serenity through Al-Anon
by Elizabeth Martin
My son Fred is a recovering heroin addict. The journey our family started
When he was in his late teens spanned 19 years of deception, discovery, recovery, and setbacks. I am not a substance abuser, but as the wife of a functioning alcoholic and mother of two sons with addictions, as well as being an adult child of an alcoholic, I almost lost myself trying to keep everyone afloat. I spent twenty-one years in counseling and attending Al-Anon meetings to help me recover from abuse, blaming myself, and enabling the addicts in my life.
A Hard Life
I didn’t know my husband Jeff was an alcoholic when I married him. I remember standing in the back of the church on my wedding day, with my father, who too was an alcoholic. He said to me, "You still have time to change your mind."
I looked at him with amazement and replied, "Dad, what are you saying? You think we can just turn around and walk the other way with all these people waiting here in church for us?"
He replied, "You will have a hard life with this man." I did marry Jeff, and my father turned out to be right.
In those days, most people never talked about counseling, codependency, or alcoholism. Although my dad and grandfather drank every night, I didn’t know there was another way to live. Even though most of my dad’s brothers drank, no one ever thought it was wrong. They would just say, "Well, you know that’s just how Uncle Carl is."
I should have suspected something was wrong when I married Jeff. As I recall, he always had one or two six-packs in the back of his car, and very often drove holding an open can of beer on his lap.
His drinking continued throughout our marriage. When my two sons and my daughter were born, he’d get a phone call at the bar, telling him he had a new baby boy or girl. My husband Jeff is what’s called a functioning alcoholic. He was a guy who hid his liquor all over the house, but managed not only to get up and go to work every morning, but to actually do well at his job. He was a very intelligent, highly successful executive, but he lost control when it came to alcohol. There were times when he went in late to work, but I’d call and cover for him by making excuses about why he wasn’t in on time. That’s what’s called ‘enabling.’ The way I enabled my husband was just an imitation of the way my mother enabled my father, and my grandmother enabled my grandfather.
I raised my children in a loving home, teaching them morals, but always trying to hide the fact that their father was an alcoholic. Even though his beer took precedence over time with his children, I made the excuse that their dad worked hard and he was tired.
My oldest daughter went on to become a lawyer, was married, and has two children. My middle son, Jacob, is an alcoholic, a womanizer, and a playboy. Oh, he’d work, all right, but kept losing job after job because of his drinking. I tried to help him, but he said he knew he didn’t have a drinking problem because he didn’t drink while he was working.
A Successful Path, Thwarted by Addiction
My youngest son, Fred, is the one who turned to drugs. He got hooked on heroin and became a drug dealer.
Before drugs came into his life, Fred made the Honor Society in high school and he was editor of the school yearbook in his senior year. He loved animals and won a full scholarship to Benson University in Montreal, Canada, where they have a combined six-year curriculum for Veterinary Medicine. My youngest son always took care of himself. He had a polished look, as if he just stepped out of GQ magazine. Fred changed when he was on drugs. He never shaved, and most of the time his clothes were dirty and looked like he’d slept in them. He lost a lot of weight, had dark circles under his eyes, and was always bringing home new friends. With this drastic change, I first discovered checks missing from my checkbook, as well as cash that was laying around and even coins in a bank that I saved from when I was a child.
When Fred came home from college on weekends, I started finding spoons, lighters, tweezers, and sometimes pipes under his bed or hidden in his closet.
A Mother in Denial
Like most parents who go through drug problems with their kids, I was in denial. I didn’t want to believe my son was using drugs, but all the signs were there.
What really got me to open my eyes was an anonymous phone call saying that my son was a drug dealer and a user. When I found a packet of white powder that dropped out of his jacket, I took it to a doctor I trust. He had it tested. "It’s heroin!" he told me.
My mouth dropped open in disbelief. I left the office speechless. I still didn’t turn my son in to the police. I wanted to help him.
Money started disappearing from my pocketbook. My husband kept his winning
scratch tickets from the lottery on his bureau, and they came up missing as well. My son always denied taking anything from the house.
My husband loved to gamble at the racetrack. He often kept his winnings in his sock drawer. When the large sums of money he kept in the house came up missing, he was furious, yelling and blaming me for taking it, telling me that I was a loser just like my son!
Fred soon dropped out of college and stayed at the house when he had nowhere else to go. As the weeks went by, a couple of gold chains, some gold earrings, and a 14-carat gold charm bracelet came up missing. The bracelet was given to me by my grandmother just before she died. It meant a lot to me, because she said I was her favorite. I was shocked to find that it was gone!
He Wasn’t Going to Change
It wasn't until Fred was arrested for possession of drugs and landed in jail that he admitted he was not only addicted to drugs, but he was dealing drugs, as well. When I asked him why he stole from his family, he said he wanted to be part of the crowd and he needed the money to keep up with them.
I went through the humiliation of going to the jail to visit and being searched by a female prison guard each time before I went in. I was so ashamed; I tried to hide the truth from everyone.
I couldn't believe this was happening to me. What did I do wrong?
Fred's mind was so immersed in his addictions, he couldn’t make rational decisions. He told me he was sorry he got caught, but he wasn't going to change his drug habits, even when he got out of jail.
Seven months later, Fred was out on probation. I know he had a choice to get clean and sober, especially while he was in jail―but the substance abuse was just too powerful for him to handle. He’d tell me he could take care of himself, but he never could when he was using. He didn't care about how he looked or whether he had food to eat. Even if his body was still physically there, I couldn’t recognize anything about my son. It was as if he were dead.
Even though I didn’t know much about addiction, I’ve always blamed myself for the problems of my husband and my son. Even my husband blamed me. As long as I was willing to take the blame, they had no reason to change. I found out eventually that by continuing to give Fred money when he said he needed help to pay his rent or buy cigarettes, I allowed this type of behavior to continue. Fred's life consumed me, up to a point where all I did was focus on him.
A Mother Finds Help through Al-Anon
From attending Al-Anon meetings, I’ve come to realize how the disease of addiction in someone we know or love can affect a wife, a husband, a child, extended family, and friends. I think we all experience feelings of guilt, anger and denial, but because I’d never known or understood how they affected me, I was unable to discuss or understand what was happening. By attending Al-Anon meetings and hearing others express their experiences, frustrations, and despair, I realized there are so many caring people in similar situations. At these meetings, I was no longer afraid to share my own experiences. In essence, before I found Al-Anon, I used to feel like I was fighting a hopeless battle all alone.
The more I came to meetings, the more I began to understand that the illness of addiction can be treated, just like any other disease. I came to understand that the problem never was entirely my fault.
I’ve benefited from listening to the stories of others, being deeply touched and even weeping with those who are suffering. I grew stronger in my own faith and trust when I heard how someone else’s ‘higher power’ had helped them get through a hopeless situation. Little by little, I began to gain courage and, instead of becoming angry (because I know that anger can turn to hate), I’ve been able to share some of my nightmares with people who care and understand. I’ve became stronger, believing I’m capable of taking care of myself in this challenge.
I came to realize that no matter what I’d try to do to help my addicted son; I would never have a normal, happy life if I continued acting out the role of an enabler and co-dependent. I was allowing him to keep my life in constant turmoil, havoc, and worry.
Going to meetings has helped me be able to step back and look at my life. I can now see that with all I did to ‘help’ Fred, I was really doing too much. I learned that I had to do two things. First, remove myself from Fred by not being an enabler, and concentrate on my own life. And second, I had to reprogram myself not to look back, but to look forward. If I kept looking back, I’d stumble and fall. I needed to keep looking forward and moving forward. I also realized that I’m not responsible for my son’s addiction…I never was. He was always free to make his own choices.
I also recognize some of the signs and behaviors of the addicted personality, like Fred’s deceitfulness, his unethical behavior, loss of feelings, lack of responsibility, and dishonesty. These symptoms of drug abuse enabled his life to spiral downward, causing his physical and mental failure.
Al-Anon helped me to see how I could move away from the problems of addiction by taking away my doubts and fears, and to begin looking at my own accomplishments and the talents I possess.
Living with addiction for so long, I often think back about things that have happened to me. I’ve learned to look at where I am now, and from this I can begin to see that I can change for the better no matter how small each change may seem to be. I’ve also learned to practice real, sincere compassion for everyone else in Al-Anon who are going through family problems of addiction without losing myself in their problems.
Changes in My Family
I finally divorced my husband after forty-two years of marriage. One year later, he died of cirrhosis of the liver.
My son went in and out of clinics for years; on and off methadone. I don’t think he really wanted to stop using heroin. But then one day, he told me he wanted help and that he really wanted to stop his addiction. He’s on methadone now and it’s been two years since he’s used drugs.
I’m also healing from so many years of abuse and denial. I ‘m a teacher and advocate for American Humane. I have become a writer, combining my story with those of others, in my soon-to-be published book: The Whirlpool - Surviving Your Child's Addiction-A Survival Manual.
by Vanessa Van Petton
Vanessa is the founder of Radical Parenting and the author of "You’re Grounded," which she wrote when she was 17. She is now traveling around the world to interview families for her new book, "Parenting is Flat."
She is headed to South America for five weeks to interview forty-five families. She has interns all over the world. She recently worked with Tokyo Interns to interview families in that country. The main question on her mind—Does the Internet Bring Families Closer? This book is not yet published, but the topic is showing a growing interest from people around the world.
Why did you decide to write your first book?
When I was in high school, my friends were good kids. One of my friends took a downward spiral and got caught with marijuana and paraphernalia. He was sent to rehab. When I visited him in rehab, I asked why he did it. He told me, "to get back at my parents."
That’s why I started writing about why teens use drugs as an escape and a tool to get back at parents.
I’m very honest with parents and kids. I don’t have a counseling license. When I speak to kids who admit to drugs, I ask them to go into therapy.
Did You Ever Feel Pressure to Do Drugs?
Yes, I was pressured to do drugs. I’m in my twenties and I am still pressured.
I gave my parents plenty of gray hairs, but never because of drugs. I have one older brother and two younger sisters. They are all great, and none of us have done drugs.
When I ask kids why they do drugs, most of them tell me they are bored and there was nothing better to do. It’s easy to say no, but kids need something better to do. I decided it’s not a choice I want to make. There are too many risks and negative consequences. If you can say "No, thank you," it helps others not as confident to say "No, thank you." Any person who would love you more if you did drugs isn’t a person you would want to love you.
Kids need people to talk to besides their parents, such as cousins, teachers, counselors, and dance teachers. My dance teacher said she valued her body. She only wanted to put good, healthy food into her body. She worked too hard to get into shape, and never wanted to put drugs or harmful things into her body. That stuck with me.
Parenting is different with each child. There are highs and lows in relationships, but parents need to take the time to know the child’s needs, and teens should take the time to know their parents’, as well.
I work with prevention solutions. Teens want to stay sober. Parents need to provide alternative activities, concerts, or movies. If you don’t have a lot of money, have kids over for sports in the park. Get friends together for crafts.
Now, I am not delusional. I know that even if you provide enough fun activities for 100 weekends, teens will still find ways to drink/do drugs/have sex if they want. Yet, I do think that by helping create activities, you are:
a) Showing them you care
b) Showing them that you pay attention, so if they try anything, you will probably find out
c) Allowing less opportunity for them to be bored and create questionable activities out of boredom
d) Separating kids who will drink/smoke/have sex to rebel, no matter what, from those who simply end up trying it because it’s around and there’s nothing better to do. (This is totally my opinion from what I saw in high school. My group of friends and I separated from another group in 11th grade because they started drinking in a park on the weekends. Some of our parents planned trips to comedy clubs and paint-balling on the weekends and we chose to do this instead.)
Planning alternative activities can be important, but you don’t need to do it all yourself. I think it is a great idea to get together with a group of parents from school, or all of your child’s friends’ parents, and make a committee to plan something each weekend and take turns carpooling, cooking, and hosting. That way, you are not responsible for everything, and all the parents can keep an eye out for suspicious behavior together. Here are 10 suggestions for activities parents can create/provide/encourage so teens have less opportunity to come up with their own…
1. Paintballing/Mini-Golf/Laser tag: Okay, this is three in one, but teens usually love doing these kinds of activities, they can be co-ed and not that much money for a few hours of amusement (and physical activity).
2. Comedy Clubs: There are a lot of improv clubs, comedy clubs, or even coffee shops that have stand-up and that allow all ages. This can be a really fun weekend night for teens. You could also ask in advance to use a local coffee shop for the teens to do their own stand-up one night, and they will all buy coffee and bring friends as an incentive for the owner.
3. Plan a Themed Party: So, this sounds lame, but I don’t mean plan a themed party in the 4th grade sense. Hold an 80’s movie marathon and make dinner or fondue, have a pop-culture trivia night, pool party and BBQ, or a murder mystery…
4. Dinner and a Show: There are lots of places that offer dinner and then some sort of entertainment. We used to go to a place that served Mexican food and then held a salsa class with a salsa band for all ages, or you can go to a place like Medieval Times, where they have food and then a jousting show.
5. Celebrate a Holiday (no matter how minor): Luckily, my mom had lots of patience and loved to cook. We often had Valentine’s parties (my sisters, and my friends and me) Super Bowl parties (for my brother and his friends) or Halloween parties (co-ed), where she would come up with games and serve us lots of food. It definitely kept us away from the "parents-are-away-for-the-weekend" parties that were going on.
6. Game Room: We had a friend whose parents had tons of board games, a ping pong table, an air hockey table, pinball machine, and a foosball table. This was awesome. It was great when it was just girls, or just boys, but also a great way to spend time with the opposite sex when they came over. You might think about getting one of these or some videogame systems, like a Wii with lots of controllers. My brother and his friends all had their own "laser-guns" and would wear vests and little blinking things and run around the neighborhood or back yards in their own version of outdoor laser tag.
7. Plan a Tournament: For boys, host a video game tournament at your house (usually just includes lots of your patience and lots of food) or, if you have the space or live near a park, have a sports day. For girls, I would also put spa party/sleepover, chocolate making party, and craft or jewelry-making party under this category. Notice how I use the term "party" loosely. In my opinion, the more you can make it feel like everyone is showing up for something special and that it is being planned for them, the more distracting and fun it can be.
8. Attend an event: Go to free outdoor concerts, big music festivals, or sports games.
9. House Hop: This one takes lots of coordination, but works really well if you do end up organizing a parent-event-planning-committee (above). Since teens get bored really easily, have four different families get together and host a different part of the night (preferably if they are in walking or short driving distance). One house does snacks and outdoor activities, then someone else has a BBQ dinner, someone else does game night, and then end with dessert.
10. Drop Off: There are lots of game centers, go-cart tracks, water parks, and theme parks where you can drop off a bunch of teens and maybe hang out in the area, have a date night while they play.
*Note 1: Your teens need to thank you and uphold their part of the bargain. Planning these events is a lot of work for you and they don’t come free. Let your teen know that you want to plan some fun activities, but they need to get [their grades up] this semester/do all of the clean-up before and after/help you cook/ drive a younger sister to ballet class, etc.
*Note 2: Lay down the rules. The whole point of planning activities is to keep [teens] out of trouble. Make sure your kids and their friends know that there is no drinking, sneaking away, or drugs at these events. My parents used to collect everyone’s keys at the beginning of the night and make everyone say hello and goodbye to make sure they were in an okay state before they left.
*Note 3: Many of these activities involve you planning them and then sort of, well, leaving them. I know this seems rough, but the whole point is to let teens feel like they are having fun and still having their independence so they do not need to get [attention] by rebelling. My parents were always home, but would go upstairs or stay in another room, only coming down if [our music] got too loud. They would not repeatedly check on us, because they trusted us. This made us feel more responsible so we made sure we did not, nor did any of our friends, break the rules.
A Rise in Prescription Drug Abuse
by Bill Rogers, Arizona Highway Patrol Association
In Arizona, over half of our alcohol-related DUI's also involve prescription drug usage.
From a law enforcement point of view, illegal or unsupervised prescription drug usage is an epidemic. You would think that there are specific age or gender groups that it primarily focuses on, but it runs the gamut. The Arizona Highway Patrol Association is very passionate about helping parents do key things to keep these drugs away from children. - Stacey Dillon
In a new study from Arizona State University, they found a significant increase in the number of inmates who test positive for prescription drugs at the time of arrest. This study further states that the increase also points to those who are not in jail. University of Arizona researchers have conducted similar studies which predicted a rise in the crack epidemic in the eighties and the increase of meth use in the nineties.
The most common drugs abused by non-violent, white male offenders are opiates, such as heroin, and pain medications, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Codeine, Demerol, and Darvon.
Leslie Bloom, CEO, Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Arizona affiliate stated, "The upswing in arrestees testing positive for opiates is disturbing to see, but it’s a trend that mirrors our teen population. Here in Arizona, one out of four teens has abused a prescription pain reliever, which is double the national average. We encourage parents to do three things: Educate themselves on the prescription medicines kids are abusing; communicate the risks of abusing prescription medications to their children; and safeguard their medicine cabinets."
The Arizona University study found that prescription drug abusers range in age from high school though college age, and also include adults. These abusers come from wealthy as well as poor neighborhoods.
Bill Rogers from the Arizona Highway Patrol Association said: "It’s probably because of a lack of accountability on a personal level note. There’s a certain tolerance of this type of crime. I think it’s the availability of the drug itself, by legal and illegal means. I think it includes the rise of ‘latchkey’ children who are home alone, and have access to their parents’ prescriptions. It is also that society has gone to a medical route to deal with problems. The current economic times have caused so much stress that people get narcotics of their own. They have the feeling that one more won’t hurt."
What does it mean that there are more inmates being tested positive for prescription drugs?
Rogers further states, "Of course we put people in the jail for DUI’s, and with DUI’s we see probably about 50% prescription drug/alcohol combination. "Masking," is what we call it, when someone pops a couple pills and drinks a couple beers. Of course, when we stop them, we may only see the alcohol. They are arrested for DUI for alcohol, but they also have the narcotic drugs in them."
He continues, "It’s been going on for a couple of years. Because of manpower issues, we’re behind the eight-ball. We need to be able to recognize the symptoms of masking and have experts out there to counteract it. Another problem is that if we get a narcotic arrest, we do a blood test, and when it goes to our crime lab, which is undermanned, it takes sometimes six to eight months to get blood results. And so the conviction is way behind."
The study also found that among inmates, the prescription drug problem is second only to marijuana use. Plans are in the works to legalize marijuana in the state of Arizona.
"As far as marijuana, everybody’s yelling about the legalization of it. That’s just going to compound the problem, because marijuana has the same effects when you drive as alcohol. If you were to legalize marijuana, and bag up marijuana, alcohol, and prescription drugs—that would only create a worse problem. Of course, marijuana is a stepping stone to further narcotic use," says Bill Rogers, Highway Patrol
"One of the ways to stop your kids from using drugs is to keep your kids active. Be aware of what your kids are doing, who they’re hanging out with, and where they’re going. Remember the old days when you used to have to lock up the alcohol? Lock up your drugs. Be aware of the behavior patterns of your children. Watch for things like dropping grades in school," Rogers concluded.
Information used With permission from Stacey Dillon, Public Safety Authority Medias, LLC and Leslie Bloom, CEO,
Partnership for a Drug-Free America, Arizona affiliate