A Mother’s Broken Heart Over Her Addicted Daughter
This past October, I had the chance to listen to former judge, Linda Davis, speak at a Federal Judges conference on addiction in Wichita, KS. Linda is the executive director of the Families Against Narcotics organization. This organization’s key purpose is to teach and support people in the ways to help a loved one with addiction.
In talking about this issue, Linda spoke of her family’s experiences. She described the heart-wrenching story of her own daughter’s struggle with addiction, beginning as a teenager who needed prescription pain killers for a sports injury.
Although it seemed to be appropriate help, the situation soon turned into a nightmare as her daughter began a secret life of drug use. “It only took a month,” I remember Linda saying, “and I urged her to take the medicine. That’s what kills me.”
What followed were drastic changes in behavior, a secret life, and then finally a tear-filled admission, “Mom, I’m in so much trouble.”
Addiction Can Happen in Any Home
Addiction is no respecter of persons. Therefore, the nice kid from the suburbs, the soldier returning home with injuries or PTSD, the elderly person with a hip or knee replacement; the poor, the rich, so many different kinds of people can get caught up in it. Addiction may start with trying to relieve physical or mental pain through a prescription. But, it can quickly evolve into seeking more self-medication. As a result, the door then opens to using manipulative and inappropriate ways to find illegal opioid sources, or even something cheaper on the street, like heroin. The frequency of addiction and the death rate from it are mind-boggling. But it is a worldwide problem. We are not the only ones.
What struck me in the judge’s story was her recounting one of the many, many times she was at a hospital trying to get help for her daughter. Not in her judge’s clothes, but in a sweat suit, like any busy mom, she agonized outside her daughter’s room. Two nurses at the nurses’ station watched her pace the hall and traded “cracks” about the “crazy mom and her junkie daughter.” Their judgment was extraordinarily cruel.
The Lasting Wounds That Judgement Brings
Watching the emotion in the judge – I was at the back of the big hotel ballroom but I could have been standing next to her – I felt the catch in her voice, could imagine the tears, saw her pause and try to collect herself. That episode had happened 10 years ago, but the pain was as fresh as if it had just happened.
It’s a hellish thing to be an addict, but it is equally agonizing to love one, especially if it’s your child. Helping a loved one with addiction is extremely difficult.
The judge commented that it took a while to even realize her daughter was addicted. Consequently, she was both in denial and yet, “running on adrenaline” to make all things right with just one more try.
(She is not the only one. Katie Donovan has another helpful website. On it, Katie and her daughter tell the story of their harrowing journey as parent and formerly addicted child and give encouragement/resources to others.)
Families Need Guidance and Support
Parents and other relatives of addicts NEED help. They need empathy. They need prayer. For those reading who are people of faith, we are called to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15 NKJV
The people who give only judgment, coldness, and crossing to the other side of the street, etc. help no one; rather, those responses deeply hurt struggling people. Many a parent who sat on the front pew of the church and was president of the PTA can find themselves contending with an addicted teenager or young adult. That’s the sad truth. It can happen in so many unexpected places. We must be kind. Therefore, knowing how to help a loved one with addiction is a topic that needs to be openly discussed, again and again.
And we need, as a society, to want families of addicted people helped and their addicted loved ones set free. Jesus said, “I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:36 NIV) So many addicts have a journey through grave illness and incarceration. So many of their loved ones suffer in an emotional prison and in tremendous isolation. We must pray and help.
For family members of addicts, or of a loved one you are beginning to suspect has an addiction problem, I want to speak about three more things: signs of addiction, avoiding enabling, and how to truly help your loved one.
The thing that is the top of my list in dealing with this, I will tell you as a pastor, is for them to find faith or return to it. I will say more about that in the section below on helping.
What Are the Signs of Drug Addiction?
Addiction, of course, is a condition where someone becomes hopelessly dependent on something. But I am talking here about substance abuse addiction to drugs, including alcohol.
Even though negative consequences occur, the person cannot stop themselves from going after the substance. Physical changes occur that result in cravings that can’t, as long as the addiction runs, be controlled.
Web MD offers a concise list of signs that might be a clue that addiction is going on:
“Changes in personality & behavior like lack of motivation, irritability, and agitation.
Bloodshot eyes and frequent bloody noses
Shakes, tremors, or slurred speech
Change in their daily routines
Lack of concern for [appearance and] personal hygiene
Unusual need for money, financial problems
Changes in friends and activities”
If you see these things, or have medicines, property or money disappear, without explanation, it is important to discover what is going on. Don’t look away, hoping for the best. It must be confronted directly but with love.
How Can I Avoid Enabling My Addicted Loved One?
If there is addiction, and the truth comes out about it, of course, your heart aches to help your child or the loved one who is suffering from it. You feel the desire to rush in every direction for help. But the help must be given with wisdom and “direction from above.”
Above all else, pray. If you’ve not been in the habit of praying or have no sense about faith, God will guide you. Ask people strong in these areas to help you.
Prayer is powerful and transformative. Never doubt that. It is a Person to whom we pray, One that is powerful and can break in and set free. And He loves us.
One of the most beautiful promises from scripture is this:
“For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37 NLT
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 NIV
What you do not want to do in this situation is make excuses for irrational behavior, cover for them again and again at work or in school, give money repeatedly, blame yourself, give ultimatums that are never followed through on, and so on. These and other covering up behaviors are all called enabling. No one gets better if they’re allowed to continue in the wrong way and even helped in it. Boundaries are good.
The Best Way to Help My Loved One With Addiction
There is a better way.
Find support for yourself as the loved one of someone addicted. There are groups of people in churches, in other settings; there are pastors, counselors, websites as listed above.
You don’t have to be alone, deeply sad, feeling that there is no hope. I offer prayer and connect with struggling people through this website. Send a message through email or the contact page.
As I said above, pray. Pray with others, pray alone, attend worship, read scripture.
If all of this is new, find helpers to help guide you into it. Jesus came to “free the captives.”
He said it this way:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor,
He has sent me to proclaim freedom
for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Luke 4:18 NIV
Learn all you can about addiction. Give support emotionally. Help financially if need be by directly paying for a recovery cost, for instance, but not by putting cash in their hands. Don’t let their struggles overtake you. Don’t blame yourself for their choices. Look with them for the help they need medically, spiritually, etc., but know that they must pursue it and engage with it themselves ultimately. But, be involved and supportive of their recovery. Where your family does need healing, own your part of it, and seek that healing.
May God, our loving Father, help you every step of the way in this journey. And may you truly know it.
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