Drug Addiction: It's a Family Affair, Part 1

Substance abuse is a huge problem in America today, affecting families from every stratum of society. To find out how parents can help their adult child who are using and how they can help themselves, too, I interviewed an expert on the subject, Dr. Maureen Murdock.

Maureen Murdock, PhD.

Maureen Murdock, PhD.

  In the last 17 years there’s been a 300% increase in fatal overdoses from drugs, many of them prescription pain relievers called opioids—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Right now more than twenty million people in the United States are suffering from drug abuse disorders, including ingestion of heroin, the cheaper and more readily available street sister of prescription drugs. Opioid abuse accounts for one and a half more deaths per year than vehicular accidents. Moreover, it’s an equal opportunity destroyer that afflicts the middle-class, the well-educated, and the well-loved as well as the downtrodden, the high school dropout, and the neglected. Given the epic proportions of this scourge, it may very well have ensnared your adult child, too.
     What’s the tipoff? If you pay attention, you will probably notice troubling changes: Your daughter may have lost weight, started to argue with her siblings, become neglectful of her appearance and careless with her possessions. If she’s still in school, her grades may have slipped and if she works, she may be having trouble holding onto a job. Her friends are less savory and you are less likely to be introduced to them.
     What’s a parent to do? According to Maureen Murdock, PhD, psychotherapist with a specialty in substance abuse issues, “The first step is accepting the fact that addiction is a disease, one that often runs in families. It shouldn’t be a moral issue, but parents feel so much shame and guilt when the subject comes up that their first response is often incredulity and denial, not to mention outrage: ‘That’s impossible!’ they’ll say. ‘My son has always been a good kid.’”
     After you come to grips with the reality of the situation yourself, get your spouse onboard if you have a spouse. Dr. Murdock says that when parents are not on the same page—which is often the case—the long road to recovery becomes that much longer. To prevent a drug abusing child from playing one parent off against the other, she urges you to do whatever you need to do, including couples therapy, to present a united front.

Remember, says Dr. Murdock:

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

     In future posts we’ll talk about intervention, treatment, and parental self-care in the face of your adult child’s addiction. Please share your story to inspire and instill hope in others. And do know that help exists. For information on treatment and other options, you can contact the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation at 1-866-275-2213 or hazeldenbettyford.org.  You might also want to read Addict in the Family: Stories of Loss, Hope, and Recovery by Beverly Conyers, a book highly recommended by Dr. Murdock.

Maureen Murdock is a psychotherapist, teacher and social activist who writes and speaks widely on the subject of substance abuse.

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