Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Q & A Time

A couple or three weeks ago a college professor, Susan Winslow from an small college east of Los Angeles ask me if I could speak to her classes. Susan's classes had been studying drugs and addiction and had been reading my blog. Los Angeles is a little far for me to travel to speak to students and as with most institutions of learning funds are tight and they couldn't pick up expenses so I thought of a compromise. I ask the professor if as a class they would be interested in compiling a list of questions that I could answer and I would make myself available by phone or FaceTime if they wanted.

Last week I received a list of 10 questions from her classes. That very morning I fired off answers. Susan replied that they would be discussing the list and my answers this Thursday.

I asked Susan if it would be OK to share these questions on my blog. Her response was of course, please share them.

Over the next few days I will share all the questions. Probably a couple per day, depending on the length of my answer, some a bit wordy. But of course regular readers would expect that in my writing.

Most importantly I would love for you all to share how you might have answered or if you think my answer was complete BS share that too.

Prior to answering the questions I wanted to make sure the students knew they were not talking to a professional but merely a dad that had lived through the experience of an addicted loved one.

First of all I want to qualify my answers with the fact that I am not an addiction specialist, counselor, teacher or any other professional in the field of addiction. I am merely the parent of an addict that lived the experience of a son addicted to drugs for seven years. My knowledge in this subject comes from experience and reading. Anything I answer to your questions is borne of my experience and does not in any way construe expert or professional counsel in this subject. Just call me Dad; I am no different than your fathers and the millions of other fathers out there that would love their son through a terrible disease.

1. Do you think your son’s addiction has to do with his environment, or is it a disease?

This is like two questions in one. I am going to take liberties with this and answer it in two parts.

I certainly believe environment can influence experimentation with drugs and alcohol. However, I will not accept that environment is determining factor in the use of drugs. In my experience I have met addicts from rich and poor homes, religious and non-religious homes, broken homes and with married parents where both parents are in the home. Addiction does not discriminate; it is uniquely individual just as any other disease.

I do believe experimentation with drugs can strongly be influenced in peer relationships. What people perceive to be an accepted norm can become an influencer in choices and behavior. In the beginning experimentation or using drugs may be a choice, it becomes a disease.

Addiction is a disease. I struggled with this idea mightily for five years. I read and knew about the physiological changes in an addict’s brain and body. I’d seen pictures of an addicted brain and non-addict brain. I could compare and see the physical differences. Personally I couldn’t accept the disease model. In my mind, he made a choice to take drugs, simply make a choice to stop taking drugs.

I didn’t “get” it until one very bad day. I saw needles in our son’s room. We argued, screamed and cussed at each other for one hour. Fighting literally for a full hour at the very top of my emotions. Exhausted we both went downstairs and sat at the kitchen table. With my head in my hands and crying I begged my son once again to stop.

He asked me to play a game with him. He asked me to hold my breath as long as I possibly could hold my breath. During that time he said he would not think about drugs, getting drugs, using drugs, how drugs made him feel. He told me that I would win the game every time. He began to cry and begged me for help. He said he couldn’t even sleep in peace, he dreamed about and had nightmares about drugs.

At that very moment in time I understood. It was my light bulb moment. My son needed drugs as much as I needed oxygen. Simply asking him to stop would be as effective as asking me to simply stop breathing. That was when I internalized and accepted the disease model of addiction.

2.  What was your first reaction when you found out your son had an addiction?

Denial, denial, denial and oh, did I mention denial.

It’s just a little weed, boys will be boys.

Our first real acceptance that this was a problem was when the phone rang at 11:30PM while we were asleep. It was Overland Park Regional Hospital emergency room calling to inquire about our son. A young man without identification was pushed out of the backseat of a car onto the emergency entrance sidewalk unconscious and not breathing. The only thing on him was a book of checks with our name.

We were told that if this might be our son we should come as soon as possible. When we arrived he had been given Narcan and was conscious. This was really our first realization that our son was an addict.


Anonymous said...

I think your answers are great! Open and honest and straight to the point. I particularly like your explanation of how you "got" it.


Anonymous said...

I have a question, does your son drink alcohol? I know that most programs say that a recovering addict should not drink alcohol and I was wondering what your thoughts on that were. I know when my son stopped using drugs, he did drink alcohol and then became an alcoholic but I'm not sure that is the case for all recovering addicts.

Anonymous said...

Your answers are great & very honest. We all need to get it. I have been dealing over 45 years with addicts. My son's, daughter & some of my grandson's It is killing my husband & myself. We lost one son from a overdose & am so scread of losing more if they don't stop. They get help & stay clean for a little while & then start all over again. All we can do is keep loving them & praying for them to stop.

R Johnson said...

Thank you for sharing your light bulb moment of understanding addiction is a disease as well as what it took to recognize your son as an addict. These are honest thoughts that parents of adult children struggling with drug or alcohol addictions must come to terms with.