To the parents...

To the Mother and Father of a Cocaine Addict

The problem of drug addiction is often thought of as one that concerns wives, husbands and close friends of compulsive drug abusers. Too seldom does anyone consider the plight of the confused and sorrowing parents.

Yet for them there is a special anguish, a helplessness, that makes their problem even more difficult. When a cocaine using husband or wife neglects and abuses a family, help is readily available through numerous public and private agencies.

But what can be done to enlighten and console the mother who suddenly realizes that her child is in the grip of a desperate compulsion? That this compulsion, like any other illness, has taken control of her child's life? What can she do, she asks herself, to bring her child back to health and happiness?

The relationship of a parent to a child is a deep emotional tie. It is they who brought the little one into the world, watched its faltering first steps, loved and guided it through the growing years, prayed and hoped for its happiness and success. The child is part of their lives.

Now that he is an adult, they no longer have the right to control him. But habit patterns die hard; a parent's impulse is to try to direct him as though he were still a child. Although he "runs back to mother" when he's in trouble, any attempt to control him simply will not work. He defies her authority; ignores her pleas and reproaches. Often the father's love and pride hampers recovery through his too-great permissiveness. The parents forgive, make excuses for him -- and hope against hope that what they are doing will help.

The parents may be defensive about his drug abuse, feeling they must share his guilt. This expresses itself in the heart-cry: "What did I do wrong? How could I have prevented this? I must somehow be at fault or he wouldn't be this way!"

If this has happened to you, try to realize, accept the fact that your child is sick. Doctors, social workers, clergymen and others who make a lifework of helping drug abusers, recognize addiction as an illness, as real as diabetes or tuberculosis.

If the cocaine addicted son or daughter lives at home, you may have been upset by the daily experience of living with unsettling behavior. Your child may have been exhibiting hyperactivity, chronic nasal congestion, irritability, mood swings, sleepless nights and severe depression. If the cocaine use has become extreme, you may be noticing rapid weight loss, chronic lack of energy or motivation, suspiciousness or paranoia, shedding of clothes (due to raised body temperature), and general neglect of personal hygiene. You listen and wait anxiously all night for the sound of the key in the door, you pay off increasingly high phone bills, and worry about the vast expenditures of money. You fear the ring of the telephone that may mean disaster or tragedy.

If he is married and has a family, you are concerned about how his drug use might be affecting his wife and children. You may make personal sacrifices so his family won't be deprived of necessities, taking on his responsibilities, such as bills, rent payments, debts. Some parents even go so far as to blame the spouse of the addict for the drug problem. No matter what their home situation is, the wife or husband cannot be blamed. The drug abuser uses cocaine because he is sick.

You can help only by facing up to these facts: he cannot control his drug abuse; you cannot force him to stop taking drugs by nagging, scolding, kindness or unkindness. You will need to realize and admit that you have no more right to criticize, admonish or demand sobriety of this adult than if he were a stranger. You can help him best if you can persuade yourself to Let Go -- and Let God.

You are not letting go and letting God if you repeatedly get him out of trouble. You are not letting go if you take responsibility for the problems his using creates. You are not letting go if you make excuses for him. This is difficult, even painful, for a parent to face. A parent, for example, whose grown son or daughter lives at home without paying rent and spends his money on cocaine instead, is enabling that child to continue using cocaine as long as he continues to let him live at home rent-free. This parent might have to start insisting on rent from the child, and if he refuses, ask him to leave. You'd be amazed at how many problem cocaine users will come to terms with their drug use when their enablers learn to say no. "But it's my own flesh and blood," the mother wails, "how can I let him down? Who will take care of him if I don't?"

The responsibility is not yours; no one is responsible. Don't be ashamed of him; don't protest when his wife or close friends seek help from a social agency or even the police. Severe cocaine abuse can induce violent behavior. Protection is sometimes called for. Avoid getting involved with late night phone calls or knocks on the door. Be loving, be gentle, show your concern to the addict, but don't protect him from the consequences of his drug abuse. Exposing the problem often brings about a crisis that makes the addict, himself, want to seek help. If his home life is threatened he may take the first step toward sobriety.

What you think of as your duty, your "tender, loving care" only puts off the day of reckoning. Your love for him must be strong enough to let him work out his own salvation. He is, remember, God's child as well as yours.

You can help him by being ready to suggest resources such as Cocaine Anonymous, local drug rehabilitation centers or a well-informed doctor -- but only at the right moment. That moment comes when he is really desperate about his drug use, when he admits he cannot control it and that he needs help; when he asks.

If and when he accepts CA, be content. CA can do for him what no mother, father, wife or child can do; the people in CA understand his problem because it is theirs, too. Don't try to share his struggle toward sobriety; let go. Don't mourn if he fails, once, twice or even more often. His friends and sponsors in CA know how to help him.

You can show real concern and compassion for your child by detaching yourself from his problem. This is real love. A permissive, indulgent attitude, even with the kindest of motives, does not help; it hurts. Strangely enough, the addict often seems to know instinctively that you are not helping by indulging him. When at last he is forced, by his own unendurable suffering, to cut himself free from the disease of drug addiction, he will be grateful to you for having helped him find the strength to take the first step.

Don't put off the bright day when he can again build himself a life of purpose and achievement which he so desperately needs.

And meanwhile, to sustain your courage and find your own peace of mind, go to your nearest Co-anon Family Groups, attend the meetings, share your experience with others who will understand because they live with the same kind of problems. You will find help there, and courage, strength and hope.

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