Addicts’ moms need support, not stigma
Updated 8/6/23 Addict’s moms suffer from the stigma of having children who aren’t perfect, worse that their children suffer from a disease that only they can cure. Moms can’t fix it. Addiction is a disease of brain reward that is chronic and progressive. It can’t be cured, but can be successfully managed with treatment and determination. Moms, however, can’t make it happen just because they long for their children to be all right. There’s no chemotherapy to take it away, so we have to work on it as a family and community.
There was a time when I was afraid to tell anyone that I had a child who was addicted to drugs. Even when that child was in recovery, it seemed like a betrayal to explore my struggles as a mom with others. When moms get together, they often talk about the accomplishments of their children, but not their problems. It’s painful to hear about “normal” families that don’t have addiction. Almost everyone, however, has an addiction story to tell. It’s in their family, or their in-laws’ family. The things that we believe about good and bad parenting are not necessarily true..
Time to separate fact from fiction about parenting and children who become addicted to substances and alcohol. Here are nine myths that need debunking.
Myth: #1 Good Mothers Don’t Have Children Who Take Drugs And Overdose
This misconception is painful. Stigma associated with addiction adds to the confusion moms have about themselves as good or bad parents. The truth is terrible moms can have kids that turn out great. By the same token absolutely great moms have kids who take drugs and overdose. Fact: Substance abuse and behavior addictions occur in every of background and socio economic group. Addiction can also persist no matter how great parents are and what they do to try to stop it.
Myth #2 Good Kids Don’t Drink Or Take Drugs
All kids have the potential to experiment with substances, and according to NIDA over 30% do. This number includes students with great grades and good social skills. 15% of teens become addicts and are at risk for death before they leave high school. Neither excellent students, nor troubled ones, take drugs with the intention of becoming an addict. Fact: Good and Bad have no relevance when it comes to addiction.
Myth #3 Substance Abusers Only Come From Dysfunctional Families
This is a common misconception. The potential for addiction does have a genetic component, just as the potential for other diseases, talents, skills and gender identification. But just because a family has addiction in its bloodline or experiences dysfunction doesn’t mean all the children who come from these backgrounds will become addicts, or that all addicts come from such a background.
Myth #3 Addicts’ Moms Should Be Ashamed
Mourning with dignity is essential for all moms who have lost children or are dealing with children who are active users. It’s just as agonizing as any other disease. Friends and colleagues don’t always respond with the same compassion for addiction as they would for another illness and casseroles are not forthcoming when a child is in crisis. Worse, addicts’ moms feel a lot of shame for having children they can’t save. Addiction is like any other progressive disease. With treatment there is the chance for survival. Without it, many people will get worse. Shame has no place in any catastrophic disease.
Myth #4 Addicts’ Moms Should Feel Guilty When Their Children Blame Them For Not Helping Enough
Addiction opens what seems like a black hole of need for money and support. Loving mothers trying to help can become exhausted and depleted of money, resources and spirits. When moms enter recovery and get help for themselves, children, or anyone caught up in an addiction, will resist the transition to taking responsibility for themselves. The resulting drama can make moms feel guilty. As they get stronger, healthy moms learn not to engage.
Myth #5 Addicts’ Moms Should Go Bankrupt Paying All the Bills
Addicts’ moms are not responsible for putting their adult children’s lives and needs above their own until there is nothing left. This is hard to learn but essential for recovery. Often substance abusers begin to heal when moms stop doing everything their children demand. Addicts don’t always recover, but moms can and deserve to heal no matter what happens.
Myth #6 Addicts Moms Can’t Be Happy If Their Children Are Still Using
We’ve met hundreds of moms along the way who lead full and happy lives despite their children’s active substance abuse, and even death. Moms are resilient when they believe that their feelings, productivity and lives matter. As one therapist told me only this week. “You can feel sad, even heartbroken, by a loss, and still cultivate happiness.” We know for a fact that is true.
Myth #7 Marriages Fail When Kids Are Substance Abusers
Anyone who’s been married knows that marriages go through many stages throughout the years. We’ve heard that marriages where both partners listen to each other and work as a team to focus on solution get stronger when dealing with the addiction crises. Where marriages have partners who don’t agree or one is in denial and the other wants to take action, addiction can indeed tear families apart.
Myth #8 Recovery Isn’t Successful If Users Don’t Fulfill The Potential They Had As Children
This is a misconception many families have because they don’t understand the nature of addiction and recovery. The potential of child that is lost in addiction may never return in the same form. But recovery brings different kinds of lives and gifts that are more than acceptable and satisfying. Successful moms need to understand that an adult child in recovery who fixes bikes, or works in a juice bar, or tie-dyes tee shirts at the beach, lights candles, loves sunsets and never wants to do anything else may be leading just as satisfying a life as an overworked professional sibling who never sees the light of day.
Myth #9 A Mom Who Doesn’t Receive Cards, Calls, And Thanks, Isn’t Loved
We’d like to send a hug and a big fat slice of cake to every mom on every day. We don’t always get the recognition and appreciation we need. And that hurts. The gift of love can come from any source even from within. A mother’s heart wants recognition for the care and devotion she has given. Teens, young adults, and older adults who use are not in the right place to return their mothers’ love. It doesn’t diminish the effort a mother makes every day. We pray that all substance users who are separated from their mom and other loved ones will find their way back some day.
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