This week the father of a recovering heroin addict told me he has addiction PTSD. I’ll call him Jesse and his daughter, Amy. After telling his and Amy’s story, Jesse mentioned his PTSD almost as an afterthought. PTSD is common for families coping with addiction, but new for Jesse. Like millions of other parents, Jesse didn’t think one of his children would fall prey to addiction, and did not know what to do. After several overdoses, how could he save an adult child no longer living at home who didn't, at first, want help? Jesse was able to get Amy into detox, treatment, and sober living. Now she has a program and the support of her family and addiction doctors to help her stay in remission. Great family outcome.
But Jesse has PTSD
Jesse quickly learned that no one gets a parade of casseroles after having that final showdown and taking an adult child to detox. Jesse and his family rallied around Amy, but the comfort and pictures of what life would be like when recovery worked for them as a family were just not there. They didn’t know what recovery looks like. What we see in the media still, are the images of death and mayhem and criminal activities, and...failure. There is no national campaign to show what recovery looks like, no major efforts to educate family members on how to deal with young adults in recovery, and no major support for the recovery lifestyle. What does recovery look like? Where is the fun? Are you ever happy again? Does PTS ever fade?
While addiction is inescapable in our society, recovery has not become a regular feature story in mainstream reporting. And it should be featured everywhere. Recovery is the solution to the addiction epidemic. Education and information that normalizes the recovery journey are needed as part of any funding for addiction. In a public forum two weeks ago, Jesse asked lawmakers what was being done for family members. He was met with silence.
Addiction PTSD Occurs In Family Members
Family members often suffer crippling anxiety, flashbacks, fear of telephone calls, lack of trust in a loved one, anger at a loved one, and other lasting emotional fallout from dealing with a loved one’s addiction. Addiction is an assault on emotional wellbeing that changes a parent, spouse, sibling and friends' lives forever.
What people don’t know is that life and relationships for families in recovery are better than it was before addiction.
Recovery Brings Hope
Addiction is horrific, like cancer, but is worse than cancer in one major way. Addiction is the only disease in which the patient has to decide he wants the treatment needed to survive. For family members the fact that the patient is the one who makes the decisions, is the hardest thing to accept. Family members can’t save their loved ones all by themselves. But with education, and a national policy of support, parents can catch the signs and symptoms sooner and treat the disease faster.
Jesse's story, and mine, and that of 23 million other Americans in recovery show there is good reason for hope. About that PTSD, the answer is yes. After a while when recovery has taken hold and is a lasting part of the entire family dynamic, the PTSD also goes into remission.