Q&A: Helping an adult child caught up in the opioid epidemicWritten by Focus on the Family
How should I talk to my grown son about his addiction to opioid drugs? It's obvious to all of us who care about him that he's developed a serious problem, but he's completely unwilling to admit it – either that, or he doesn't realize how far gone he really is. His substance abuse has impacted our entire family. Is there anything I can do?
Yes, there's a lot you can do. But keep in mind that the effectiveness of your efforts will depend almost entirely on your son's cooperation.
As an adult he's old enough to make his own decisions. You can't force him to change if he isn't willing to listen to your concerns and go along with your recommendations. But you might get him to take a second look at his choices if you handle the situation with sensitivity, humility and care.
Your son is not alone
The opioid crisis has taken America by storm over the last couple of decades. Since the late 1990s, we've seen an exponential increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs in the United States and Canada. The potency and easy availability of these substances have made them popular as medical treatments and as recreational drugs:
Oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Fentanyl (a compound synthesized to resemble other opiates such as morphine and heroin)
What makes this situation particularly alarming is the high danger of overdose associated with opioid use. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reports that overdose deaths from opioids (including heroin, to which many users turn when they can't get prescription drugs) have reached epidemic levels. We've even heard of parents overdosing at home in front of their children! No wonder the federal government has called the opioid crisis a “public health emergency.”
What's the root of drug addiction?
Drug addictions of all kinds are rooted in the basic human craving for attachment and relationship.
As the parent of an addict, this is important to realize because long-term recovery and healing are unlikely apart from a thorough understanding of the emotional and psychological issues that started the problem in the first place.
Without healthy interpersonal relationships, some individuals – especially those with addiction-prone personalities – try to fill the gap and medicate the pain with drugs, alcohol or other self-soothing substances.
But using these substances changes the chemistry of the brain. So behaviour quickly grows from a pleasure-driven destructive habit into an addiction with a severe biological grip. This physiologically based problem can be extremely hard to resolve. That's particularly true in the case of opioids because they're some of the most powerfully addicting drugs on the market.
Talk with your son
As soon as you can, share your concerns with your son openly, honestly, and humbly. But remember that you have issues and problems of your own – it's not your place to "fix" him.
Cast a vision for him by focusing on his good qualities. Help him see that God has a better plan for his life. Say something like, "You may see yourself as unloved, unappreciated, or unable to cope with life without drugs. But I love you, appreciate you, and see your life in an entirely different light. I believe that you will seek help someday."
Encourage your son to face his addiction and find professional treatment. Get involved in the therapeutic process together as a family. Call Focus on the Family Canada's counselling staff to get started. They'd be happy to give you referrals to helpful programs or a list of qualified therapists in your area who specialize in treating drug addiction.
What if he won't listen?
If your son won't willingly get help, an intervention strategy might be necessary. Professional intervention can be expensive, but you can organize something informal by asking friends and family for help.
- Limit the group to three to five individuals. (Any more than that might overwhelm your son.) You also may want to involve a professional counsellor or the pastor of your church.
- Gather everyone together at a time when your son doesn't suspect what you're up to. (The element of surprise is crucial to the success of an intervention. If he knows it's coming, he might not show up – or he'd have time to prepare a defence.)
- Once you're all in the room and the door is shut, go around the circle and have each person say something positive and supportive about your son. Then give everyone a chance to describe their observations of his behaviour and express their concerns about his addiction.
- Recommend concrete and specific treatment at a hospital or detox treatment centre. Then press your son to make a decision on the spot. Do not let him put the decision off until the next day. (In the event he consents, it would be good to have a car ready to take him to the treatment facility right away.)
Remember that the detox process is going to be long and difficult. When you're dealing with opioids, it usually takes at least 13 days to purge the drug from the patient's system and at least another week's stay in the hospital to deal with related after-effects.
At the end of that time, it would be ideal if your son could enroll in an extended rehabilitation program. But if that's not possible or too expensive, a residential discipleship program – such as Rock Solid Refuge (for guys ages 15 to young adult) or Mercy Ministries (for women ages 18-35) – might be a good alternative.
Whether or not your son chooses rehab or a residential program, it's critical that he surround himself with a support system of friends and family who can hold him accountable to his commitment to stay clean.
Everyone involved needs to help him face the root causes of his addiction. Consider getting the help of a professional psychiatrist, addictions-trained licensed therapist, or certified addictions counsellor. They can assess your son's psychological condition and review life factors that may have moved him toward addiction.
Explain the spiritual aspects of addiction. Many people let themselves listen to the lies of the enemy of their souls. Understanding the supernatural dimension of the situation will give your son an important advantage in his work to overcome temptation.
When all's said and done, the recovery process – if successful – could take as long as three to five years.
Don't rescue your son
We need to offer a word of caution: It's not uncommon for parents to enable an adult child by bailing them out of legal problems or the difficulties (even homelessness) that result from drug use. But "rescuing behaviours" will only delay your son's search for deep and true help.
We know that seeing our children struggle is heart-wrenching, no matter their age. Unfortunately, your son will probably need to hit rock bottom if he's ever going to find and follow the inspiration to change. As much as parents might want to save an adult child from the tragic consequences of their choices, that's not always possible.
If you're dealing with this situation – or if you're fighting an enabling cycle – the support and guidance of a well-trained counsellor will be essential. Don't hesitate to call our counselling department at 1.800.661.9800 for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our professional counsellors will be happy to help in any way they can.
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