The shame and humiliation of having an addicted child

Photo credit: Mike Church Show

When those in recovery reference the shame that comes with substance use disorder, I get it. Because as a mom, I got that treatment, too.

It was bad when my son suffered depression and anxiety attacks at school. But attitudes towards my family and Charles got much worse once drugs entered the picture.

I expected it from clueless neighbors and uneducated parents.

Surprisingly, the most belittling humiliation came from behavioral health specialists–people I was paying to educate me on what to do. Don’t get me wrong, there are some compassionate, awesome people in the field. But in 2010, finding them was not easy.

One particular instance stands out in my mind.

My family was in an intense outpatient program for Charles and we were the only family where both my husband and I showed up with our son. At that time, I was barely hanging in there, holding onto hope with the edge of my fingernails.

Charles had broken into a store after mixing alcohol and ambien, his sleep medicine. He was not understanding his own behavior and we were crushed because he was arrested in front of his whole family on a beach vacation. What’s worse, he was humiliated and we didn’t know what to do.

I was trying to figure out what his diagnosis was from a mental health perspective and his sleep disorder was out of control.

So back to the adolescent drug abuse outpatient program.

I approach the group leader at week 6 out of 8 to ask about the sleep medication his doctor had ordered. After the Ambien incident and the fact that it was creating bizarre behavior, his sleep doctor had prescribed Restoril. We were out of options and trying to get a teen to execute a regimented sleep and light therapy program was simply not realistic given his level of maturity.

I didn’t know much about this medication and I wanted an opinion. I was asking for feedback but what I got back was not what I expected.

When I asked about the medication, the jaw dropped, I got the eye roll and this person said, “Some parents are so stupid,” followed by stalking off and throwing hands in the air.

At my lowest and most vulnerable moment, someone kicked me when I was down. Not literally, of course but that’s what it felt like. I stood there shaking and trying to suppress tears which I was unsuccessful in doing.

At no time in this process did I feel more shocked, ashamed and confused. If I could have crumpled up in a ball, sunk through the floor and disappeared, I would have.

For the only the second time I had confided in a behavioral health professional about medication, I got a completely unprofessional response that left me feeling devastated.

So what happened after that? I swallowed my hurt and we finished the program. I never got any answers or discussion on what I had asked about.

Once we were at the point he was supposed to have twice a week follow up to transition out, it never got set up. I called every single day for over 2 weeks. Finally, I get a call back. I was told they were not going to set up the follow up sessions because of the sleep medicine. And then they hung up.

So that was the answer I got to my question over a month later.

I had time to pursue finding resources for my son or looking for vindication. And I chose my son. It wasn’t the first time we were mistreated. Or the last.

What am I getting at? There is prejudice within the behavioral health system itself–the last place I ever expected to find it. When it comes to changing attitudes, it needs adjustment on all fronts, in all places if we are to beat this epidemic.

These young people suffering addiction need our support, not our disdain.

And guess what? Their parents need it, too.

Published by

AnneMoss Rogers

AnneMoss Rogers is a mental health and suicide education expert, mental health speaker, suicide prevention trainer and consultant. She is author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW. She raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost her younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. She is a motivational speaker who empowers by educating and provides life saving strategies and emotionally healthy coping skills. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now that's the legacy she carries forward in her son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website.

5 thoughts on “The shame and humiliation of having an addicted child”

  1. the effects of drugs are never good.my husband was an addict for 10 years. this got him rehabilitated twice and sometimes in trouble.i almost gave up on him until he got prayed for by diviner peterson, who helped in getting him free from addiction.i got to contact him after i saw a testimony of a lady on this blog who also faced similar issue with her son until he got prayed for. now my husband is free from addiction and is being the best husband and father to our kids and i i’d urge anyone on this blog facing similar or any problem to also contact him via email:newgracefoundation@gmail.com

  2. Anne Moss, as you may or may not remember I have been a mental health nurse for many years. Let me share with you one of Tyler’s experiences with in-patient drug treatment: He voluntarily admitted himself to a local, private facility; they were happy to accept him since he had private health insurance. Insurance initially approved him for 7 days of detox b/c of his extensive drug use. Additionally he was approved for 30 days IN-PATIENT REHABILITATON which is almost unheard of. He was so happy he was finally feeling more like his old self & going to get the help he so desperately needed. But then he made what proved to be a big mistake. Tyler went to his attending psychiatrist & confessed he had taken two pills offered to him by another patient. They were not narcotics or control medications however they were not prescribed for him. The doctor immediately discharged him, despite continuing signs & symptoms of withdrawal. Tyler’s social worker, counselor & many others attempted to intervene on his behalf, all to no avail. The other patient received no consequences for his actions. I seriously considered seeking legal recourse as this doc has several other lawsuits pending dragging out. I feel this could have been a turning point in his life. The next year he took his life.

    1. Oh Tijwanna. It’s so heartbreaking isn’t it? That police incident where they searched his pants undid Charles like no other incident ever did. He was sexually assaulted in handcuffs by a policeman and it went downhill from there. So I think these moments for our kids are pivotal. They just give up because they can’t catch a break.

      Your son TOLD them. He was up front and honest and look where it got him in the place he least expected it. That kills me.

  3. As someone who has worked in the healthcare side (hospice) as a mental health professional (LCSW) I am crushed by this interaction. And all the others I do not know about. Prescription education was such a big part of my job as we helped families manage pain, anxiety, depression, sleep, etc. Most of the time we started with the fastest solution — meds — then were able to move to the psychological support. I absolutely hate that you were treated with contempt when you were seeking information and help. Not to mention the fact that the sleep disorder and meds are a critical part of understanding the whole. Argh…

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