(Thirty-second in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)
During the years since our son died, we have been encouraged and supported by his friends –many of whom have awe-inspiring recovery stories. We asked several of them to share their stories in Opiate Nation with the hope that they will give insights for parents and encourage other young adults to know they can be sober and have a meaningful life full of joy, love, and hope.
What we learned from these stories – and from the many stories we have heard in recovery meetings, in the news, and in books – is that there are some common threads that run through the lives of people struggling with addictions. And although there are no formulas for raising kids who will not use drugs or abuse alcohol, becoming aware of the common threads and risk factors in families with addiction and alcoholism is a good place for parents to start. If these commonalities are understood and taken into consideration, they might help avert tragedies such as the one we experienced.
I have written about each of these threads in separate chapters of Opiate Nation, but I will summarize them here:
There are strong genetic tendencies in our own families and in every one of the stories we have heard from our son’s friends. This doesn’t mean that there are not other risk factors at play too. But it is important to shake the family tree and look under the leaves for members whose addiction is hiding underneath, perhaps in the guise of another compulsive behavior like gambling, spending, eating disorders*, or fanaticism in a variety of areas. This Chinese proverb reflects the idea that we are inextricably connected to our family heritage:
To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root. Both are impossible.
Behavioral patterns of family dysfunction play important roles in addiction and alcoholism. How a family unit allows violence or responds to illness, death, poverty, divorce, etc. can negatively impact the way young people deal with relationships and difficulties in their life.
Early childhood or adolescent trauma is a significant risk factor for self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, and especially for young women when that trauma is of a sexual nature.
Socio-economic demographics include areas of unemployment and ensuing poverty that have had statistically higher percentages of opioid and alcohol addiction. While at the opposite end of the spectrum, wealth and entitlement along with lack of community relationships create a different danger zone.
There are specific geographic danger zones that enable easier accessibility, which leads to more peer group experimentation and use. In the United States, those living in areas with close proximity to Mexico and the drug corridors are particularly vulnerable. Although, now with the ease of ordering illicit drugs via internet and sent through the mail to our homes, no area of the country is out of reach from the influence of the drug cartels and illicit drugs labs around the world.
Jeremy Hardy, an English comedian, said: “The thing that interests me most about family history is the gap between the things we think we know about our families and the realities.”
As you read the stories of hope in the next several blogs, look for the common threads that you may have in your own lives and in your communities. I hope they will contribute to your overall awareness and then result in steps to minimize addictive patterns of behavior in yourself and your loved ones.
*Insatiable Hungers: Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse
By Adrienne Ressler, MA, LMSW, CEDS