Shift Happens

Musings on the mind and the perennial capacity for change

When Mom is a Drug Addict

Drug addiction can happen to the best of families.

I recently had a family, minus the mother, come to see me. They were greatly concerned, and rightfully so that Mom was “using”. Mom is indeed addicted to opiates and other narcotics that have kept her back pain at bay for years. A couple of pills in the morning get her up. Two more at breakfast. Who knows what goes on during the day? A few before making dinner. And then Mom is catatonic and crashed out before even the littlest goes to bed. Then the process continues all over again and when the medication proved to be less effective, more and more was added.

Yes, the family is keeping count and yes, they do notice the significant changes in behavior throughout the day. There are the ups and the downs. They can monitor the pain as much as their Mother can just by watching the pill intake. And the amount of narcotics has increased significantly over the years. It is no secret that as your body becomes used to certain drugs it craves and demands more and more for the same result.

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But new articles (CAMFT, September/October 2012) note that there is a progression from medication dependency to medication abuse to pseudo-addiction and then finally addiction. Where is the line and are we kidding ourselves. The pharmaceutical industry will do anything to hide from the word “addiction.” Unfortunately those who are addicted cannot.

Mom is scared to death to stop taking the pills. If you have ever suffered from severe back pain or other chronic pain, you know it is excruciating, life changing. The offer of pain clinics, hypnosis, alternative medicine have no allure to someone who feels they have conquered the pain through other means, no matter what those means are. Suggestions of twelve-step programs seem ridiculous to someone who is suffering so. The article goes on to suggest such non-pharmacological treatments as hydrotherapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, prayer, meditation, and hypnosis

The question is, how do you solve the problem? Clearly the pill popping is not going to stop until the pain does. As it turned out, the research on back pain treatment by Mom and Dad has been minimal. After one round of back surgery, Mom swore, “never again.” There are, however, newer treatments that do not require surgery and have proven extremely effective. In this case I believe they can be life saving in many ways.

Let’s say the treatment is successful? Can Mom automatically stop the pills? The answer is no. Mom is an addict or a pseudo-addict and like any addiction, relapse without the proper monitoring is always possible. She will need an intensive program overseen by the appropriate medical experts to wean her off the drugs and help her deal with her irrational thinking and urges.

The best solution is to find a real solution to the issue causing the pain. For those who have had no success in the past, keep looking. There are newer treatments that are very effective. For those currently taking narcotic-based medication, the pharmaceutical world has changed offering a wide arrange of non-narcotic products that actually work.

It is also important to make your family part of the process. They need to be your cheerleaders in trying new interventions and be there to help you as you wean yourself from the old ones.

Having a parent who is an addict is both frightening and embarrassing. Make sure your child has someone to talk to about this so they can understand the problem and be part of the solution. A supportive family is always the best medicine.

Susan Winston, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a television producer and writer in Los Angeles.

 

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