Don't blame yourself for your child's addiction

Addiction is a disease with such a strong stigma that even the parents of an addicted child feel responsible. But this shouldn’t be the case.

When you hear that your child has an addiction, your first thought is likely, “I failed him.”

However, once you have a better understanding of how addiction works, you’ll understand that your child’s addiction is not your fault.

How People with Good Upbringings Become Addicted

We are currently dealing with an opioid crisis of epic proportions. More than 38 percent of the over 52 thousand overdose deaths in 2015 were directly related to opioid use.

If you believe your child’s addiction is your fault, you would also believe that every one of those people had problems with their home life. But that would be an extremely unlikely scenario.

Let’s look at a fictional example that represents many people struggling with addiction today.

Debbie is a 22-year-old mother who was raised in a middle-class family. Neither of her parents suffered addictions of any kind.

Debbie suffers from chronic pain from an injury related to a car accident she had a few years back. She used to “grin and bear” the pain, but now she has a toddler to run around after.

When Debbie talked to her doctor about pain, he wrote a simple prescription, and she was able to run and play with her child. Everything was great.

Over time, though, Debbie found that she needed higher doses of her pain meds to dull the pain. So her doctor upped her meds.

Debbie quickly became addicted. By the time her doctor suspected addiction, it was too late.

Debbie began “doctor shopping” to find anyone who would prescribe painkillers. This worked for a while, but then she ran out of doctors. Out of desperation, she turned to heroin to dull her pain and ease her withdrawal symptoms. Heroin is an opioid that works similarly to prescription painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin.

How Addiction Works in the Brain

In the fictional example above, pain was Debbie’s motivation for taking drugs. Her actions were even completely legal until she became addicted. Once addiction takes hold, it changes a person’s brain chemistry.

Not everyone walks the same path, and some people first choose to take drugs or use alcohol for fun or to escape reality. This choice may lead to addiction, but it is not why people become addicted.

Understanding the brain’s pleasure receptors

You may find many things pleasurable in different ways, but the brain sees them all as the same. When something is pleasurable, the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine in a section of the brain that lies beneath the cerebral cortex.

All substances of abuse mimic pleasurable activities by causing a surge of dopamine in this area of the brain. The severity of the surge is directly related to the addictive properties of the drug. So, a drug that is considered highly addictive will produce an intense dopamine surge.

Over time, the person needs more of the substance to produce the same result. He or she will no longer get pleasure from the drug, but their brain remembers and yearns for that initial dopamine surge.

This is how addiction rewires the brain. Your addicted child now feels like he or she needs the drug in order to feel anything. If the addicted person stops providing the dopamine surge through drugs, he or she will experience physical withdrawal symptoms.

Why Your Child’s Addiction is Not Your Fault

As we’ve learned above, addiction is a disease that changes brain chemistry. Your child may have made a choice to use an addictive substance, but we all make mistakes. The only difference here is that your child became addicted and lost control. This is not your fault, and it’s not your child’s fault either.

If you have a child who is struggling with addiction, know that you don’t have to go it alone. Regardless of the stage you are in, whether it’s intervention or rehabilitation, there are support groups that can help your family through the process. Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are two well-known examples, but you may find other groups in your local area.

Remember not to blame yourself as you embark on this journey of recovery with your child.

Article provided by Trevor McDonald