First and foremost, if you are in any immediate danger, please reach out to another family member or relative, friend, neighbor, emergency services, or another trusted source to remove yourself from the situation before it gets too bad. Maybe you know your parent uses heroin because you’ve found some needles or other drug related paraphernalia, if that is the case, do not attempt to dispose of them yourself, leave them alone and ask for help. I hope that by now you are at least in a safe enough environment to potentially get your parent(s) the help he or she needs.
Growing up in a family where one or more family members are struggling with a substance abuse disorder can have a very detrimental impact to your overall well-being and development, so at the very least, try to remove yourself (and any siblings) from the unhealthy environment, at least until it is a healthy situation again, but sometimes I know that just isn’t possible. Either way, here are some additional steps you can take if you have recently discovered your parent is using heroin.
Before you try to take steps or confront your parent about their substance misuse, it is important to make sure that they are in fact struggling with addiction. While signs of addiction usually are based upon how much of a drug they consume and how often they do it, if you read through this list and are finding that you can check more than half of them off, you will probably want to start coming up with a plan of action for you parent and begin seeking treatment options.
If you have gone through this list and feel as though your parent is a drug abuser or heroin addict, then you must first try to understand addiction. Addiction is a disease of the brain that can chemically alter the brain’s structure over time. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction is a disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people, but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person’s self-control and interfere with their ability to resist intense urges to take drugs.
Drug addicted people have distorted thinking, behavior, and body functions. Long term changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for the drug and it makes it that much more difficult to stop using them. Brain imaging studies show changes in the area of the brain that relate to judgement, decision making, learning, and behavior control. By getting an understanding of what exactly your parent is struggling with and suffering from, we can be prepared for any outcome.
While finding out that a parent is addicted to heroin can be very alarming and unsettling, you must first try to get help for yourself first. Do your research and locate resources for yourself. There are 12 step support groups designed specifically for family and friends of addicts or alcoholics. You can attend Al-Anon, Ala Teen, or Nar Anon depending on your specific situation and what makes you feel most comfortable.
By now, I’m sure you know that addiction not only affects the user but everyone around them as well. So by making sure you are in the healthiest place possible, regardless of whether or not your parent is sober, will only help to guarantee that you continue to lead your healthiest life, even if they refuse to get help right now. Sometimes even just speaking to a therapist can help give us the extra support that we need.
Always approach someone in an active addiction with compassion, as they do not respond well to confrontation. I know that resentment and anger are sometimes at the forefront of your mind when it comes to an addicted parent, but you must remember they are sick. Expect there to be difficulties, they may deny that they have a problem, they may refuse to get help, or they may have so much guilt surrounding the subject that they won’t even talk to you about it. Ask them questions about their drug use and let them know that you are concerned about them and their well-being.
If you’re speaking to your parent and they still refuse to get help, let them know you will be taking more steps in order to get them the help they need. Involve people you trust (family members, friends, coworkers, etc.), other people who care, and whose lives have also been affected by your parents’ drug use.
Staging an intervention is one of the most beneficial ways of getting a loved one the help or care they need to overcome their drug addiction. Enlist the help of a mental health professional or an intervention specialist because making sure the intervention goes the right way is essential to getting them the care they need. This will most likely include setting consequences for the addict if they chose to not get help and setting healthy boundaries between you and the addict if they refuse.
Most importantly, don’t blame yourself if you have tried everything and they still refuse to get help. We now know that addiction is a disease, and someone has to want to get help in order to change. Hopefully, by giving your parents consequences and removing all unhealthy boundaries, they will eventually be left with no choice but to get treatment. Either way, just know you are not alone, as research shows that 1 in 8 children will have grown up in a home where at least one parent suffered from a substance abuse disorder. Help is available, recovery is possible.