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We all want to put our best self forward. It is human nature. The sociologist Irvin Goffman referred to this as “impression management”.  We want to be viewed as competent, we want our children to be viewed as successful, we want our marriages to be viewed as blissful, we want our schools to be top notch, and we want our community to be viewed as impeccable. This has always been the case.

Of course, Facebook has taken impression management to an entirely new level.

We want the picture to look perfect, however, addiction makes the picture ugly.  Unfortunately, these tendencies to hide the truth play right into the hands of addiction. Denial exists on the individual level, the family level and the community level.

Admitting that addiction has entered the scene is a very difficult thing to do.  It comes with so much shame and embarrassment.

The stigma around addiction is alive and well and it keeps people from seeking help. It also contributes to the family tendency to unintentionally protect the addiction. We don’t want others to know so we suffer in silence and we hope for the best. Many families won’t even talk to other family members for fear of being judged. We also know this can extend itself to our schools and other community institutions. If we aren’t careful there will be a collective effort to minimize the seriousness of substance use disorders.

This is especially pronounced where parents are concerned. When you are dealing with a child who is struggling with addiction there will be a lot of fear based and anxiety.  Intrusive thoughts will invade your consciousness.  Thoughts like:

  • What do we do now?
  • Is he going to make it out alive?
  • What if he winds up in jail?
  • Where do we send him for help?
  • Where did we go wrong?
  • How do we pay for this help?

Many uncomfortable “scenarios” will be played out in your mind.  You will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out all the possible outcomes.  This process is natural and hard to avoid. You will learn to manage them but they come naturally.  All of this contributes to a great deal of stress and can manifest itself in serious physical and mental health problems for parents.

But there are some UNNECESSARY thoughts that may pop up.  This category will suck the life out of parents.  These thoughts serve no purpose and will ultimately make the entire recovery process more difficult to manage.  We call this the “WHAT WILL “THEY” THINK CATEGORY. You may ask. Who is this mysterious “they”?  “They” are all the people in your life that you believe will judge you and your kid harshly. Could be friends, could be family, could be acquaintances, could be co-workers, could be the preacher at church, could be anyone… anyone you are concerned may pass judgement.

Examples include:

  • What will grandma and grandpa think about this situation?
  • What will the preacher think about my son?
  • What will my co-workers think about this issue?
  • What will the ladies my prayer group say about his behavior?

These are the thoughts that need to be crushed. Parents have enough on their plate. Adding the emotional turmoil of societal judgment will impede their ability to solve problems, think clearly and manage the very real stress associated with the situation.

Substance use disorders are a healthcare issue and should be treated as such. If a person is drinking too much or using substances at a dangerous level it needs to be talked about and addressed. There is nothing to be ashamed of in seeking help. There is no down side to asking questions. Family members need an outlet to explore their concerns and individuals need ease of access to start the recovery process. We must create environments of open sharing and positivity.  We must make recovery a welcoming process. There needs to be an uplifting and empowering “vibe” around recovery. Parents need to look for information and support and ultimately start to develop a plan for managing the issue:

Some simple and practical advice:

1) Get uber-educated and informed on the subject of addiction and recovery. Look for books and resources. Look to experts but be careful because many people have declared themselves instant experts.  Look to people with experience in this area. Other parents who have dealt with addiction make a great resource.

2) Make a plan for your recovery and a plan for “your response” to the CURRENT STAGE of your loved one’s disease. Again, education is paramount.

3) Find a coach or supportive person to encourage and guide you as you make these plans.

4) Work the plan. Every time you get off track get right back on the plan.

5) Maintain Contact with your coach as your work the plan. Encouragement and supportive advice is essential throughout.

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