The Hard Lessons I’ve Learned from My Daughter’s Ongoing Struggle with Heroin Addiction
Heroin is an illicit drug, related to opioids, which are highly addictive narcotic painkillers. As addiction to opioids rose in the 1990s and early 2000s, new laws made them more difficult to get. Many addicts turned to heroin, triggering a new crisis of addiction and overdose. People struggling with heroin addiction need professional treatment and support from loved ones to manage this chronic condition and to achieve and maintain sobriety.
As the mother of someone battling heroin addiction, I have had to learn on the fly and adjust my life to help her. My daughter is far from alone. In 2017, approximately 652,000 of the 1.7 million Americans struggling with an opioid use disorder were addicted to heroin, an increase from previous years.
I’m eager to pass on the lessons I’ve learned on this journey, in the hopes of helping other parents or any loved ones of someone struggling with this terrible disease. You can never really prepare for it, but if my hard-earned stories can help just a little, I’m glad for it.
Heroin Addiction Doesn’t Necessarily Look Like What You Think It Looks Like
Before my daughter’s addiction, everything I knew about heroin came from movies and TV shows. I thought heroin addicts were homeless, dirty, and poor. I assumed my well-off daughter with a college degree couldn’t possibly be one of these people.
I want other parents to know that heroin addiction hides for a long time, but the longer it takes you to discover it, the more difficult it is to treat. Our daughter started misusing prescription drugs after an accident that caused chronic back pain. She later told me that she kept taking more of these drugs to manage the anxiety she felt about her lingering health issues and because she couldn’t run anymore, a lifelong passion for her.
When she made new friends who were using heroin, the transition was easy. She got a faster, better high, and her anxiety and fears melted away. She continued to function for almost a year like this before we finally noticed the signs. She lost weight and her behaviors became odd, secretive. She just didn’t seem like herself, but it was hard to put a finger on why. Then she lost her job, and the truth came out.
Shame and Stigma Are Still Powerful
No matter how much addiction comes into the light—no matter how many people from all walks of life get sucked into this disease—stigma persists. Many people still view addiction (including those struggling) as a personal fault and as a weakness. This proven disease remains shameful to so many.
My daughter did not want to admit that she had an addiction for a long time. The overwhelming shame kept her from getting the help she needed for over a year. Only when the situation became untenable when she couldn’t earn a living, did she accept the truth and accept help.
Stigma may be the number one barrier to getting treatment for those living with a substance use disorder. It prevents early interventions, which can save time in treatment—and lives. Never let shame come before treatment, for you or a loved one.
It Takes Time in Treatment to Achieve Successful Recovery
After reading countless studies and articles on substance use disorder, I have learned what makes treatment for addiction effective. A mistake we made early on was to assume that our daughter could get sober with a week of hospitalization followed by drug counseling.
It just wasn’t enough. Now I know that effective treatment requires dedication and time, often months. The week of hospitalization got her through painful withdrawal, and she refrained from using for another few weeks, but then more complex factors came into play: old friends, old hangouts, stress, anxiety, and fear about the future. She used again.
My daughter is now in a dedicated treatment facility, where she can take time to focus on managing these and other triggers. She’ll stay there for at least three months. She will stay even longer if that’s what it takes to help her learn how to live with this disease.
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Active Support is So Important in Treatment and Recovery
We chose a treatment facility for our daughter with a focus on family support and participation. I’m so glad we did. I have learned since the start of this journey that no one can heal from addiction alone. Not only that, but the families of people struggling with heroin need to do their own healing.
So far, we have participated as a family in therapy sessions and without our daughter in education programs. My husband, son, and I have learned so much about addiction and learned that we never even realized how ignorant we were. That understanding is just the beginning of the compassionate, non-judgmental support that my daughter needs.
In treatment, we have learned practical ways to support our daughter. We have improved our communication. And I personally have been able to explore my own feelings of guilt and shame, the sense that I let my daughter down.
Thanks to our support, my daughter knows that she isn’t alone. No matter how difficult treatment is, she knows we are waiting at home and that she can stay there with us as long as she needs in order to feel comfortable living independently again.
You May Have to Say Goodbye to Someone at Any Time
Overdose death rates from heroin decreased in the last few years, but there is another sinister trend: The deaths caused by heroin combined with a synthetic opioid, like fentanyl, have increased. These deaths have steadily risen since 2013.
My husband and I have lived in fear of the possibility that one of our daughter’s next binges will be her last for the wrong reason. As synthetic opioids have flooded the market, we know there is every chance she will get heroin laced with one of these, or we know she will take both, knowing full well what she’s doing.
The toughest lesson I have learned from this experience with my daughter is that saying goodbye is always a possibility. While it’s painful and hard, this lesson has also helped me embrace life more, be less afraid, to try more, to be there for those I love and to tell them I love them.
Please learn from the lessons we have learned from our daughter’s struggle. Don’t assume your child cannot become addicted to this terrible drug. Anyone may become vulnerable, and overcoming this addiction is extremely difficult. Reach out as soon as you have any suspicion that your child, or anyone else you care about, is misusing drugs.
Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders.
Contact us today to start the journey toward lasting recovery.