Dear Parents: I am the mother of three children, two of whom are addicted to heroin.
I have been involved in this horrific odyssey for six years. There are no words to describe the impact heroin addiction has had on my children and my family. Heroin addiction destroys and ruins lives.
An Involved Parent
When my oldest son Peter and only daughter Charity (McIver) became involved with heroin, I had no idea it was happening. I was, and am, an involved parent. I have a master's degree in child development. I stayed at home to raise my children because I wanted to be the person who formed and molded their opinions and values. My husband and I were active in our children's lives. We spent all our time together as a family. We did everything right and it turned out wrong.
I thought I should have seen it coming, but I didn't. And most likely you won't either, because we all suffer from the "Not My Kid" syndrome. I didn't plan on my children being in jail instead of attending college. I never considered the humiliation of public trials or the degradation of sitting in the county detention center, feeling out of place as I waited to see my child. Drug addiction didn't happen to families like mine. Drug addiction only happened in dysfunctional households where the parents didn't supervise their children and the home life was abysmal.
I was wrong. I have watched my happy, vibrant children go on a downward spiral into a deep depression, to a place where I couldn't follow and wouldn't want to. As they traveled into the belly of the dragon, down into the depths of hell, there was nothing I could do to save them.
Mom Can't Fix This
Educate yourself about the signs of drug use and addiction. Heroin use can mirror typical adolescent behavior, and you can be fooled into believing everything is OK. If you suspect that your child is using drugs, intervene now. You have the right to search your child's room. Get help immediately. Treat this like any other life-threatening disease.
If your child is an addict and is fortunate enough to be in a rehabilitation program, take advantage of the family counseling sessions. Learn how to quit being codependent. The most valuable gift you can give to your addicted child is to untangle yourself from his addiction. This is his problem and you can't solve it for him. You will have to restrain every fiber in your being to do that, especially if you are a mother. Mothers are naturally codependent. We're nurturers and fixers and we've always been able to fix our children's problems. This is one situation that mom can't fix.
Dealing With Adolescents
If you have children entering the middle school and high school years, beware. Fifty percent of high school students have used drugs by the time they reach their senior year. The stereotype of children involved with drugs has changed during the past decade. The honor students and the outstanding athletes are now engaging in drug activities. Your children may be maturing but your parenting job is not over. Adolescent children need you just as much as when they were younger. Make your children accountable and check up on them to help them keep their word. Don't honor trust once it has been broken. Giving your trust, once that trust has been broken, can be a life-threatening decision.
If your child is incarcerated, remember that the time will pass and your child will have another opportunity to change his life. Try to find a transitional program that will help him adjust to a new life, build new vocational skills, and learn living skills that he never had because he was too busy chasing his next fix. The skills needed to live on the street can be turned into assets with the proper training and counseling.
Most importantly, change your thinking from "Not My Kid" to "It Could Be My Kid." Because for me, it was my kids.
Written by Leslie Hinebaugh, with ABCNEWS.com's Rebecca Raphael