The Drug Addiction Epidemic: Help for Parents

I can Google the April 2015 slaughter of young people, the latest victims in an epidemic that costs us all, and I will come up with the horrific and heartbreaking news stories, the boldly brave statements of grieving parents, the ground­breaking obituaries. Jessica McCassie in New Hampshire, Molly Parks in Maine, Cathleen Melanson Wyman in Massachusetts, and almost surreally and
inevitably, Daniel Francis Montalbano in Florida.mountainsphoto

“Victim” of opioid addiction is sort of a misplaced term, since the pain has stopped for the kids who are dead. Real victims of the opioid or prescription painkiller or heroin epidemic are the mothers, fathers, children, friends, and partners who have been exhausted in their ongoing fight against denial, disintegrating hope, stigma, stress, impending doom, insufficient drug detox
services, unpredictable drug treatment outcomes, and now final grief.

Parents, the mothers in particular, find ourselves caught in a constant state of dual powerlessness: we are powerless over the path of a chronic disease and we are powerless over the evolutionary programming of our very DNA.

Parents do not think before snatching a child from the path of an oncoming vehicle; it’s an involuntary, full body, self­disregarding response to threat. But even when a child is on the brink
­­ a three year old hanging his toes over the curb alongside speeding traffic ­­ parents experience that same involuntary, full body, self­disregarding response to impending threat and they grab the child, pulling her back to safety.

In danger or on the brink of danger ­­ it’s all the same to parents.

Those Awkward Contributions from People Who Don’t Get It

Someone just asked me, “Don’t you think most parents of drug addicts are really just trying to help themselves? Trying to get their kid into drug treatment just to alleviate guilt or so the parents can get a good night’s sleep?”

I’m a multi­tasker, so I have multi­responses to that question. Some I vocalize and some I keep to myself. They are:

Maybe. My kind, tempered, diplomatic response, one honed from (inconsistent) practice of meditation and green smoothies and support group attendance.

You’re an a-hole. My quickest response, honed from sleepless nights, deliberate documentation of my child’s tattoos and birthmarks, thighs now molded by late night ice cream and crinkled from
diminishing estrogen, a pockmarked bank account, the chalky taste of Maalox that constantly coats my mouth, and the certainty that you’d never ask that question of a parent who just saved a child from drowning or who just snatched a toddler away from the edge of the deep end.

That question makes me defensive, and I need to look at where or how it threatens my belief system. My self-searching response, honed from 12­step work, constant self­appraisal, learning the benefits of an open mind, and an increasing, although begrudging, awareness that I’ve become a little hostile, impatient with fools, and more than a little isolated in my new­normal whirlwind of constant urgency and adrenaline.

What difference does it make (and why can’t you find just a little compassion to counter the criticism)? My soul weary response, honed from an ongoing and terrifying fatigue that permeates every cell of my body and mind, a hyper­sensitivity and defensiveness that seem to have settled in my very marrow, an almost desperate craving for comfort and kindness and a quiet hug, and the now certain knowledge that if you don’t “get it” nothing I say can change that.

And finally, Your freedom to ask that question comes from a place of deep blessing that makes me feel joyful for you and yours. My most honest response, honed from the understanding that you don’t get it because you have been blessed with healthy children, that your cold questions or ignorant comments or arrogant lectures spring from an utter lack of experience with my particular brand of heartache, a heartache I would wish on no one. And so I feel joy for you and yours, for the blessing of your inexperience with chronic disease and with the parental agony brought on by a suffering child.

The Addicts Mom Gets Help from Behavioral Health Network Resources

“I needed to connect with the primal emotion of a mother’s love and the desperation felt when that love is put under siege by the horror of a child’s addiction,” Barbara Theodosiou explains to John Lavitt of, a recovery based website that’s a great source for discussion, education, and recovery topics in the news. Barbara is the founder of “The Addict’s Mom” the groundbreaking support resource ­­ TAM for short ­­ that offers a safe haven for mothers faced with the nightmare of experience. TAM also offers a little vacation from those “blessed” people, the ones who don’t get it. Its online support groups ­­ there’s one in every state ­­ allow mothers to “share without shame.” For a group in your state go to and then add your state to the address (for example,

On The Addict’s Mom website , Barbara Theodosiou explains the motivation that led her to create TAM seven years ago. “Deep inside I knew I was not the only mom suffering. I knew there had to be other mothers who were going through the same emotional pain that I was. I wanted to create a place for mothers of addicts to have the freedom to share our pain without feeling the shame that often comes with having a child who is an addict. As the mother of two addicts, it took me four years to realize that I matter, that my life has purpose. I didn’t have to die inside because my sons were addicts. I am learning that I am important ­­ to myself and other people in my life, including my husband and other children.”

Organizations like Behavioral Health Network Resources have partnered with The Addicts Mom and raised over $400,000 worth of drug rehab scholarships. Moms go to TAM to find help, and that help morphs into friends which morph into sisters. No lectures or “you shoulds” or “why don’t you justs.” No shame, no blame, no criticism. Just a forum for women learning how to live and cope with the reality that a mother’s heart will be shattered with that one dreaded phone call. Molly Parks’ mom received it. Cathleen Wyman’s and Jessica McCassie’s moms received it. And sadly, this April, the call came for Barbara Theodosiou: Daniel Montalbano was her beloved son.

Reprinted with permission from “”. Copyright 2015. Kay Ryan