Parenting an addicted child


Meet the parents. Two hardworking local people, educated, community-minded, raising a family. They have two children, an older boy, a younger daughter.

As a young teen, the boy got involved with an older girl and was lured from the home much of the time. They began using hard drugs. Couple of years on, the older girl was not around any more, but the drugs were, all through what should have been the high-school years. Now he’s almost 20.

“We’ve had four and a half years of what?” asks Mom. “It’s agony, it’s heartbreak, it’s exhaustion. It’s just running around knocking on people’s doors at 7 a.m. looking for your kid, and they send you to someone else’s house and someone else’s, and you find out your kid is in Albany …”


“With four other kids … during school hours …,” adds Dad.

“And doing who knows what,” says Mom. “Doing drugs, selling drugs, buying drugs. Who knows what?”

“We made it as difficult, as brutally painful for him to be able to do this,” says Dad. “The parents that hide this … There’s plenty of parents that you see at the store, and it’s, ‘Hey, how’s it goin’.’ Well, other than that my kid is shooting heroin, it’s okay …”

The really dangerous thing that people won’t say, according to Dad, is “Well, it’s not that my kid is doing heroin, it’s that my kid is probably enticing your kid into doing heroin…”

Mom and Dad let me know that the Kid is finally doing better. “Today, he’s fine. He checked in with me today, he’s with his friends,” says Dad. After many legal battles, a bench warrant had put the kid in jail for a couple of months, something that the parents reluctantly came to realize was necessary.

It “took four kids dead for this to even remotely turn around,” says Dad.

“According to him, he knows of twelve kids, peers [northern Ulster County kids who have died from overdoses.] The last one [Ryan Molnar] hit him probably the hardest,” says Mom.

You can tell when he’s not telling you the truth?

“Well, yeaaahhh …” says Dad.

“Most of the time, you can tell, if he’s fidgeting,” says Mom. “But there is still that sense that I have of walking around on eggshells, because you don’t want to [push him over the edge.] It’s hard to confront him about bringing in dishes, and that’s nothing. There have been times when that would be a huge blowup …”

“But if he’s got cravings,” says Dad, “that’s when you have to be … He’s been clean for four, plus months now, but you have to be careful, put out some feeler questions to see if he’s …”

People tend to judge the parents?

“I know, I know,” says Dad. “We’ve gotten a little grace because people know us …”

There are many different ways for parents to act and react.

“There’s something I read a long time ago,” says Dad. “An interview of the actor Carroll O’Connor, talking about his son who was addicted to cocaine and shot himself … It’s a famous quote of his [paraphrased] — ‘I wish I’d have violated my son’s civil rights, I wish I would have spied on him, I wish I would have gone behind his back to keep better tabs on him than just blindly trusted him …’ And that [has] always stuck with me. There were a lot of pills when I was a kid with my mom. So I’m very leery of pills in any form, doesn’t sit right with me.”

There have been conflicts with authorities and the school district.

“What I would like to see from the school, the community, that seventh, eighth and ninth grade, that there’s a little more check[ing] on the kids’ attendance and if they’re going to be a problem, you can still do something,” says Dad. “We found out that once a kid is 16, they’re an adult in New York State. I’ve very little rights … We didn’t file a PINS [Person In Need of Supervision] petition until after his birthday and once he turns 16 the PINS petition doesn’t really have a lot of teeth. But if you file it prior to 16, there’s a bunch of stuff they can do. We hemmed and hawed and let the date go over …

“In hindsight, we wish the school would have filed the PINS petition, not us. Then I go to court with Mom and the Kid and we’re on his side. Then we’re all in the one group. By me filing it, we’re going against him in the court. And his lawyer, could say whatever he wanted. It’s not the system against the family, it’s the family against the kid. So it’s an utter failure.”

And a bad experience with a social worker.

“The school social worker we had, who is not there any more, was an utter disappointment. Washed his hands of the whole situation,” says Dad. “When I said, if he continues down this path, he’ll end up in jail, he just snickered … Everything we said we were worried about happening has happened. All of a sudden, four years later, kids are dying and everybody is up in arms … ‘How are we going to save the community?’ We’ve been dealing with this for years and nobody wanted to listen.

“I’ve read several people the riot act at the school. Some deservedly, some not. The vice-principal there now is excellent.”

Dad makes a suggestion.

“The community should send some emails in support of the principals, in support of the guidance … It’s not the school’s fault that my kid did drugs, that any of these kids are dead … It’s not any of their faults. But they are afraid of the parents, afraid of being sued, of hearing a ton of shit, which they’ve gotten from me for four years now …”

There are 3 comments

  1. Pat Donohue

    I think nothing has changed. Remember in 64 had several good friends living in the village. hard core drugs then, into the seventies, eighties and nineties. It went from generation to generation. Not sayin its the town or the parents, just sayin its part of the scenery in Woodstock. The same talk still goes on about a festival. its like being stuck in a time warp. hard to break habits there.

  2. Ulster County Parent

    My family is dealing with my 21-year-old son’s opiate addiction. I SO BADLY want to answer honestly when acquaintances ask how my kid is, because I think transparency and awareness is crucial to solving this problem. However, I DON’T answer honestly because I can’t quite justify compromising my kid’s anonymity. He’s trying to stay clean, but not succeeding all that well. How will it be for him if I “out” him as an addict? Will he lose his job (which, besides talk therapy, is the most positive, stabilizing thing in his life)? Will he lose the few “straight” friends he has? Will people who have cared about him since he was a boy suddenly be afraid of him? So I keep my mouth shut, but feel so conflicted about it.

    Parents who keep quiet about these issues may not be protecting themselves, but their kids. Still, this feels wrong and I don’t know how to fix it.

  3. Sanchia playfair

    As painful as it is to lose a boy to heroin, mine was harold, I am always happy to hear of those that manage to turn their lives around. I wish you well and my prayers are with you.

    I always felt so alone dealing with this issue. I am hopeful by that the more open we can be the more hopeful we can be in helping these victims of heroin.

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