Family Support Archives - Hader Clinic Queensland

How to Help a Friend Suffering From Addiction

Before your friend or family member enters residential addiction treatment, you need to know how to recognise the signs of addiction and know how to help.

Having a loved one struggling with addiction to drugs and/or alcohol can be a harrowing experience. It’s easy to feel hopeless, helpless and isolated; but it’s important to remember that you are not alone and help is available – for your loved one as well as yourself.

How Can You Tell?

It can be difficult to see the signs of substance dependency. Addicts are often very good at concealing their substance abuse and this can lead to you questioning your instincts and suspicions. That said, there are some fairly reliable indicators that something is not right.

Changes in Behaviour

Addiction is a brain disorder and can have dramatic effects on your loved one’s behaviour. Persons addicted to drugs and/or alcohol may:

  • Become usually withdrawn
  • Isolate themselves from friends and family
  • Lose interest in their usual social and recreational activities
  • Struggle to meet the demands of work and/or school
  • Exhibit dramatic mood swings
  • Become overly defensive when the subject of substance abuse is raised
  • Experience financial difficulties
  • Experience relationship difficulties
  • Seem agitated and restless for no reason
  • Exhibit bizarre sleeping patterns

Physical Symptoms

It’s not easy to distinguish the physical symptoms of substance abuse from symptoms of regular ill-health. However, your loved one may be struggling with addiction if they:

  • Exhibit sudden weight loss or gain
  • Get unexplained shakes
  • Have a constantly running nose or the sniffles
  • Have red or bloodshot eyes
  • Have frequent nose bleeds
  • Appear to be experiencing withdrawal systems
  • Need to consume increasingly large amounts of drugs and/or alcohol to feel the effect
  • Present with small or dilated pupils
  • Slur their speech

Evidence

Apart from physical and psychological warning signs, drug and/or alcohol abuse also comes with physical evidence (i.e. paraphernalia). Some things to look out for are:

  • Blackened spoons
  • Discarded syringes
  • Hand-rolled cigarettes with a rolled-up cardboard filter
  • Singed bits of foil
  • Discarded wrapping (i.e. small pieces of clingwrap, cardboard or foil)
  • Pipes or home-made smoking paraphernalia (i.e. plastic bottles, light bulbs or drink cans)

How Can You Help?

Before you attempt to help a loved one struggling with addiction, it is important to understand that it is not within your power to force them to make a change. While you can absolutely be supportive and caring, the decision to stop has to be made by the addict. That said, there are a number of things you can to in preparation to help them when they are ready to accept they have a problem.

Be Realistic

Breaking the vicious cycle of addiction isn’t easy. Even once an addict has sought help and gotten clean, the recovery period extends far beyond the first step of detox and rehab. Set-backs and relapses are to be expected – so, you need to be realistic in your expectations to avoid unnecessary disappointment and distress.

Healing from addiction takes time and no matter how supportive you are, there will be times when your loved one will seem ungrateful or just straight-up cruel in their responses to your efforts. Try not to take it to personally and disengage from confrontational exchanges as soon as you can. There is little point in getting into an argument; it is much better for everyone involved to drop the subject and try again once tempers have settled.

Timing & Tact

Starting a conversation with a loved one about their substance abuse requires some planning and finesse. Some strategies that can be helpful include

  • Never try to have this conversation when your loved one is drunk or under the influence of drugs
  • Meet in a neutral space to talk – however, stay away from places that serve alcohol or facilitate drug use
  • Be prepared to listen without judgement
  • Describe the effect your loved one’s addiction has on people close to them. For instance, an addict may not be concerned with the damage they are doing to themselves; but they will be horrified to realise that their substance abuse and associated behaviours are hurting their children/colleagues/partner
  • Do your research on drug and/or alcohol recovery services in your area before you have this talk. If your loved one is receptive, you can direct them to these services for the next step in getting help.

For more information on helping a friend or family member struggling with addiction, download our free Family Guide to Addiction.

JJ’s Addiction Recovery

JJ is a support worker at our addiction treatment centre and has lived experience of addiction. Sometimes it takes an addict to understand how best to support another addict.

Hi, my name is JJ. I’m a support worker at the Hader Clinic Queensland’s residential facility. I love my job which entails supporting addicts in the early stages of recovery.

At the height of my addiction, I was a poly user – that is, I used anything and everything I could lay my hands on. I was in foster care at eight years old, and moved from institution to institution until 2002. I was stuck in the cycle of addiction, I didn’t know any different.

Fortunately, my first stint at rehab taught me about the Fellowship and how to create order, structure and routine in my life.

I got married, ran a successful business, owned a few houses. Life was sweet until 2014, when I began to have some marital issues. I fell back into drugs trying to cope.

My ice addiction cost me my home, my businesses, my marriage – basically everything I’d worked hard for in my life.

However, my love of the fellowship, and again, attending rehab, got me back into the swing of working my daily program and staying clean. In fact, I’m a month off knocking over five years today.

I think residential rehab is possibly the best tool to allow recovery to happen. The benefits of stepping out of everyday life to focus on healing yourself and recovering from addiction are priceless.

Residential rehab removes all outside worries away and removes the distractions that can distract someone from their recovery.

Additionally, a good rehab program has all types of programs to help you get back into life as a recovering addict, rather than someone in active addiction. Working on fitness, cooking classes, cleaning, doing your washing – it all helps create a positive routine.

Plus, there’s the mind work and programs that help undo all the negative self talk and blaming, for example, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m a lost cause where using is concerned,” and “it’s my family’s fault that I turned out this way”.

Rehab makes you stop and look at yourself critically without the pressure of what the world thinks of you, or what the world has done to you to make you sink this low.

Of course, we have some people that have been using for a long time. Sometimes it takes a while to adapt to a new routine. Half of it is helping people realise that they need to “surrender” and then embrace the concept of living, and working, a daily program to stay clean.

What I love about the fellowship and our rehab program is that it’s evidence based.

Everyone slots into a spot within the fellowship and rehab program seamlessly.

At any one time at rehab and within our therapeutic community, we have support workers, people who are learning to work the program, and people who come and visit on what we call “give back”.

This whole cycle is what makes the fellowship and our rehab work so well.

Five years ago, as I finished my rehab, I wrote down my goals and dreams. Suffering addiction propelled me to wants to lead a different life. I left the construction industry and started doing support work. And I haven’t looked back. Today I really am living the life I dreamed about five years ago.

I believe that being in the grip of addiction can give you the gift of desperation that makes you want to change.

If an addict can continuously remember how bad their addiction had them feeling, along with the feelings of guilt, shame, isolation etc, often it’s a good way of staying clean. It’s far more appealing than having to deal with the fallout from addiction.

People walk down our stairs broken, they start to feel better in addiction. However, some people believe they an just go home and go back to “normal”. We know that in recovery, you’ll never go back to the old “normal”. You need to be prepared to take responsibility for creating that “new normal”.

Once the veil of addiction is removed, often we find that several “home truths” are revealed. If someone can see those truths and understand that they need to behave differently, then we are ahead already.

Many of us try to make ourselves feel better with a narrative that isn’t always truthful – “I’m not that bad,”, “Why should it matter, I’m not hurting anyone,” are a few good ones.

Rehab identifies and challenges these ideas and teaches people the tools they need to manage their behaviours – I reckon drug use a learned behaviour – we weren’t born using – we started and it became a habit.

The other thing to remember is, that in the scheme of things, rehab is a relatively short period of time, when you consider the concept of lifelong abstinence.

That’s where the Fellowship comes in, having a sponsor, and then being able to sponsor others yourself. This is why lived experience of addiction is valuable – it helps people to connect without fear of judgment or shame.

And that is the main thing – connection is the opposite of addiction and the isolation that goes with it.

When clients stay connected to the rehab by participating in programs like our “give back”, they tend to be the most successful at long term recovery.

Recovery and fellowship provide relief from the chaos and pain of addiction and provide us with purpose.

I believe that our Fellowship carries a message of hope to those suffering from addiction and if you’re in this position and reading this, I look forward to sharing that hope with you in person at The Hader Clinic Queensland.

Thanks for sharing my story, recovery rocks!

Bringing Our Son “Home” For Christmas

Sophie’s son Darren recently undertook the ninety day residential addiction treatment program at The Hader Clinic Queensland to treat his addiction to ice.

Hi, my name is Sophie. I live in Victoria, and my son, Darren, lives in Queensland. Darren.

He is now completing the extensive out patient program at The Hader Clinic’s main office in Brisbane after completing their residential addiction treatment program.

At the moment, though, he’s here with me visiting for Christmas, which is exciting for both of us, as the coronavirus outbreak in Melbourne prevented us from seeing each other.

Darren’s story starts twenty years ago – he started using marijuana at school and along the way graduated to other drugs, which then culminated in an addiction to ice.

We didn’t really know the extent of his drug use. We would have patches where we were aware he was dabbling in drugs, then periods where we were none the wiser.

In fact, we only discovered the gravity of his addiction when he got into serious trouble with his addiction in March. He was suffering from psychotic episodes as a result of his ice use.

Darren married Ingrid four years ago. Twice he’s left her and separated. Now I believe a large part of this is drug related. However, now that he’s undergone treatment for his addiction, he’s started to reconnect with her and his sixteen year old step daughter.

Until Darren came along, Ingrid had never had any experience of drug use in her life. She comes from a conservative family and has found the whole addiction experience challenging and confronting.

She’s dealt with him leaving her and also with him telling her that his behaviour was normal, when, of course, it was far from that!

However, despite these challenges, she has been a great support to him.

Darren moved to Queensland in 2012 for a fresh start after he lost his license for drink and drug driving. He lost his license at one stage for four years.

When he attended The Hader Clinic Queensland, he started off by thinking that he only had a drug problem. The extensive education he received during his time at rehab helped him to understand that alcohol was also addictive for him.

He’s taken this on board, that he must remain abstinent from both drugs and alcohol to have any chance of being successful in long term recovery.

He’s attending NA meetings and has even booked into some in Victoria, while he is visiting us. He is putting himself and his recovery first.

Even in the short amount of time we have spent with him since his treatment has been reaffirming. When we picked Darren up from the airport, we spent such a lovely afternoon together catching up.

The old Darren would have wanted to go straight to the bottle shop.

We had hoped that Darren would change his drug taking ways when he had a car accident 18 months ago.

He had stopped using for a few days but was still experiencing psychosis. The car was written off – he hit a power pole at speed, completely smashing the front driver’s side of the car in.

He was lucky to survive it. He’s also very lucky that he didn’t injure anybody else.

We thought that this scare would have been enough to stop him from using.

However, it was a temporary fix as six months’ later he was back using and worse than ever.

When he started experiencing regular psychotic episodes, which really peaked in March, he begged for help.

With Covid-19 lockdowns in place, it was very difficult to help him from Victoria. One rehab centre that I phoned even turned him away.

Thank goodness I discovered The Hader Clinic Queensland. It was the best decision we could have made.

I found The Hader Clinic Queensland via an internet search. The website is extensive and packed with information about addiction, not to mention there are several stories that relate to people’s experiences of addiction, both from the addict’s and family’s points of view.

We were also very impressed by the full program that the clinic offered – with Darren saying that he wanted to be kept busy during his treatment.

We cannot get over the changes in Darren – in the past, you never really got the full story about anything from him. Since he’s been staying with us, he’s been honest and open about everything. It’s really helping us to rebuild our relationship.

One other thing I wanted to mention was that many of the staff who work for The Hader Clinic Queensland have lived experience of addiction. To see how well they live their life now and how they help others is inspiring, and gives families that all important hope that recovery is possible.

It has been a long roller coaster for my husband and me over the last twenty years, but at last we actually believe that Darren is now able to make the changes to his life that he needs to – and that support is always just around the corner.

We can’t thank The Hader Clinic Queensland enough for bringing our son “home” for Christmas.

Addiction Treatment – A Mother’s Perspective

Greg recently celebrated being clean for 100 days following his addiction treatment for cocaine and ice addiction. This is his mother’s story.

When we realised how much trouble our son was in with drugs, we were looking for hope, we were looking for stories from parents and addicts who had been through what we had and had lived to tell the tale.

It was really great to be able to read these on the Hader Clinic Queensland website. If any family can learn, or be comforted by what we’ve experienced, we’re very happy to share what we’ve learned.

It’s been wonderful to see our son clean for the last three or so months – however, we’re not naïve – we know he’s got to work at preventing a relapse. You have to be hopeful, yet remain realistic. There’s no end point to this journey, if we fall, we can get up, dust off and go again.

We’ve made several attempts over the years to get Greg into recovery. We eventually got him to the Hader Clinic Queensland.

However, he relapsed a few days after he entered the transition housing program.

This time around, with the support of the Hader Clinic Queensland staff, we made some hard decisions about how we handled Greg’s addictive behaviours.

Unbeknownst to us, our previous efforts to help him were supporting his addiction. We had to engage some tough love. By doing so, it precipitated Greg’s voluntary decision to return to recovery.

During that last relapse, we could see where he was – most likely doing ice, and we were beside ourselves.

I recall calling the Hader Clinic Queensland four times in an hour, I was that distraught. I remember Hayden, telling me very calmly, “Penny, you need to exercise tough love. If he’s not prepared to enter recovery, please make it very clear to him that your home supports recovery, and that he has twenty minutes to collect his gear and leave the house.”

I will never forget the trauma I felt at that moment of hearing this – that I, as his mother, had to make my child homeless.

It just goes against the grain, and every instinct. Yet the irony of it is, that without that experience for him (as you’ve heard him say), I don’t think we’d be sitting here today three and half months later with Greg having completed a 12 hour cycling challenge with me on the weekend and volunteering for Meals on Wheels.

We’ve got a completely different person here now.

Of course, exercising tough love did not come naturally to us. It was about learning that we could still love him, yet not support his addiction – that love and addiction were two completely separate entities.

When I was at the peak of my trauma around dispensing tough love, Hayden asked me a series of questions, which helped answer my own questions about how to deal with Greg best. He asked, “do you want to support him in this lifestyle?” and “do you wish to continue to support him in his current lifestyle?”, which meant for me, being up all night consumed with fear, worry and panic.

I replied with, “our family cannot sustain this”. To which he stated, “well, you’re just going to have to let him go, then.”

Greg lasted on the streets for eight days.

He came back, went back to the Hader Clinic Queensland. He said to me that once he had accepted that he was back in rehab for four weeks, which took two to three days, he reported getting so much more out of his rehabilitation experience.

He shared with me what he was discovering. He stated, “as I got sober and more detoxed, I began to see the person I really was.”

Whatever they do up in rehab with their counsellors and clinicians, it certainly got through to Greg, and for that, we are so deeply grateful. They have helped him and us, get to this next level of recovery.

When you’re in recovery, it’s like you’re building something.

We all think we’d clearly love to go to rehab and that you’d come home, and you’d be successful forever. It’s not like that at all. It’s about continually building upon something. All of the additional support work that was recommended to us by the clinic that they do is important.

Not to mention the work WE do as parents. Whoever is travelling with the addict also needs to be in recovery as well. I mean, in active recovery, which means educating yourself about how best to support them and love them, without enabling them. Which is the hardest thing.

If we’d tried to go it alone, we would have never understood, nor appreciated these things –Greg’s addiction has a very powerful pull but so too did our collective love and desire to pull through this and recover together as a family – Hader Clinic Queensland lead the way.

Together we continue to work through it with time, education and counselling.

It took five years for us to get to this point.

We sent Greg to a private clinic on the Gold Coast initially.

Greg was very masterful initially at hiding his addiction. I’d ask other parents whose kids did some binge drinking at parties how they ended up graduating and becoming “normal”. He’d sleep in until midday, he’s doing all these things.. I’d think, “Ruth’s son is doing that… they’re all out doing that and they are fine”.

When I think about it, I think I kept second guessing myself. Plus being a bit of a worrier, I wanted to keep myself in check and not be over the top.

These behaviours kept creeping in and kept getting bigger, and bigger and bigger. Looking back, it was quite insidious. We could see him changing, but thought that we’d back off. Then the lying started. He’s changed Uni courses three times. There was a lot of this stop/start behaviour which can be typical for kids his age too.

Then my husband would say to him, “you’ve got to get your teeth stuck into something otherwise we’re not going to support you any more”.

He seemed to have a couple of relationships, but when a breakup or disappointment in the love life happened you’d see a spike in this behaviour, but it wasn’t full on until the last twelve months when he’d started using ice.

Up to that point, it had been party drugs, MDMA, speed etc. Plus, my daughter was saying to be, “don’t be silly Mum, EVERYONE uses that on a weekend. It’s not a big deal, you just stop before Monday.”

Except Greg didn’t.

That was another thing. There are a lot of drugs out there and people use them socially.

Greg’s social group gravitated towards that scene. There’s also a subculture within the gay scene.

A doctor who works in emergency where Greg was admitted told me about it.

When she read the toxicology report telling me what was in his system, I nearly had a heart attack. There was GHB, pot, cocaine, ice.. you name it, it was in there.

He’d overdosed that time and I was told this sort of thing was really common. She said that users “layer” the drugs, to keep them up all night, and that it was a sexual thing as well. It sounds terrible, but I want to tell the truth. I didn’t know this was a side effect of ice use.

I think Greg may have been feeling ‘lost’ about his sexuality, but for us it’s never been an issue.

He’s longed for an enduring relationship and he’s not been able to find one.

It’s not uncommon for heterosexual relationships either, but I think it’s particularly tough for a young gay man, when many of those around him are just into hook ups. Plus, some of the dating apps encourage not only hooking up, but drug use with it.

He did this for a bit because at the end of the day, he just wants to find love and a partner. But he also knows now that these apps probably won’t work for what he really wants.

Another big turning point, which happened after the second Hader Clinic Queensland admission, was for us to share with a select group of friends and family what we were experiencing.

We wanted to be honest, because it was traumatic for us and we got tired of not telling the truth. I’m not saying that in a wild way of being indiscriminate about who we told, but we were tired of covering up.

There were a couple of key things for us in dealing with Greg’s addiction.

Firstly, we needed to accept how serious this problem was.

Secondly, I needed to be made aware of how enabling I was. I’ll be honest with you, I was only made to recognise how I was an enabler through the education given to me by the Hader Clinic Queensland during their family nights. I don’t want to say it was just me, I think we were both enabling Greg in our own way.

You know, admitting that you’re an enabler is hard. Facing up to this fact is also one of the reasons that we’re sitting here today. It was more about education here than being inadequate or uncaring. We had to acknowledge that in our own way, we were part of the problem.

We were very willing to address what needed to be changed and the parent evenings that The Hader Clinic Queensland run were pivotal in our education.

Again, we went along not knowing what to expect. Plus, you’re in a room with many parents of addicts. The other thing that struck me on the first few nights, is that we imagined that the parents of drug addicts would be struggling with their own set of issues.

We were sitting in a room of parents that were just like us. Hardworking, normal, loving parents who are beside themselves with the pain that their loved one is in the grip of addiction. Parents who would do ANYTHING to get their kids through. Honestly, it gives me goose bumps just saying it. We are so grateful that we both “got it”.

The first time I went to the parents’ evening, I was broken. It was difficult to talk without crying.

We’d chat to other parents after the group sessions and realise that they were hard working professional business people, who were just like us.

Plus having the lying, cheating and stealing behaviour that was now a regular occurrence. Money was stolen and our credit cards were used. All of that. The graduation to ice was terrible. We saw frenetic behaviour; we saw dangerous behaviour. His risk-taking behaviour went up 200%. We’ve had three attempts at taking his own life.

Thinking about it all, we were run ragged, and emotionally sucked dry. It’s been a tough five years.

However, realising how we were feeding Greg’s addiction and keeping it alive was a game changer.

So too, was realising that the addict needs an army of support around them if you‘re in recovery for the long game. Our whole family is in recovery as a result, day by day. Unconditionally accepting Greg’s recovery meant being truthful with those who are closest to us. We felt like we needed support as well.

We felt that we failed to get through to him. I was questioning everything that wasn’t family based, whether I should have my own interests etc

Part of that process is learning acceptance. We did what we thought was best at the time for our family and ourselves. I was also cognisant of the struggles John was facing and I thought, “I don’t want our family to fracture”. I was trying to keep the lines of communication open and keep our family together.

Addiction really takes you to the brink.

Of course, the turning point was not allowing Greg home until he was genuinely ready to recover.

We didn’t want a yo-yo situation.

We’ve had the “I’m ready to recover!” line where the reality was, he’d be home for a bite to eat, steal some money and nick off again. This was the toughest love we’ve ever experienced. Yes, the term is thrown around but it’s a completely different thing when you have to dispense it yourself.

Thankfully, it drove the message home and got him back to the Hader Clinic Queensland.

Without Hader Clinic Queensland, we wouldn’t be here. We went through the public hospital system, through private hospitals and clinics. We were at our wit’s end. We researched, and found The Hader Clinic Queensland.

“Thank God for Hader Clinic Queensland!” is all we can say.

In recovery, our family has enjoyed a renewed relationship with Greg. We’ve been hitting the gym and recently participated in a 12 hour cycling challenge together – I was immensely proud to ride with him. There’s been a real shift in him and in the whole communication dynamic within our family, we are all so grateful for this.

As for the two of us, our relationship has reached a new depth, though during the last five years there have been times where it’s been very hard for both of us and we’ve both found it immensely challenging on many occasions.

Being united means that you are stronger.

I don’t how that happened in the chaos, but it did. The well-known line from Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Anthem’, pretty well sums this up, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in.”

As for advice we would give other parents who are experiencing similar issues is firstly, if you are noticing odd behaviour and your gut feeling is telling you something is wrong, don’t second guess yourself – talk to someone like The Hader Clinic Queensland and seek advice.

Secondly, addiction thrives in the dark. It’s worth bringing it out into the open, even though it will be uncomfortable and confronting.

We hope our story gives hope, especially as we’re not a glossy “success story”. We’re not perfect, but very real in our imperfection.

We are deeply grateful to all at the Hader Clinic Queensland for their unflinching support.

Mac’s Addiction – His Mother’s Story

Discovering that her son was an alcoholic came a complete shock to Mac’s mother, who had no knowledge of his excessive drinking.

Hi, I’m Mac’s mum, and this is my story about my son’s alcohol addiction.

Mac had a good childhood.

His father was a police officer and we were happily married for forty-two years.

We had a stable home, and a loving family environment, so sometimes it’s puzzling how this illness of addiction happened to Mac.

I first became aware that Mac was drinking when he went into the army.

However, because he wasn’t at home, we weren’t witness to any alcoholic behaviours.

Because he travelled so much for work, we really only saw him periodically, even staying with him at his home.

During these times we weren’t really privy to any odd behaviour – Mac always seemed like he was OK.

I remember visiting four or five years ago, I’m not certain of the exact timeline and he was living with a girl, she had a drinking problem.

The family situation there was a bit volatile – he didn’t have children and she did.

There were often times where he said that for various reasons that he didn’t want to go home.

Was that when he started drinking more? I really don’t know, can’t answer that question.

When I stayed with him for a few days during that time, he was working.

He’d get up in the morning and head to work and come home as normal people do in the evenings. I’d see him consume three or four beers, nothing I considered unusual.

Three years ago, I recall him being with a partner who was drinking heavily and started becoming aware over the last twelve months that things weren’t “quite right” with Mac. He would say things to me like, “I can’t take it anymore! But don’t worry, I won’t do anything silly!”

This did ring a few alarm bells, but not wanting to be interfering and controlling, I just let it go.

I wanted Mac to feel he called always talk to me.

Towards the end of last year, I was aware that he’d gone to court and lost his driver’s license.

It was at that point my awareness grew into a knowing that something was very wrong.

Shortly after, he told me that he was going to rehab and I helped him with his “life admin”, looking after things while he was in rehab like his phone bill and car registration etc.

Since joining the Hader Clinic Queensland addiction treatment program Mac has opened up and told me a lot of other stories about his drinking habits – which go back way further than this.

When he tells me some of the things that happened to him with his drinking in the past, I realise that he was lying to me back then – but I always believed him (he was always a very honest kid).

Last year he’d say that he’d “had one beer” and I thought nothing of it. I didn’t realise that “one beer” was actually “one carton”.

Not knowing a great deal about addiction, I didn’t know that people lied to cover up their addiction, that when he said after losing a job, that he “couldn’t come home”, that he was ashamed and didn’t want me to see him like that.

The way Mac speaks to me now indicates to me that he has no intention of going back to his previous life.

I keep reminding him and encouraging him that he’s been given this wonderful opportunity to turn his life around by the RSL and the Hader Clinic Queensland. I think he was in a pretty bad way before he was admitted.

I know that Mac wants to help others who are in a similar situation to what he was.

No more truck driving.

I’m really happy to see that he has some opportunities with the RSL.

But most of all, I’m happy and very thankful that he’s in recovery – Thanks to Hader Clinic Queensland- and that each clean day is a win.

Addiction – A Mother’s Story

Our family has been living a private nightmare for years.

My name is Jane. I’m a happily married, middle class healthcare professional who had no idea my young son was using drugs. Taking illicit drugs and drug dependence issues were completely out of our family’s experience.

In the healthcare space, there’s probably additional pressure to assume that we’ll recognise a problem when it comes up. We knew that something was terribly wrong and despite trying to seek help, Harry’s addiction issues slid under the radar. His changed behaviour was initially explained away by the schools, doctors and other professionals we consulted as teen anxiety and depression.

How did it start?

We had pretty much the perfect child – well behaved, polite and respectful, popular with both his peers and teachers at primary school. However, when he started attending high school, things changed dramatically.

Placed in an all-boys private school with hundreds of students, it seemed like Harry lost his way. Although we were always available for him and picked him up and dropped him off at school and his other activities, he didn’t really seem to be able to share how he felt. He seemed to be bottling things up.

After the first term of high school, where he did well, receiving good grades, life for Harry began to deteriorate rapidly. It started with small things, like breaching the uniform policy, then moving onto transgressions such as skipping classes and leaving the school grounds with another student during school hours. He started to associate with a new group of boys and not with the boys he had known since kindergarten and primary school. His grades slipped. He went from an A/B student to failing subjects.

He started to hang around boys from difficult family backgrounds, with little interest in schooling, who were regularly in trouble and spending a lot of time in detention and/or on suspension. When I raised my concern with the school at the time I was told not to worry, that the school thought that Harry could be a good influence on these other students.

We were concerned that something was wrong, but drug addiction wasn’t our first guess. We thought he was perhaps being bullied and suffering from anxiety. We considered all those types of issues and he started seeing a psychologist.

The psychologist attributed much of Harry’s behaviour to typical teenage issues and finding his place within a peer group. We were lulled into false sense that this was all normal.

It was never suggested to us that this behaviour could be potentially drug related. If we’d known, we would have gone down a completely different path.

My husband and I were older parents and drugs were simply not part of our life experience. It was a bit of a “fringe” thing – and really the only thing we heard about was marijuana.

When Harry got caught with a small quantity of marijuana at school, the school couldn’t get him out of there fast enough.

Which is fine. I wouldn’t want my child at a school that just accepted drug use. However, there was no compassion from the school for a troubled teen – not one suggestion of where to look for help, not even a brochure about drugs, rehab, Headspace, absolutely nothing!

Even more upsetting was finding out later that Harry and other boys had been getting drugs at school from a year 12 student. It was not from a dealer hanging around on a street corner after school. It was happening at school.

We felt lost, devastated and ashamed. The psychologist was encouraging us to press on, to place Harry into a new school.

Harry had to change schools three times, which was just extraordinary, but fortunately we eventually found an alternative school where he fitted in much better – there are no uniforms and flexible classes. He was able to complete his secondary schooling and gained entry to his preferred university course.

Like a lot of mothers of drug addicts, you want to believe them when they say that they’re “not doing that anymore” or they’re “not going to hang around with certain people” and they’re “not going to do this and that”.

Over the years we had the police turn up at our front door to serve search warrants on our place. The police coming to your home to search for drugs is quite horrific. There was drama, police, drugs, it was terrible. My husband and I were also continually doing searches of our son’s bedroom and everywhere else, always trying to get one step ahead. We were drug testing him at home, but there’d always be some type of excuse.

There were so many lies and so much deceit going on. Yet because we love him, we continued to hope against hope that he was telling the truth.

One of the things I learned, which I want to pass onto other parents, is that you cannot worry about what other people think! Once I got over that, I found things easier. I could focus on the more important issues like my son’s wellbeing and finding him the right help.

He finished school and he managed to get into university, which was great. We thought this would be the impetus to turn his life around. However, he became more and more withdrawn as drugs became his whole life.

We did all the psychiatrist and psychologist appointments, but once someone is in addiction, quite possibly they’re not going to get anything out of sessions because they’re not going to discuss what is REALLY going on.

Towards the end of the first year at university, Harry was arrested for drug related offences.

To say that I was shocked was the understatement of the century. Even now, I still cannot believe it. Absolutely unbelievable. The stuff that came out… I find it very hard to reconcile it with the person that was living in our house.

We knew that we had to do something. That’s when we came across the Hader Clinic Queensland. That was the turning point. We met with Mel and Harry was also able to speak to Mel and the manager of the rehab facility to ask any questions. He said that he felt they really understood what he was experiencing. Making a quick decision about Harry going to rehab was the right decision for all of us.

It turned out that Harry was more than ready to go to rehab. This made it easier than other cases I’ve heard about where the family has had to stage an intervention and drag their child off to rehab. That must be very hard.

Our overwhelming emotion was one of sadness. We were sad that it had come to this, sad to see him go to rehab and then you start to worry – “will he run away?” “will he kill himself?” You think of the worst-case scenario. But we came to realise quite quickly once he was there and we met the staff that he was safe, surrounded by support and did not feel judged.

Nowadays, our relationship is generally good. I try to preserve as much normality as I can. That doesn’t mean that I ignore the past or don’t have concerns for the future. There have been times where I’ve lost my mind; there’s been yelling and recriminations, and sadness and grieving.

My husband and I spent a significant amount on legal fees and then there’s been the cost of rehab and transition. We lost friends, we had strained relationships within our family. They knew we were good parents, but they thought we hadn’t been strict enough. There was a lot of blame and a lot of shame.

We have opened up to some people that our son has a drug problem and that he was in rehab. It is quite amazing how people have been – they were shocked initially, had no idea but were then very supportive.

Pick the right people that you can trust, who care about you, and care about the person. It’s a bit like cancer – some people find out and they don’t want to have anything more to do with you.

People shouldn’t be so worried about putting on the “perfect family” front because there are difficult things happening in many families. Harry masked his addiction well for quite a while. He seemed to be functioning. We appeared to be a happy family.

I hope by sharing, people can see what a terrible social problem drugs can be, and that anyone can fall victim. Drugs really don’t discriminate.

We all still live together, because I believe that living together as a family is the best chance Harry has got. We’re generally not in conflict. He’s never been violent or aggressive towards us. He is a mild mannered, thoughtful boy – who has an incredible backstory. Luckily there was also little conflict between my husband and me in terms of how we wanted to support Harry. We were always in agreement about that. We could not abandon him at such a young age and when he was at his lowest ebb.

We attended monthly family nights at The Hader Clinic. This was so helpful, providing us with information, advice and support.

I discovered that we did enable Harry in addiction unknowingly – for example, providing money, transport, a very comfortable home life without requiring any contribution.

I’d also be a persecutor too. “You did this, you didn’t think of that”.

If I had any words of wisdom to share with other parents, if you don’t understand sudden/dramatic behaviour changes or if you think that behavioural changes could be drug related, access advice from support services that deal with drugs and addiction issues sooner rather than later.

Reach out for help and advice from the Hader Clinic Queensland.

Overall, opening the communication channels was key for us – with our son, getting the GP on board, finding the right health professionals, getting support of family and friends.

I think the more open we can be about this issue the better.

We’ve been to hell and back with Harry’s addiction. Our family cannot thank the Hader Clinic enough for their expertise and support.

How to Help a Loved One Struggling with Ice Addiction

Knowing or suspecting that a loved one has developed an ice addiction is a confronting experience and often leaves people feeling completely out of their depth.

Friends and family of ice addicts often feel overwhelmed and useless, as they are unsure of how to best broach the subject or how to best help their loved one get treatment for ice addiction.

The most important thing to keep in mind when you have a loved one struggling with an ice addiction is that addiction is an illness and requires professional addiction treatment.

So if you want to help a loved one who is addicted to ice, the long-term goal should always be to get them into a professional rehab facility.

Unfortunately it can take time for an ice addict to admit that they are in need of a stay in rehab.

No matter how many doors you open for your loved one, they will have to walk through them on their own accord.

That said, there are a number of ways in which you can support your loved one while they are still trapped inside the cycle of addiction.

1. Educate yourself

Ice addiction is a complex, many-layered illness with effects on all aspect of the user’s life.

The more you understand about how their addiction impacts their behaviour, the better you will be able to cope with your loved ones’ antics, which might at times seem nothing short of malicious.

Realising that you are witnessing symptoms of addiction rather than conscious choices can make it easier to remain patient and supportive.

The internet is a good place to start and has a many excellent resources

You can also find numerous useful articles on ice addiction and family support here on our website.

There are also a great many helplines available that offer great support and information to friends and family of ice addicts

  • Lifeline Emergency Support 13 11 14
  • National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline 1800 250 015
  • Turning Point – Ice Advice 1800 423 238
  • Family Drug Support (24 hrs) 1300 368 186

2. Encourage dialogue

If you want to encourage your loved one to open up to you about their struggles with ice addiction, you need to create an environment in which they feel safe.

  • Be non-judgemental
  • Keep calm
  • Listen
  • Treat conversations as confidential
  • Don’t lecture on the dangers of drug abuse (they know)
  • Don’t offer unsolicited advice
  • Stress that you are available if your loved one wants to talk
  • Don’t simplify their illness (i.e. “You just have to choose to stop” – addiction is not a matter of choice)

3. Be present

Let your loved one know that you care about them and are always there when they want to talk.

When they do talk – LISTEN.

This remains an important way you can support your loved one even once they have entered treatment.

Ice addiction takes a huge toll on sufferers’ mental health and talking to someone they trust can be a tremendous help in processing their experiences with addiction.

4. Don’t become an enabler

Although it is important to be supportive of your loved one, it is important to distinguish between supportive and enabling behaviour.

Supportive

  • Allowing your loved one to vent when they are overwhelmed
  • Assuring you that your door is open to them when they need emotional support
  • Offering to help your loved one to find professional help
  • Taking part in your loved one’s recovery process

Enabling

  • Offering financial support – any money you give your loved one will ultimately help pay for drugs
  • Making excuses for your loved ones’ behaviour at work, school or social gatherings
  • Covering up your loved ones’ excesses to help them safe face

Watch our quick video explainer on what enabling is

 

There is a fine line between support and enabling, but it is important that you keep in mind that you should never help your loved one minimise the consequences of their addiction.

5. Remind them that help is available

While you cannot force your loved one to enter into a rehab facility, you can certainly point out to them – occasionally – that the option is open to them.

It is a good idea to find out what treatment options are available so you can give your loved one detailed information if and when they express interest.

6. Look after yourself

Having a loved one struggling with ice addiction can completely take over your life – so be mindful of your own needs.

  • It is alright to vent your frustrations, whether to a close friend or one of the support services available to friends and family of ice addicts.
  • It is alright to tell your loved one that you need a day to yourself.
  • It is alright to go out and do something you enjoy.

Remember, you cannot solve your loved one’s problem for them. The best you can do is to offer ongoing support and be ready for when they are ready for help; which is why it is important that you take time to recharge.

How to Recognise Enabling Behaviour – Good Intentions Gone Wrong

Having a loved one struggling with drug and/or alcohol addiction is an emotionally complicated experience.

Families and friends of addicts are likely to experience intense feelings connected to their loved one’s substance abuse; anger, disappointment, fear for their loved one’s wellbeing and the overwhelming desire to help them.

Unfortunately, while wanting to alleviate your loved one’s suffering is a noble intention, it is also fraught with danger – as it puts you at risk of becoming an enabler.

What is an enabler?

Any behaviour on your part that makes it easier for your loved one to continue their substance abuse and ignore its consequences, is considered enabling behaviour.

No one consciously chooses to become an enabler to their loved one’s addictions; however, many people fall into enabling behaviours without noticing until they are trapped in an unmanageable situation. Watch our video explaining what an enabler is.

What are common enabling behaviours?

While there are countless subtle ways in which you can unintentionally enable your loved one’s substance abuse issues, some enabling behaviours are more common than others:

Financial enabling

Drugs and alcohol are expensive; and the more your loved one has to use to get the desired effect, the more of their finances will be chewed up by addiction.

Of course, you would never knowingly give your loved one money for drugs or alcohol; however, as their financial situation becomes more and more precarious, you might be tempted to “help out” in other ways, such as:

  • Paying more than your share of the rent
  • Shopping for your loved one’s groceries
  • Giving them money to pay off debts or providing funds for unexpected expenses (such as car repairs, fines or large bills)

Ultimately this allows your loved one to keep spending their money of drugs and/or alcohol without facing the consequences of their actions.

Emotional enabling

People with addiction struggle with their mental health and emotional state.

It is likely that your loved one will have moments of clarity during which they express guilt and shame at their behaviour – often vowing to make changes and amends.

Because it is hard to see someone you love suffer, it can be tempting to try and make them feel better.

However, this only serves to shield your loved one from the social and emotional consequences of their addiction.

There is nothing wrong with standing by your loved one during their struggle, but it is never a good idea to tell them that everything is okay when this is simply not the case.

Social enabling

There are many ways of enabling a loved one’s addiction in a social context – the most common mistake, however, is to make excuses.

Telling the kids “Daddy/Mummy’s feeling unwell, let’s give him time to rest” may be intended to spare the children emotional upheaval, but it mainly allows the addict to shirk their parental responsibilities.

The same goes for making excuses at work or school for your loved one’s lack of performance or failure to show up; downplaying their intoxication at social gatherings or making up reasons to explain why your loved one has effectively stopped attending meetings with non-addicted friends and family.

Are you unknowingly stopping them getting help?

It is almost impossible to avoid engaging in at least one of these enabling behaviours when you have a loved one struggling with addiction – so don’t feel as though you have failed them in some way.

It is natural that you want to alleviate your loved one’s pain and often, unfortunately, the quickest way to make them feel better is to enable them in their addiction.

The longer you continue to act as an enabler, the longer your loved one will be able to continue their destructive behaviours.

Catching yourself and putting a stop to your enabling behaviours can be difficult, but it can also be a turning point in your loved one’s battle with drugs and/or alcohol.

Ultimately, the decision to stop using drugs or alcohol is up to your loved one; however, by refusing to enable their addiction any longer, you can force them to face the unpleasant consequences of their substance abuse, which is often a catalyst for seeking help.

Find out more

Are you an enabler?
Addiction Support: the Dos and Don’ts
Establishing Family Boundaries

Family Involvement after Rehabilitation

The process of recovery continues long after completion of a residential addiction treatment program. Once you are back in the “real-world” the support of family and friends is helpful to a recovering addict.

When your loved one returns home after treatment, they’ll need assistance to readjust to their new life without drugs or alcohol. They will need to:

  • Repair broken relationships
  • Avoid relapse triggers
  • Learn how to be themselves again without drugs or alcohol

Your support can give them the courage to keep on their journey when it feels too hard.

As your loved one settles back into family life, it can be difficult to know the best way to help them. Here are some tips.

Healthy boundaries

When your loved one was in active addiction, you may have found it hard to set healthy boundaries.

ending them money, driving them places, and even helping them avoid responsibilities may have seemed like you were helping them when the addiction was in control.

Having been involved in the family therapy sessions during your loved one’s addiction treatment program you will now recognise that behaviour as enabling.
Agreeing on family rules and being prepared to say no may be hard, but it’s exactly what your loved one needs to stay drug and alcohol free.

Listen

Taking the time to listen to your loved one, without judgement, will mean more than you realise.

You may not be happy to hear about your loved one’s addiction and rehabilitation, but giving them the freedom to talk about their experiences and challenges will make them feel respected and supported.

Find support

As a parent, spouse or child of an addict, you have experienced the trauma of addiction too.

Taking care of your own support needs is essential, especially if your loved one is relying on you.

Attending support groups with your loved one is part of the recovery process for both of you, but you may also benefit from a group for the families of addicts.

Support groups will expose you to a wider world of addiction and recovery to help you better understand what your loved one has experienced and the effect on you and the rest of the family.

Hearing from people farther along in the recovery journey may give you insight into what’s happening and give you strength in hard times.

Understand cravings and triggers

After rehabilitation your loved one will still be an addict, but they will be in recovery.

As they learn to live their new life, they will likely experience cravings for drugs or alcohol. Rather than deny these cravings exist, talk to your loved one about what triggers these cravings.

There may be certain social situations, stress, or people who trigger cravings for drugs or alcohol. You can help them avoid or reduce triggers or help distract them to resist the temptation of their addiction.

This may mean making some changes in your own life to support your loved one’s sobriety.

Develop healthy habits

Taking care of your own health can be an immense support for your loved one in recovery.

Making changes in your life, such as not drinking at home, will not only improve your own health, it will help your loved one develop healthier habits as well.

Eating well and having a regular exercise routine will help you to support your loved one by being physically and psychologically healthier.

If your loved one doesn’t live with you, having a regular family meal together can provide routine and show your support.

Recognise relapse

Addiction is a lifelong challenge. Your loved one may relapse on their journey to recovery.

Recognising the signs of relapse can ensure your loved one gets the support they need quickly.

Behaviour such as lying, hiding things and being secretive are warning signs of relapse.

Your loved one may return to their old lifestyle, hanging out with old friends from their period of addiction.

Other signs include poor hygiene and personal appearance, changes in sleep patterns and appetite, or inability to concentrate.

Respect each other

Addiction affects the whole family. Recovery is a process everyone in the family will go through in different ways. Respecting each other’s experiences and challenges will help you all move from addiction to recovery and return to a normal life.

More information

Establishing Family Boundaries
5 Ways to Support a Loved One with Addiction
Nature or Nature? What Causes Addiction?
Family Issues
Family Therapy

How To Support An Addict In Recovery Over Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner and families around Australia are starting to plan their holiday get-togethers.

For families and friends of recovering addicts the festive season can hold some unique challenges.

As Christmas is traditionally a time of indulgence, it can be a minefield of triggers for people in the process of breaking unhealthy patterns of behaviour – and by extension can cause a lot of headaches for their nearest and dearest.

Being supportive of a loved one’s recovery process is important, but at times it can be difficult to know where to start.

To help you make your Christmas a joyful event for all involved, here’s a quick guide to navigating the holiday traps and triggers.

Remove temptation and triggers

If you have a friend or family member who is recovering from alcohol and/or drug addiction, the best thing you can do for them is to minimise triggers at your Christmas lunch/dinner/party.

Stocking your eskie with soft drinks rather than beer, wine and spirits can make all the difference to a person in recovery.

By removing temptation, you can give them the freedom to relax and feel safe during your Christmas party.

If you think that some guests might take issue with this, it is wise to inform them beforehand that this year you are having a dry Christmas – no exceptions.

In the unlikely event that someone should absolutely refuse to celebrate without alcohol it is perfectly fine to tell them not to attend.

If you can accept their priorities, they should accept yours.

Play it cool

It sounds simple, but not making a big deal out of your loved one’s newfound sobriety can be incredibly difficult.

You might have the urge to constantly tell them how proud you are of their recovery efforts, or feel the need to point out just how supportive you are, for example declaring something like “Look, we’ve got all this juice! No one’s drinking just because of you.”

While you of course have only the best of intentions, being excessively vocal about someone else’s recovery process, and your part in it, can make recovering addicts very uncomfortable.

Firstly, it draws focus on their issues with addiction and that is not a particularly pleasant sensation.

Secondly, it might make your recovering loved one feel as though their needs are inconveniencing the rest of the party.

So, this Christmas be mindful of your loved one’s needs and simply allow them to enjoy themselves in a safe environment.

Have realistic expectations

Depending on which stage of recovery your loved one is currently going through, it might drastically impact their desire to attend any Christmas get-togethers at all.

During the early stages some recovering addicts might be daunted by the prospect of facing the entire family at once, especially if their substance abuse issues have caused conflict in the past.

If your loved one does not feel up to attending a massive party, do not force the issue. It is enough for you to let them know they are welcome AND to make it clear that, while you will miss them, you will not be offended if they would rather not come.

If your recovering loved one does decide to join you for the festivities, it’s still important to be mindful of their needs. Perhaps they will only stay for a little while before needing to take a break; perhaps they will need to call their recovery counsellor or sponsor at some point for extra support; perhaps they will be happiest sitting and observing without engaging in too much conversation – all of this is fine. It is not your job to nag your loved one into having a good time, the best you can do is provide them with safe conditions to socialise. Realistic expectations are not just to be applied to your loved one but also to yourself.

Be brave and have a conversation

It can be very hard to talk to recovering loved ones about their needs and ongoing issues, especially without the help of a family therapist. If you are concerned about how your loved one will cope over the Christmas period, don’t be afraid to invite them to have a conversation before the festive season kicks off.

There is no harm in asking your loved one how they would prefer to be supported during this time – just as there is nothing wrong with sharing your own worries about the celebrations ahead. In some cases it might be helpful to schedule an appointment with your family counsellor or therapist to mediate any points of contention. Even if your recovering loved one might be apprehensive at first, you might be surprised how much they will appreciate your willingness to face difficult topics.

Christmas, above all things, is about love and kindness and sharing a special time with those closest to us – even if things are rarely ever perfect. This year, strive to appreciate every good or perhaps even great moment; and rest assured that being supportive and understanding is the best gift you can give your recovering loved one.

Merry Christmas and best of luck.

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