I remember the day my dad called me from his holiday in 2010 to say doctors had found a black spot on his lung. Little did we know the repercussions this would have. Not only did we have to deal with his illness and the treatment, but some old habits were resurfacing. We now had to understand more about parents with addictions and how to help them.
Throughout his lifetime, my father has had multiple addictions. Born in 1938, his first addiction at the young age of 13 was cigarettes, but back then this would have been an acceptable age to start. Then, it was the addition of alcohol. Alcohol became his biggest enemy, it was clear to his loved ones that he had a problem. Luckily, before I was born he joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and decided to start taking steps to a new and better life. Thanks to AA, my amazing mum and family, he stayed sober for 35 years.
After his chemo treatments in 2011, the doctors gave him prescriptions for Oxycodone*. If you don’t know, Oxycodone is a highly addictive drug. Patients generally start with the doctors prescribed dose but opiates can result in a person building up a tolerance. That means after a 10 milligram dose is taken for a while, it might no longer handle the person’s pain and they feel they must increase the dose. If they can’t get a prescription, they often will try to find a way to get the medication. Combine this chemical reaction with my dad’s addictive personality and the result was a stubborn adult-child addicted to a powerful drug.
So, how can you help your loved ones?
After having to help my family, here are my tips to help you help your parents with addictions:
1. If you are not already, accompany your love ones to their next visit at the GP. Prior to the visit, notify the GP that you think your loved one has been taken more than the prescribed dosage. Your GP should than ask the necessary questions to determine if there are addictive patterns. For example, my father would finish his weekly Webster pack before the end of the week. He would then try and convince the pharmacy that he had lost his medication.
2. Get the GP or pharmacist to explain the consequences of taking too much of this drug. Parents with addictions are more likely to listen to the advice of a health professional and learn the truth about their actions and its consequences than they are to listen to you. That’s not because the health professional knows more than you, it’s more likely because they are afraid to admit that they have a problem to a family member.
3. Relate the consequences of their addiction to something or someone they love. For example, “Dad… the GP told you that taking too much [of their addicted drug] increases respiratory suppression and can lead to death. Don’t you want to live to see your grand-children grow-up?”. Although this sounds extreme, at this point you need to find a stronger emotional bond with you parent rather than just saying STOP.
4. DO NOT hide, or withdraw their medication completely without their consent or proper advice from a doctor. This can have irreversible effects on your parent’s health but most importantly, their psychological response can scar them.
5. During the withdrawal phase, it is important to be supportive, keep them distracted.
If a person is unable to get his (or her) usual dose of addictive medication, they will begin to suffer from withdrawal symptoms. They will be restless, agitated and sweaty. They may suffer from muscle and bone pain, depression, diarrhoea, chills, insomnia, vomiting and nausea.
6. Whether you are a primary carer or not, finding time to care and invest in yourself, is the most unselfish thing you can do. How can you help others, if you cannot help yourself? At the time these unfortunate events happened to my parents, I had to be strong, resourceful and extremely responsible. I did not worry about the financial cost of caring for two adults, but I did have to keep my job, I did have to make changes and sacrifices to my personal goals and my life. I had to be fully focused on my parents and making sure that if we get through this, we will do it together.
Dealing with parents with addictions isn’t easy and this process was no easy task. Many times our family felt there was no hope, but we stayed positive and patient. In the end, it took six months and my dad was clear of Oxycodone. It then took an additional three months to clear him from Ativan (a drug to help with anxiety). There is no shortcut, easy solution or magic recipe to fix this quickly. Rather, your loved ones need your support, patience and understanding that they have a serious problem.
*Oxycodone, is a highly addictive drug. Oxycodone is a strong, semi-synthetic opiate painkiller. It was a godsend for people in severe, debilitating pain such as those with bone or neurological degeneration, or those who suffered from end-stage cancer or similar illnesses. Oxycodone provided pain relief for the first time to some people who had suffered for years. (Link to Oxycodene fact sheet).
Some useful links:
If you suspect your parent has an addiction, there are a number of resources available.
- Narcotics Anonymous – for people who have a personal drug problem – http://na.org.au/index.php?lang=en
- Nar-Anon Family Groups are self-help support groups for families and friends of compulsive drug users – http://www.naranon.com.au/
- Alcoholics Anonymous is for people who have trouble with alcohol – http://www.aa.org.au/
- Al-anon Family Groups are self-help support groups for families and friends of alcoholics – http://www.al-anon.org/australia/
- There are a number of rehabilitation organisations that can help alcohol and drug users including:
Watershed – http://watershed.org.au
Recoveroz – http://www.recoveroz.com.au
Odyssey House – http://www.odysseyhouse.com.au
Photo credit: Mat and Dad by Mathieu Bertrand (supplied)