Drugs: a parent’s guide

    Two of my children are drug users. My eldest son Paul, 28, tried
    drugs as most kids do but gave them up. My younger son Tom, 26, is
    in prison for a drug-related crime. My daughter, Angel, was a
    heroin addict when she was 17. Now 23, she is recovering with the
    help of counselling and methadone.

    I worried about my children. I felt helpless and cut off, unable to
    talk to anybody, especially family. At the time, I was doing a work
    placement at the Southmead drugs project in Bristol. The manager
    suggested I needed a counsellor – and my counsellor was just
    starting a parents’ group.

    I was nervous meeting other parents, expecting a room full of
    strangers. I would have to face facts – and talk about them. We met
    in a small lounge in a church hall. There were only six people
    there – one couple, a few mums on their own and a grandmother. The
    outreach worker and counsellor put us at ease.

    We learned about tough love and co-dependence – the way parents can
    focus on their children’s needs and put their own lives on one
    side. Parents of drug users tend to be secretive, and become
    depressed and lonely. Our children scheme how to get money from us,
    and many steal from their family because they are so desperate for
    drug money.

    By talking about problems with other parents we have found new ways
    to handle difficult situations. It is not our fault our children
    take drugs. We can be more help to them if we think better of
    ourselves. Every week we have a discussion on a different topic
    like looking at addiction and its effects, our own experiences
    within the family, or what drugs look like.

    At one meeting a local police officer brought a case full of drugs.
    He showed us what each one looked like and described how it was
    used. He showed us the makeshift equipment (such as cans and
    tinfoil) addicts use. We learned about needles and their dangers to
    health. We found out about overdoses, HIV and rogue batches of
    drugs.

    The officer showed us cards printed with different drugs and asked
    which was the most dangerous. Surprise, surprise – it was alcohol.
    It causes more deaths than anything else. Cigarettes were well up
    the list, too.

    At the group we learn so much. We’ve become stronger people. I can
    talk about my experiences without being afraid people will look
    down their noses at me. Listening to other people has helped me to
    look at my own behaviour.

    There should be more parents’ groups. Addicts receive help, but the
    family is often left to get on with it. With more help to
    understand what is going on, parents are in the best position to
    help their children if they become involved with drugs. Too many
    parents just can’t bear to think what their kids are up to.

    Anne White (not her real name) is a single parent.

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