Happy National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week! Held during the last week in January since 2010, this national health observance brings scientists and teens together to discuss the impacts of substance use on the body and brain. In preparation for National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week, we interviewed Anne Moss Rogers of Richmond, Virginia in order to Shatter the Myths® .
Anne Moss is the President of Beacon Tree Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates for families with children struggling with mental health conditions. Anne Moss is also the owner and founder of Emotionally Naked, a blog she created after losing her son Charles to suicide. Before he passed away, Charles found himself in the midst of a drug addiction.
You have personal experience supporting a family member with substance use. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Anne Moss: Before Charles, my son, was addicted, there was a lot of substance misuse. In his case, he thought the mental health system had let him down and decided to take matters into his own hands. We didn’t know it but he had been suffering from depression and anxiety and was having thoughts of suicide as early as middle school.
To him, taking a drug to prevent killing himself made perfect sense. Unfortunately what once made him feel like a king ended up being the one of the top contributing factors to his suicide in June 2015.
We had no idea our son struggled with thoughts of suicide. Even his local counselor never mentioned or asked him if he had thoughts of killing himself. They never offered to do a psychological evaluation either which was a huge oversight and an opportunity to prevent later tragedy because it was Charles’ mental health issues that drove his early substance misuse. However, I do believe he was predisposed to addiction.
Supporting someone with substance use is hard. The hallmark of the disease is manipulation, lying and stealing and it’s a struggle for parents to deal with this. We tend to take it personally when it’s not personal. But it feels like it. It feels like a betrayal and that we did “something wrong” as parents to cause it. People who use drugs often feel shame and as parents, we shoulder shame, too. We also wonder, “Why can’t they just stop?” If we want that to happen, we have to change ourselves, too. We can’t fix someone else and the attitude of sending someone away to be fixed is oversimplified because our reactions may very well be blocking our loved one’s recovery.
Some guiding principles to keep in mind:
- Family members have to accept that we have to shift and find recovery, too.
- Change our own attitudes about the disease by becoming more educated.
- Learn we didn’t cause it and can’t control it. All we can control is our reactions.
- Get on the same page as the other parent.
- Try to find out what is driving the substance misuse – Depression, impulsivity, grief, gender identity struggles (LGTBQ), something else?
- Let our child know that no matter what, we love them.
There is a lot of stigma surrounding drug and alcohol use, both for the user and for their family. As a result, many families don’t talk to their children about drug and alcohol use. Do you find this to be problematic?
Anne Moss: The sad thing is that parents avoid any sort of public topic on drug addiction. They think, “Not my child” or they worry that they’ll see someone they know and their ugly family secret will be revealed.
But this is the environment all of our kids are growing up in and the lack of conversation or avoidance of the topic perpetuates drug use and puts our children at greater risk. Drugs are so normalized in our current culture in a way that was not for baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and the GenX generation (born early-to-mid 1960s to the early 1980s). In those prior generations, it was not common for there to be lots of leftover prescriptions in cabinets. That’s different today. And more kids faced with mental health issues are using drugs to cope with everyday problems.
It takes a long time to override long-held myths. Even though science proves it’s a disease of the brain, people still consider it a moral failure (though that thinking is shifting). Telling stories, continued media coverage, and repeating those soundbites over and over is really the number one way to change minds. We aren’t going to reach everyone but it is shifting. Unfortunately, the current epidemic is forcing people to pay attention.
This post is part of a two-part series. Be sure to come back on Thursday for Part 2.