Parent's addiction and substance abuse
There are millions of children in this country who live with a parent that is addicted. Addiction is a grossly misunderstood condition that effects many families throughout the state of Arizona. In September of 2016, it was reported that in Maricopa County there were 17,984 children in out-of-home care with the Department of Child Safety. Out of these children, 87.2% are in care because of parents who are addicted to substances. That means that 15,682 children are removed from their parent's custody because the parents are addicted to some sort of substance. These statistics are scary. I was one of these statistics. In November of 2013, two officers showed up at my door to tell me that my husband had been killed. The months following were full of people and services for my husband's memory. Once all those people were gone, it was just me left, 22-years-old with a year-old little girl and no idea how to cope with the loss and loneliness that I felt. I turned to alcohol to ease the feelings that I needed fulfilled. This quickly turned into an addiction. My daughter was removed from my home. After being in the system and undergoing my own recovery, I wanted to explore more of what addiction is and the different ways in my community that parents can get help and have their children returned to them. I am going to break this paper down into three parts: what addiction is, what it can do to a family, and different places in the community that can help when your family structure has been broken down by addiction.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders changed the word addiction to substance use disorder in their newest version. They define a substance use disorder as "a condition in which the use of one or more substances leads to a clinically significant impairment or distress." (SAMHSA, 158) While I agree that a characteristic of addiction is significant impairment or distress, I feel like this needs to go deeper. As I did more research, I came across a publication by the American Society of Addiction Medicine that gave five characteristics of addiction. The first one was the inability to abstain. This means that the person cannot stop using even when the try to. The second is the impairment of behavior control. The addicted person can no longer control their behavior. The third is the craving of a substance. The addicted person becomes fixated with the substance and how they will get the substance. Fourth is the diminished recognition of problems. The addicted person starts to not recognize where there are problems in their life. The last is a dysfunctional emotional response. Their emotional response no longer becomes appropriate for the situation. I feel like this definition of the characteristics makes it clear that addiction becomes a disease of the brain. The brain reward, motivation, and memory becomes weakened and the person is not the same as they were before the addiction became active. Without going into recovery and receiving treatment for addiction, a person can become disabled or die.
Now that there is a clear understanding of what addiction is, I want to focus on what it can do to a family. When a member of the family becomes addicted to a substance, the family system starts to break down. Children will take on roles that they are not meant for, such as the caretaker, and parents can fail to provide safe environments and basic needs that the family has. If we take the characteristics of addiction that we learned and apply them to a family setting, it is no surprise that the family becomes dysfunctional and starts to break down. It is not easy to live with a person whose addiction is causing turmoil. The addict is often full of conflict, torn between wanting their drug of choice but also not wanting the consequences of caving into their addiction. When things start to go south, they start to blame the other members of the family. The partner in the relationship, if not dealing with their own addiction problems, may be feeling as if the addiction of their spouse is their own fault. They may be dealing with codependency issues and enable the other to continue their pattern of destructive behavior in order to keep some semblance of peace in the home. The book "The Alcoholic Family in Recovery" talks about the different roles that children will take on in order to keep peace in the home. The first one is the family hero. This child tries to be responsible and gain approval from everyone around them. They try to keep the attention on their success to move the attention off the dysfunction. The next is the scapegoat. The scapegoat takes all the blame for everything that goes wrong in the family home. They keep the focus on their failures to distract from the real problems in the home. Third is the lost child. This child lives in their own fantasy world and appears to be aloof to the problems in the home. Lastly is the mascot. In this role, the child tries to make everything funny. They are the clown that tries to keep everything light hearted and funny. These roles are just ways for the child to try and disguise the pain and turmoil that is going on in their family. However, the child that takes on one of these roles, is taking on too much responsibility for their parent. It is important that every child has a safe, nurturing, functional home.
That great news about this is that there are so many different programs and activities in the community for families that are dealing with addiction and dysfunction. Some of the programs I will talk about are specifically for parents who are going through a dependency case, others are open to the entire community. Either way, all the programs can help any parent overcome the power of addiction and journey through recovery.
The first, and most popular, program available is Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous is a world-wide program that helps men and women who are suffering from alcoholism. Alcoholics Anonymous members all follow a 12-step program that helps members overcome challenges and take a look deep inside to make positive changes. Each member gets a sponsor. A sponsor is a person who has already completed their steps and maintained sobriety that is trying to give back what they learned. The sponsor will help their sponsee to get through their 12-steps and will work closely with them as a sobriety partner. Alcoholics Anonymous has had lots of success during their many years and has continued to branch out into subgroups such as Crystal Meth Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. There is even a 12-step group called ALANON for family members of an addicted person. All of the 12-step programs are extremely beneficial to anyone who is in recovery because of the intense amount of support from other group members.
A great place that has a ton of resources for parents is Terros. Terros hold the belief that every person has within them the ability to make changes to improve their life. They offer a wide range of services including outpatient and residential drug and alcohol recovery, mental health, and primary care. Terros was started by two young men in the 1960's who responded to addicts that were in need of help from the community. They decided to start their own agency and wanted to name it "terra" meaning Earth but the name was misprinted in the newspaper as Terros so the founders left it that way. Today, the Terros team continues to serve the community with the same dignity and compassion as the founders did.
Arizona Families FIRST is a program that was created as a substance abuse prevention and treatment program. Arizona Families FIRST provides their services to parents who are challenged with substance abuse as a barrier to getting their children back home. According to the Arizona Partnership for Children, Families FIRST has five goals: increase in timeliness, availability and access to services, helping families recover from alcohol and drug abuse, child safety and reduction of abuse and neglect, permanency for children through reunification with their families, and allowing parents to achieve stability through employment. To help families reach these goals, Families FIRST employees work face to face with parents from the beginning of their dependency case to help motivate them to get on track from the beginning.
In Maricopa County, when a parent has had their child removed from their home due to substance abuse, the parents have an opportunity to participate in what is called Family Treatment Court. Family Treatment Court is a program ran by judges in the Maricopa County Superior Court that gives parents an opportunity to become motivated and help better prepare them for what they will face in court. Family Treatment Court has three different phases. During phase one, each parent is required to come to court once a week. The judge gets reports from each parent's recovery program and drug testing facility. If the parent has gone to all their groups, tested negative on all their tests, and called every day to see if they were supposed to test, the parent is rewarded through the court. If not, the parent is asked to complete a sanction. These sanctions are usually some kind of therapeutic worksheet to help the parent take a deeper look inside. To promote to phase two, the parent must complete a Standard Outpatient recovery program and go into recovery maintenance. Once the parent is in phase two, the parent only must come every other week. To promote to phase three, the parent must complete recovery maintenance. Once in phase three, the parent only must come once a month and continue to show maintained sobriety. Once they have completed phase three, the parent can graduate the program. This program has shown that 98% of parents that participate reunify with their children. This program is so beneficial to parents who are struggling with drug use. It helps to breakdown the intimidation of their case and allows them to learn how to hold themselves accountable.
The Family Involvement Center is a place that can help heal the family. Family Involvement Center is a family-run non-profit organization that allows children to receive emotional, behavioral, and mental health support. This program is a wonderful place for the whole family to learn how to rebuild after a dysfunctional break down of the family system. The Family Involvement Center offers family counseling, parenting classes, activities for youth, and run a parent assistance call center in order to help parents who are in need. This is helpful for any family that may need to re-learn a positive structure after the devastation of substance abuse.
Parents for Parents is a program that I started in Maricopa County. As I was leaving the system after I had obtained custody of my daughter back, I realized there was a significant lack of parental guidance in the system. I did some research and came across a program in Seattle, Washington that was started by a woman named Kimberly Mays. I gave her a call and asked her how I would start something like her program up in Maricopa County. She told me that if I could get the support from the courts, she would help me start it up. I met with the Presiding Judge over the Juvenile court, Judge Colleen McNally, and she supported my idea. A couple weeks later, the Court sent me out to Seattle to observe their dependency court and their Parent Partner program. I came back to Arizona and on August 8, 2016 I started working on this program. Parents for Parents offers encouragement, empowerment, and education to parents who are navigating the dependency system. I have hired four other Parent Allies that serve as a partner for each parent. Much like a sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous, the Parent Allies work with each parent overcome their obstacles and help them find the resources that they need to be successful in reunifying their family and remaining sober. Once a month, I run a support group for parents that have questions on substance abuse as well as other challenges that their families are facing. This program allows parents who are suffering to see what life can be like on the other side of addiction, but also to be able to work with someone that they can relate to.
Addiction and substance abuse is a very serious disease. It doesn't only break down the person who is addicted, but the family. Parenting becomes nearly impossible for an addict to do because of the complete loss of self-control that they are experiencing. The great news is that there are many supports in the community for any parent who is willing to make the positive changes that need to be made to rebuild their family.