Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Son addicted to heroin


Dear Virginia, I have discovered that my son is a heroin addict. I can't tell you how upset I am. He has agreed to try to get clean in the New Year, but we can't afford private rehab, and no NHS places are available. I have given him money for drugs because he says that otherwise he'll steal to pay for them. My world has been torn apart. I want to help him, but how? Yours sincerely, Marjorie

Virginia writes:

You've asked for advice to give to your son, Marjorie, but it seems to me that more than anything you really need advice - and comfort - for yourself. It's a hard ride, being the parent of an addict, because you so long for everything to be alright that you often end up doing what you're doing at the moment which is that awful thing called "enabling".

You've completely bought in to the whole addict line. "I am desperate, I can't give up at the moment, but will later, the drug has enslaved me, no one is there to help me, I can't give up on my own, I'm so desperate I'll risk turning into a criminal, so you must give me money for more drugs."

I've no doubt he feels a bit desperate - but the truth is that that feeling is not as bad as it's made out. We've all felt desperate - desperate for a lover to ring, desperate for a job, desperate, even, for a drink - but we bear that desperation, however unpleasant, as stoically as we can, until either we face up to the fact that we'll never get what we want or our needs are satisfied. We don't go out and become criminals.

It takes a lot of injecting or smoking, or however he's using heroin, to get addicted. If someone were to pin you down and force a needle into your arm, you wouldn't then become an instant wild-eyed addict. You've got to work at heroin addiction. And it's not true that there's no one there to help him - you're there to help, to provide him with food and shelter and emotional support, and that's really all he needs.

Not only did hundreds of GIs in the Vietnam war use heroin repeatedly while they were in battle and give it up happily when they returned home, but withdrawal from heroin isn't nearly as bad as made out. At worst, it's like a bad dose of flu. I know three one-time heroin addicts who gave up on their own and none of them had medical help. Withdrawing from heroin is not medically serious at all.

Try to lay your hands on a copy of Theodore Dalrymple's Junk Medicine, which argues that it's not only heroin users but the whole rehab industry that's interested in perpetuating the Coleridge/de Quincy idea that heroin withdrawal is something too awful to contemplate. Don't give your son any more money. Tell he must give up now, not in the new year, tell him you'll support him through any psychological problems, but don't let him lay any guilt trips on you, and give him the address of Narcotics Anonymous (not Narconon, by the way, a drug rehab programme associated with the Church of Scientology and therefore, in my view, to be avoided), where he will meet a jolly band of ex-addicts who will support him.

And finally, Marjorie, don't blame yourself. If he turns to crime to make you feel awful, let him go ahead. Remember, he doesn't have to if he doesn't want to. The more you buy into his version of the situation, the more you infantilise him. And that's the last thing he needs.

Readers say

Tough love is still love

Marjorie should not panic but establish exactly what her son is addicted to, how much he uses, how often and what the effects are. Her son is likely not only to steal, but to steal from her. I can tell her from experience that she must lock away her valuables, jewellery, credit cards and anything else she regards as precious, even the deeds to her house. In addition, she must not give him money for drugs. He needs to experience the full consequences of his actions, even if they include arrest and a criminal record. Her "protection" will only prevent him taking responsibility. Tough love is still love.

I am suspicious of his agreement to start rehab in the new year. It sounds as if he may be agreeing to try rehab to pacify her and it will only work if he is really committed to doing it. There are a number of websites which offer support and advice. www.talktofrank.com, www.trashed.co.uk, DrugScope and Adfam can all help, as can Marjorie's GP.

Marjorie doesn't say how old her son is. When many teenagers get involved with alcohol and drugs they tend to talk up their drug use to shock us. One of the saddest things about addiction is the destruction of trust in the relationship. You should not trust your son now and it may be years before you dare trust him again.

Name and address supplied

He has to stop now

It has to be tough love. Would you forgive yourself if he overdosed on the drugs you have paid for?

Go back to your GP and ask for help now, not in the New Year. It sounds like your son is using delaying tactics; ultimately, the choice to stop using drugs can only be made by him.

Julie Earnshaw

Yorkshire

Help him to stay safe

Maybe McDermott's Guide to Do-it-yourself Detox would be a suitable Christmas present for your son? It's a comic published by the Lifeline drugs charity in Manchester. Written by a former heroin user, it describes how to safely get clean and try to stay clean, and makes the point that the majority of drugs users stop without the help of expensive rehab schemes.

Your son may not be ready to stop using heroin yet. He has to really want to for himself, not for you. There is a real possibility that he may move to injecting heroin, and he needs to be able to be honest with you if he is doing this. Consider getting him the six other Lifeline comics aimed at injecting drug users listed in their catalogue, together with their publications on bloodborne viruses. These will help him to stay safe.

Lifeline comics use explicit sexual imagery and swearing, so you may not like them yourself. Find them at www.lifelinepublications.org.

Kate Evans by email

Let him decide

Sometimes we have to stop trying and let them decide what they want to do. As long as he knows you will supply money for his habit it will continue. Threats are part of the drink and drugs habit and he will play on this, hoping you will give in.

If he does steal from anyone and appears in court, he will be put into rehab anyway. Its a hard decision to make, but there are places of support during this hard time. Look on the internet or ask your GP and they will give you advice and information on support groups.

Sarah Mendoza

Northolt, Middlesex

Next Week's Dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I feel so ashamed - I went to our office Christmas party and got drunk and a bit out of control. Worst of all, I ended up snogging my boss - a married man I don't fancy at all. If I were a secretary it wouldn't be so bad, but I'm an executive. He's on a business trip at the moment and then there's Christmas break but how can I face him when he gets back?

Yours sincerely, Zara

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Operations Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently recruiting for an Operati...

    Project Coordinator/Order Entry, Security Cleared

    £100 - £110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Ham...

    Senior Digital Marketing Executive

    £35000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

    Junior Developer- CSS, HMTL, Bootstrap

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading company within the healthcare ...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz