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

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Wonnacott dancing the pasadoble
TVStrictly Come Dancing The Result
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
BBC's Antiques Roadshow uncovers a TIE fighter pilot helmet from the 1977 Star Wars film, valuing it at £50,000
TV

TV presenter Fiona Bruce seemed a bit startled by the find during the filming of Antiques Roadshow

News
people

Comedian says he 'never laughed as hard as I have writing with Rik'

Sport
Steven Caulker of QPR scores an own goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and Liverpool
football
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
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

    Science teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a languages...

    Year 6 Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

    Year 6 Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

    Year 4 Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Randst...

    Day In a Page

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past