By Sari Harrar
During October and November, the Healthy Kids blog examines at the epidemic of teen prescription drug abuse. Through the stories of teens and young adults in recovery, their parents and treatment experts, you’ll get a first-hand look at a problem that’s more widespread and more deadly than many parents realize-- and find real-world advice about protecting your kids.
Yesterday’s blog told the story of high school football star Tim Rader, who became hooked on prescription pain pills during cancer treatment.
Today: How abuse became addiction and what led to recovery
Rader used drugs recreationally through college, but had stopped after graduation when he went to work as a pharmaceutical sales rep until he was faced with a shelf of pain pills in a doctor’s supply closet. He grabbed the boxes, beginning a ten-year struggle with addiction.
“My addiction progressed to going to the street for heroin,” says Rader, now 38, who grew up in Ashland, PA. “I was still working and trying to hide the addiction from my fiancé. On the day we were supposed to go see the priest who would marry us, everything fell apart. My fiancé was at my apartment and I’d gone to take a shower. At this point I had to plan my whole day around drugs -- I had to know where I’d be and how long it would be till my next hit or I’d get sick. But I wasn’t telling anybody about this.
“So I went into the shower, I took the drugs in with me and I turned on the shower so no one would hear me. I locked the door-- and I overdosed. My fiancé is knocking on the door ‘Tim we’ll be late.’ The shower is running… she ended up using a butter knife to jimmy the door open. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the hospital and her engagement ring was sitting on the table by the bed. The wedding was cancelled. It was pretty bleak.
“I tried going home after I detoxed. I’d lost my job, I had nowhere to live. My parents took me in, they helped me pack and move. Like moms and dads everywhere, they thought love and good meals and plenty of emotional support would get me through this. It didn’t. They had to learn the hard way, as I relapsed into addiction over and over again and moved in and out of their house, that the kind of love they’d shown me as a child wasn’t going to help. That’s why this disease is so unfair, not just for addict, but for the loved ones who have to do the opposite of what all of their instincts are screaming that they should do. Their nerves are raw, they’re panicked and hurt and damaged.
“Eventually, my parents went to a recovery program for relatives at Caron. When my mom walked into that room, she knew she wasn’t alone anymore. She saw the other moms who looked like her-- with bags under their eyes, that beat-down look, bearing up under the marital strain that so often leads to divorce. My mom and dad found out they weren’t bad parents. They found out that they had to detach from me, with love. They had to stop feeding and sheltering me, providing money either by giving it to me or leaving it around so it could be stolen. They finally told me not to come back home after I went to a recovery program out in New Mexico. They told all of our relatives and friends not to help me.
“The decisions my parents had to make were just awful. They had to kick me out, not knowing where I would go. My mother would listen to ambulances screaming past their house at night, worried I was in every one. Detaching with love isn’t foolproof. There are no guarantees that it will save your child. I could have died anyway. But my mom and dad knew that the person who was addicted was not their son and that they had to help me by not enabling me. It took years, but I finally went into recovery. Their breakthrough became my breakthrough. I really believe it happened because my family got healthy first-- about not helping me and about being open about my addiction.
“It was hard. I went to Caron, where they told me ‘We’re going to love you until you can love yourself.’ It was brutally hard-- I had the shakes for the first 30 days. And once I left, I stumbled and had to return. But that’s pretty normal. The important thing is that I went back.
“Today I’m clean. I live in Baltimore with my wife, Melisa. And I’ll do whatever it takes to convince parents and kids that drug abuse is something that can’t be ignored-- no family should believe it won’t happen to them. It happens to every kind of kid and in all kinds of situations. If you don’t figure out how to stack the deck on your side to prevent addiction from coming into your home, you’re missing the chance to protect your teen.”
Tomorrow: What parents endure when a teen gets hooked