From Junkie to Substance Use Disorder

Just look at him, he’s a Junkie!

What is the image that is conjured up?

For me, it’s a malnourished, dirty person, slumped over with used needles laying around him in the gutter of a city, side street. I grew up in the 70’s and this was what was portrayed on T.V. so this is my immediate thought image when someone says, “junkie.”  Maybe you too have the same picture going? This person is a derelict with no future and a menace to society. One might say; “Whatever happens to him, he’ll get what he deserves…”

She’s a drug addict!

What is the image now?

Maybe not so different; a run down house full of food and drink trash, a couple of people strung-out… jobless and pan handling… maybe a neglected child roaming around. While these scenario’s may be realistic in some situations, they are not necessarily the primary presentation in life these days.  Regardless, one might say, “Once an addict, always an addict“… as if that is the whole identity of this person.

I believe the reaction produced in the onlooker using one of these terms is one of disdain, disgust, and avoidance.

Words matter when we are talking about people who suffer with addiction. Terms like junkie, addict, user, or abuser have the tendency to draw negative images and thoughts about, and towards, the person afflicted. It fully places the blame of their condition on their behavior and lack of self control. Period.

I confess, when I found out my son was self-medicating and misusing drugs, I was hard pressed not to think of these images in regard to my own son.  How can this be! Not my son! Not my family!  The images and stigma attached to these words bred fear and denial and kept me from seeking help sooner, for him, and for me.

Even as I published the post, What it felt like to watch my Son become an Addict, I confess I used the term Addict to grab attention because it is the familiar and popular term used these days. And, because it is the term often used even by those who struggle with addiction themselves: “Hi my name is Bob and I am a recovering addict” – the mantra at every support group meeting. I stand corrected, the more I research and learn.

The words we use need to change with the knowledge we now have about the disease of addiction.

My son suffered from a chronic brain disorder and he misused drugs as a way to try and help himself through pain and suffering on a variety of levels. Genetically, he was also predisposed to this disease. All it took was one smoke, one drink, one snort, alongside his broken predisposed brain, and he was both lured and overpowered by the disease of addiction which kept him from being able to make wise choices, a lot of the time.

“My son suffers with substance use disorder

What is the image now?

I believe this creates the image of a person battling a medical condition and produces the reaction of compassion.

Stigmatizing words need to be eradicated; They injure the person afflicted with the disease of addiction with a sense, or identity, of worthlessness and can cripple the ability of the family and the afflicted to seek and receive help when it is most needed.

Change is hard. But, as a culture, we must do it in order to save lives!

Every life matters because each of us has been created by a merciful and loving God; all lives are worthy of compassion and kindness and care because we are His created children.

So I challenge you to love those who are afflicted with addiction,

have compassion on them and use terms that correctly describe their illness and suffering so that they may see themselves worthy of help and seek it;

that others may treat them with respect and dignity while helping them;

and that you dear reader,

may do everything in your power to spur them on towards healing and a better quality of life.



No Addict wants to Be an Addict!

My son did not wake up one morning and say to himself, ” I think I will be an addict….”

Addiction is like a disease and no one decides to have a disease.

There are three common screams that rise up from the gut of someone caught by addiction:

I am scared.

I just want to be Normal!

Why Me?

Put those lines in any order, no one comes before the other.

I know, because my son, who died this past May from an accidental multi-drug intoxication overdose told me so.

“Why Me”

are words that vocalize the dumbfounded frustration – this wasn’t suppose to happen to me!  I am a good person.  I tried to live a good life.  I have plans and this wasn’t one of them!  My son was a dedicated athlete, co-captain of the football and wrestling teams;

“He was a good kid, a good role model for kids in school,” Edward Wyzik, the Belchertown High School football coach, said. 

His actions demonstrated character qualities that mattered and affected the people around him in a positive way; so I even scream, as the mom, why him!

“I just want to be normal!”

are words that my son cried out in fits of exasperation – Why did God make me this way? he cried.  Plagued with a predisposition genetically, he’d been caught by the beast of addiction in his attempts to self medicate a weary soul that just wanted to feel better and to feel normal.  Anxiety and depression complicated and added to his daily burden. This fight to “be normal & feel normal” propelled him to seek out the drugs that calmed him, gave him rest, escape, and allowed him to feel normal for a few hours.  His use of drugs helped him to cope with life, at first reasonably perhaps, as an occasional marijuana high, but the predisposition enticed him on to harder drugs for better relief of his inner turmoil.

“I am scared”

are some of the last words my son spoke from his heart – weeping, he relayed this emotion to a friend just a few days before he died.  Addicts have broken brains and are a people in need of help.  They are not dumb.  I believe, that this admission of emotion was the first time he was truly acknowledging the severity of his disease and the hold it had over him, and he was scared.

He was scared because NO ADDICT WANTS TO BE AN ADDICT. 

Unfortunately, in my sons state of fear he made poor choices in part due to the chemical brain changes that come with addiction, and I am convinced, he attempted to escape the fear of full relapse and tried to ease his painful predicament by trying a new drug – something he told me “he would never do“… heroin; cheaper and quicker than his usual drugs of choice.  The power of the disease of addiction is often more than the suffering person can handle and they are thrust into doing things they really don’t want to do, but are compelled to do, because of the deceptive power of drugs and the physiological marks of the disease.

These are things people need to know. Addicts are crying out; they want to be normal and they are afraid.

As a culture, we need to erase the stigma that says addicts are low-life’s with nothing good to offer society. We, as a culture need to remember that these people are someone’s son or daughter, 

they are people who had eyes and heart for a future, often times they are some of the gentlest souls in their peer groups because they are able to empathize with others who struggled in life.  They are individuals created by our heavenly Father who are worthy to be helped and loved with a love that does not judge, but seeks to fight the disease of addiction alongside them.

A line taken from the ShatterProof website, based out of New York:

“When a person with substance use disorder has internalized the negative stigma of the disease, it directly damages that person’s chances of recovery.4″

Final message today:

Get  rid of your preconceived misunderstandings about this disease of addiction and see the one addicted, as a person in need of encouragement, care, and love and do something that will speak to them and possibly reach their brokenness and give them the lift they may need to seek out recovery and stay in recovery.

We cannot fix and cure addiction for our loved ones, but we can certainly do better as a culture to give every good opportunity and HOPE for a healed & sober future for those who suffer with this brain disease called addiction.


My Son Died of an Overdose

Standing for almost two hours in a receiving line following the Memorial Service for my son, giving multiple hugs and shedding buckets of tears… the phrase I reiterated the most was,

“There just are no good words, so don’t even try.”

There are certain life events that cannot be touched with words because the depth of pain is visceral and beyond words.

“My son died of an overdose,” is one of those life events.

What words can follow that?

By all means, say to the grieving family, “I am sorry” – “I am here whenever you need me,” because we need to know people are standing with us in our pain.

Don’t say things like, “Time will heal” or “At least you have other children,” because time doesn’t “heal,” it may lessen the raw-ness, but our hearts will forever be broken…and while our other children are a blessing, not one of them is my son who just died.  Our lives have been permanently altered.

No.  There just are no good words, so don’t even try.

Instead, just be there without judgment.

You see, the pain we have been suffering did not start on the day my son died.  It started on the day we found out that our son was addicted to drugs.  It continued for the years that we hid in shame, and fear, because we did not want to be “that family” with “that kid,” knowing the stigma and judgment that would follow; and sadly, we did reap those jabs in various ways from time to time, as it became apparent to others outside the family that our son was using drugs.  We wept terribly as we scrambled to try and help him and figure out how to handle this disease that our son was now afflicted with.

Underneath the addiction, our son was a good person; kindhearted, funny, and creative. He was an encourage-er to others who struggled in life and he was a protector in that he sought to stick-up for the weaker one among the crowd.  This is the son we miss terribly.  This is the son we fought for and stood alongside through thick and thin.

I suggest that you replace any hint of judgment with love and compassion because addiction does not discriminate. Do not ever think, “this will never happen in my town, to my family – to my child…”  Because statistics and the reality of our culture right now says otherwise.  Sadly, I know.

So, are there any words to say?

Yes, I have words to say and I was given an opportunity to say them at a recent, local venue promoting AWARENESS & RECOVERY in my little town of Belchertown, Massachusetts this past weekend. I would be grateful if you would take the time to hear this message and to pass it along because these are the words that need to follow “My Son Died of an Overdose.”

Click on the preceding phrase, and turn your sound on to hear my words in a speech I gave.

“For (we) can do all things through Christ who gives (us) strength.” Philippians 4:13