Testing Hot

When a Loved One is Addicted

I just got off the phone with a mother whose twenty-five-year-old son has relapsed; he just tested “hot” for opioids. The more I listened the more my heart grew heavy for her and her situation. She is beside herself to say the least. He is being admitted into drug treatment center for his substance use disorder.

Her son started getting involved with nicotine and smoking pot as a teen. No big deal right? This is a big deal because this is the most critical time in a teens life where the teen brain is expanding and undergoing extensive remodeling and wiring upgrades. In short, the teen brain is hardwiring itself for adulthood. Drug and/or alcohol use as a teen alters that hardwiring and then BAM…you have hardwired your brain for addiction. This results in a pattern of poor decision-making and struggle as an adult. One startling fact; over 90% of people we see in drug and alcohol treatment centers report they started using as a teen. Her son’s drug use continued to accelerate as a teen, seeking a better high, trying new combinations of drugs and alcohol (poly use – using multiple substance to get a greater effect). As his use progressed, he was in situations where opioids and heroin were part of the mix.

Mom is beginning to lose hope because he has been admitted into drug treatment centers for his substance use disorder multiple times. She is now wondering if her son will be another statistic that will land her into an exclusive club that grows larger every day. The members are parents who have lost a son, daughter or another loved one to opioid and/or heroin addiction resulting in death, usually by overdose.


Testing Hot ImageHere is a really scary statistic: 80% of those who become addicted to heroin started with opioid-based pain medication prescribed from a doctor. (Examples of opioids are: Painkillers such as; morphine, methadone, Buprenorphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. Heroin is also an opioid and is illegal. Opioid drugs sold under brand names include: OxyContin®, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Percodan®, Tylox® and Demerol® among others.) Know that these pain medications are highly addictive and that is one reason we find ourselves in an opioid crisis.

Here are a few thoughts from an article written by Dr. Peter Grinspoon. M.D. – When a Loved One is Addicted to Opiates – Harvard Health Blog

One approach is the “tough love” approach, where family members avoid enabling the addiction. If someone spends all their money on drugs and you give them money for food, you have enabled their addiction. Unfortunately, with our current opiate crisis, “finding your bottom” all too commonly can mean death from overdose, especially with our streets being flooded with fentanyl, a deadly opiate that people often mistakenly buy, looking for heroin.

Another approach instead of tough love is, simply using plain old love to tryto coax family members back into the fold, and hopefully encourage them to seek treatment. Each slip or relapse is met with support and patience, as families increasingly understand the chronic and relapsing nature of addiction. Many believe that this is a safer and more humane way to respond to addiction.

Whatever approach you use, one must protect one’s finances, and you may need to change passwords or secure valuables. If living with your addicted loved one is just too stressful, alternative living arrangements may be necessary. Some families may need to change their locks. Families must decide whether they truly wish to go deeply into debt to fund a second or third stint at rehab.

Human connection would be an important component of treating addiction, and that a strategy of loving engagement might be more effective than one that shuns or blames the one suffering from substance use disorder. “Testing hot” doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Get help for your loved one! Through treatment and 12-step program engagement and support, a lifeline can be offered.


Author Larry Tracey, is Executive Director of Youth4Youth, author, speaker and Program Director of the WOW Coalition; a prevention association that promotes safe and healthy choices and responds to problems caused by alcohol, marijuana and Rx abuse by implementing strategies to prevent and reduce youth substance use. For additional information visit wowcoalition.org or contact at (623) 208-3230 or email: larry.tracey@wowcoalition.org.

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