How to deal with parents who are addicts

kaylanicole asks: My best friend, who is my stepmom’s niece (so technically my cousin now), and I have been close for years. She’s just spent nine days with her sister, who hates me. Now one minute she’s telling me to “**** off,” and the next saying “I love you.” She has a lot going on too, because her parents are constantly doing drugs and she’s had a rough life, but I always try to be here for her. We have been arguing on and off and it really hurts. I don’t want to lose her or stop talking to her, because I’m already stressed enough (My mom is on pills and heroin real bad and I’m scared she will die soon because she won’t get any help, and my grandma who raised me is in bad health, and my papaw who also raised me passed a year ago). I recently moved out of my grandma’s house because of stress/depression, but now I have it just as bad here. I always feel bad because my grandma tries to get me to move back in and tells me how she needs help and stuff. My nana has Crohn’s disease and is really skinny and in terrible shape. I told my best friend that I have a lot going on. She is one of the people that means the most to me and I just don’t know what to do. She will bring up her sister’s BF’s sister to make me jealous, and she changed her cover photo on Facebook to them, which used to be us most the time. I feel so alone and replaced, and most nights I lay in bed and cry until I’m tired. The depression/stress is taking over.

Hi kaylanicole –



This is one of the most heartbreaking letters I’ve ever received.  I get mail all the time that tells of pain, heartbreak, or frustration, and I’m usually able to keep my tail wagging and come up with cheerful fun ways to help those people out.  But after reading your letter, I had to go outside and give a big mournful yowl.


It’s not that your situation is impossible.  It’s just that it’s so sad.  Both you and your best friend are suffering with parents who are drug addicts.  And that is one of the toughest situations any kid can live in.


Now before any readers jump in to say, “Hey, I saw my dad drink a cocktail last night, and my mom took some Vicodins after her back operation – does that mean I’m in a terrible situation too?” let me say, absolutely not.  There’s a big difference between using a substance and being addicted to it.  True addiction takes over an animal’s brain, and makes them believe that they need that substance more than anything else in the world.  Deeply moral people who have great love and character will ignore everything else in their lives in order to get the thing they crave.  The most common example of this is people who drive drunk, when they know perfectly well that doing so puts the lives of themselves and everyone else in danger.  Their addiction to alcohol doesn’t mean they forget that fact; it makes them simply not care.


Kids and teens (and pooches) are best off when they know that they’re the most important thing in their parents’ world.  I am perfectly okay with being yelled at by Handsome when I do something that bothers him (like chasing a cat across a street), because I know he’s yelling from the love in his heart.  He wouldn’t yell unless he cared.  But if he was addicted to heroin, I’d never know what mattered the most to him at that moment, the drug or me.


The reason, kaylanicole, that I’m going into such detail about this is that this is the life you and your friend are both in.  And there is no way in the world that everything could be okay between you two, because of this.  Your friend absolutely loves you, and I imagine she treasures you above everything in the world.  But how can she fully trust you, when the person she’s trusted the most in her life has proved untrustworthy?  And because of that, why wouldn’t she act lovingly one day and mean the next, and run away from you sometimes and get closer with her sister, even to the point of cruelty?  And how can you be okay with her wavering, when what you’re feeling from her is so similar to what you’ve felt from your mother?


My friend, you have one job in this.  Only one:  Survive it.


Get through this with your heart and soul intact, and you’ll be an amazing, strong, aware, and loving person.  And you’ll be a great role model to others, including (maybe most importantly) your best friend.  But I’m not going to pretend – this is hard work.  Here are a few suggestions to help:


–       One thing you absolutely need to do is to make your living needs clear.  Today you’re with your mom, but is there somewhere else you could live, even though she’s around?  Even part-time, just to get a break?  A cousin, a friend?  And is there a plan for how you would live if something happened to your mom?  The adults in your life should have an arrangement for that.


–       You need someone to talk to.  Someone qualified.  We dogs are great, but I’m thinking of a therapist, or a school counselor, or maybe someone in your place of worship if you have one.  Someone who knows about kids’ emotional needs, and can help, and especially who can listen to all you’re experiencing and feeling.  Is there someone you can trust?


–       Know that your friend loves you, and try to be friends with her when you can, but also try to understand that she will pull away at times.  I know you need more than this, but this is probably all she can do.  So just try to remember what she’s going through, and treat her with as much love and understanding as you can (while taking care of yourself too).


–       I don’t know how old you are, and maybe this suggestion will seem silly at this time, but I want you to listen really closely: Be VERY careful about drugs!  And by that I’m including alcohol, cigarettes, everything.  A child’s main role model is their parents, and while I’m sure your mother has many wonderful qualities, she’s been a terrible role model in this regard.  So as you feel depressed at times, it’s going to seem like a natural reaction for you to reach for a bottle, a pack of smokes, a bottle of pills, a needle…   Please Don’t.  There’s no problem if you, when the time is right, enjoy the pleasure (or the medically necessary pain reduction!) of some of these things.  But don’t let yourself depend on them.  They are not the cure to anything, and they’ll only make your real problems worse.  The best way is to avoid them completely, at least till you’re older.  But no matter what, avoid letting them become necessary.


–       And my final suggestion, kaylanicole, is to REACH OUT.  Reach out to other kids, reach out to other adults.  You reached out to me and that’s great.  None of us is strong enough to handle all our life’s problems alone, so we all need help from others.  And right now, your problems are HUGE!  So let others help you.  And especially, if you can make more really good friends, that will do you more good than anyone else possibly could.


And as part of that reaching out, I sure hope you’ll stay in touch with me, and let me know what’s going on.  You’ve really touched my heart, kaylanicole, and I’ll be thinking about you often.


All my best,






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SARA - August 22, 2013 Reply

Oh I’m really sorry for you
I wish you a happier life
don’t make yourself too sad or stressed out

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