My Bottom Line

Recovery Corner: What IS Substance Abuse

this article was originally written and featured on

The official definition: “overindulgence in or dependence on an addictive substance, especially alcohol or drugs.” OK… but WHO becomes a drug addict? An alcoholic? …

In a previous article I shared that my son’s been using drugs since adolescence. He found heroin at 15… And our lives have never been the same.

My son gave me some of my greatest understandings of addiction back when he was 17. He’d been arrested, once again, but in jail for the first time. A juvenile jail. Make no mistake…it FEELS and LOOKS the same as “grown up” jail – brick building, guards at the door with guns, big gray sliding prison doors that clang behind you, visitation room with me on one side of scratched, filthy plexiglass, him on the other. I was doing my mother’s heart of crying and drama, “Why are you doing this? You’re destroying your life…our life…your future… Please why can’t you just stop using drugs!!??” At 17 years old, in a gray jumpsuit, talking through the glass on a jail phone, he said “Mom, you just don’t understand. Heroin is like nothing I’ve ever done. When I’m high, everything is ok. I don’t worry, I don’t have any pain. NONE OF THE BAD GETS IN. I feel…normal. IF I COULD STAY HIGH, I‘D STAY IN HERE FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.” Can you imagine…17 years old…willing to stay in prison FOREVER if he could have heroin?? No life. No friends. No girlfriend. No kids. No home. No job. No…NOTHING. And he meant it. Heroin has been his life-partner, so to speak, ever since. 12 years. I call heroin addiction the Living Hell, because he can’t LIVE with it, and he WON’T live without it.

I share this story as a cautionary tale. To the folks reading that think “NOT MY KID” — he/she could never…would never… Drugs are an equal opportunity kidnapper. They are color-blind. Not the least bit prejudice. With one goal… CAPTURE.Nobody wakes up one day at 14…18…25…and says “I’m gonna be a drug addict, have no life, destroy my family, give mom a heart attack, dad a stroke, live in prison, get HIV…” Once captured, the human being and their world suffer greatly.

To answer the question – Who becomes a drug addict? An alcoholic?… ANYONE. Because substance abuse isn’t a mark of character, it’s not about good people or bad people. Our goal, as parents/ families/ community/ professionals – is to PREVENT THE CAPTURE.

Get educated about substance abuse/learn what to watch for: What are signs of pot, coke, pills, meth, heroin, etc.???

Be proactive in your own home/family: Be the PARENT, not the FRIEND… SET rules/boundaries.

When you have concerns, GET HELP: Doing nothing /Denial is our greatest enemy in this fight.

The sooner we become aware and educated, the greater chance of aiding a loved one to get help.

Here are some more RED FLAGS for opiate addiction – things to watch for, be it prescription pain pills or heroin.

-Spoons will be missing, unexplained from the kitchen, or appear blackened/burnt on the underside

-User will have “cotton mouth” – speech is impaired and/or slurred, user constantly licks his lips and lips appear dysfunctional

-Opiate users will often wear sunglasses inappropriately – inside, nighttime, days which obviously do not warrant their wearing

-Appetite decreases drastically; opiate use becomes all consuming; the user progressively loses all interest in eating and drinking; YET, user may often have water on hand– multiple bottles and glasses, often partially full

-Weight will usually decrease immediately and drastically shortly after the onset of opiate use

-Watch for evidence of constipation (opiate side effect) – laxatives, enemas, etc.