From Early Trauma to Addiction

Addiction – like cancer – is a disease.

Now officially recognized by the medical community. Finally.

Unfortunately, criminal justice is years behind in its thinking. Some cities further ahead than others.

And individuals – with a history of childhood trauma and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – are at greater risk.

I know from personal experience. Three of my sons have experienced addiction. They will be in recovery the rest of their lives.


Behaviors started early. Highly impulsive. Overly anxious.

So many unmet emotional needs. Never feeling complete. Something missing.

I knew drug abuse could be issue.

Throughout their childhoods I tried to do all the right things.

We openly talked about substance abuse. We discussed family genetics and risk. We read hard-knock stories in the newspaper.

Don’t start. Not worth the risk. Addiction can happen quickly.

One cold winter evening we even listened to a panel of teens in recovery. I saw the negative effects firsthand.

Each with a story.

Although educated about drugs, I was forced to admit my ignorance about addiction.

I adjusted my parenting. Subtle – while maintaining connection.

I constantly knew my sons’ whereabouts. They never carried excessive amounts of money. Most of their social time was spent at home – enjoying each other.


Drug use was a none issue.

Until early adulthood.

Two of my sons bolted out of the city at 18. Desperate to reconnect with their birth family. They found something instead.

Drugs. Anything available – as long as it dulled their empty pain.

My third son took a different route to addiction.

The first “high” didn’t happen until age 23. But boy did it stimulate his damaged brain, unlike prescription psychotropic drugs that effectively leveled his mood for years.

For a short period, my son felt whole – not different than his peers. One night he described the euphoric experience to me in great detail – while still feeling the effects. 

The little boy who routinely screamed at the sight of a needle let a stranger inject meth into his veins. 

I remained calm but immediately saw the danger ahead. He liked the “change” a little too much. 

In his altered mental state and among so-called friends, he would use again – and again.

And he did – desiring the same feeling of euphoria.

Although working full-time, he couldn’t afford a modest apartment and develop a sense of independence. Living at my house and driving my vehicle meant following reasonable rules. No fighting. No stealing. 

He left on his own.

That’s when his couch surfing days  began.

Eventually, a homeless shelter provided a roof. But it also provided endless exposure to poor role models and an obvious drug culture. My son told graphic stories that I would have never imagined on my own. 

Men injecting in bathroom stalls. Men passed out in alleys. Men trading anything of value for another fix – including their bodies.

Because of the opioid crisis, addiction is once again newsworthy. Meanwhile, meth is cheap and highly addictive. It remains a huge issue with a ready supply crossing the Mexican border probably every day.

Much more potent than the one-pot method made from cold medicine.

Yet trauma-informed in-patient treatment is scarce – even with my son now begging for help, even with a health insurance card in his hand. One with decent coverage. 

Three attempts without an admission.

Christmas 2003Nudging him to admit his problem took nine months of balancing tight boundaries and unconditional love.

Pushing him to seek treatment took a consistent message from family members.

But society’s response refused to acknowledge his problem – much less help him. A mixed message to an addict.

Prison should never be the initial response to addiction, especially when no harm has come to the community – only to my son.  

Shaming won’t cure him either. In fact, shaming does just the opposite for young adults like my son with a lifetime of mental health challenges. They will continue to seek an escape and use.

He desperately needed constant supervision in a therapeutic environment.

There he would detox for 10-14 days and begin the initial path to recovery. This stage is crucial for meth addiction – before the dopamine receptors are permanently damaged.

A huge out-of-pocket expense for a private facility wasn’t financially possible.

Nowhere to go but home. Nowhere.  

Yet my home simply didn’t provide the intense structure and neutral territory to change his way of thinking – which is easier said than done.

We tried more than once. 

We failed.

That led to six months of wandering. My son eventually lost everything. His job. His phone. His wallet.

His dignity.

Perhaps hitting bottom. At last. 

A year ago he knocked on my door. He asked to use a phone. Even as thoughts of impending chaos swirled in my head, I let him enter. I couldn’t turn him away in his state of physically and emotional need.

Skinny. Hungry.

Nothing but the clothes on his back. 

With no real options, we tried detox at home again – with every family member on board. One day at a time. 

Looking past his negative responses. Keeping him fed. Letting him sleep. The first week was the roughest. 

Prayers for endless patience. The right words without shame. 

Failure wasn’t an option this time. 

After a successful four weeks of stability, my son pursued outpatient treatment with family support. Not very helpful. And nothing compared to the daily accountability at home.

Love with boundaries.

Then the endless cycle began. Cravings for meth every two to four weeks.

My son simply isn’t strong enough to resist. Not yet. 

His goals remain simple. Stability. The return of self-worth.

The ability to stay away from those who use.

A steady job in a supportive environment – with coworkers who don’t use.

A willingness to communicate.

And the desire to follow my rules until he can afford a place of his own. 

He finally admitted, “I want my life to go back to the way it used to be.”

That statement is huge. It gives me hope. 

My family and I will never abandon him amid the ups and downs of recovery. 

We will love but not enable him.

We will continue searching for appropriate, trauma-informed treatment services.

We will walk the journey with him – because recovery is a lifelong commitment. DCP


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

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4 thoughts on “From Early Trauma to Addiction

  1. We are parenting a 7 year old son and I have to say that reading your posts are like a guide for me to keep staying the course, knowing that despite my good intentions, I may not be able to protect him. Thank you for taking the time to share. I find strength for the road ahead to stare down my potential reality, while rejoicing at all the things that I can still control now at age 7.

    1. Agree. 10 year old son. Enjoying the time he is 10 and I can create the environment he so desperately needs and might even admit he wants. But I am see so many of these struggles in our future.

  2. We had a similar experience.
    She was saved by a guy who’s mom is a nurse.
    They plied het with beer.
    It worked.
    I think she fell in love though and a reason to fight.
    They are now married.
    Not a fantasy at all.
    He has issues too.
    But she is alive.

  3. Also a similar experience. We were fortunate to learn about Harm Réduction. Dr. Andrew Tatarsky at CFOL. Dr. Robert Meyer CRAFT. Dr. Jeannie Little LCSW and Patt Denning at CHRT. Barry Lessin and many others around theUS. I’m not sure where you are located but they have an awesome network or professionals who can help and they are flexible with fees. They have an approach which is life saving and supportive. Also the FB page Families for Sensible Drug Policy. It is an outstanding resource organized by parents and doctors and activists who are educated and experienced. I hope this may be useful for you. I extend my admiration and gratitude to you for you brave parenting and unconditional love.

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