From Early Trauma to Addiction

Addiction – like cancer – is a disease.

Individuals – like my young adult son with a history of childhood trauma and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome – are at greater risk. 


Highly impulsive. Overly anxious. 

Throughout his childhood 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. We even listened to a panel of teens in recovery and saw the negative effects firsthand.

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

I constantly knew my son’s whereabouts. He never carried excessive amounts of money. Most of  his social time was spent at home with his brothers. 

Drug use was a none issue.

Until now.

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

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.

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.

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 refusing to acknowledge his problem – much less help him – sends the wrong message. Prison should never be the initial response to addiction, especially when no harm has come to the community – only to my son and his family.

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 needs constant supervision in a therapeutic environment. He can then 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 is simply not possible. 

Unfortunately, my home simply doesn’t provide the intense structure and neutral territory that’s necessary to change his way of thinking – which is easier said than done.

We tried more than once. 

We failed.

After a successful detox period, outpatient treatment must follow with family support. And with the positive influence from anyone willing to lend a hand.

The goal is simple. His stability will improve. In turn, I can allow him to safely return to our home. Away from those who use.

On the plus side, he has a supportive boss who also sets boundaries. She knows he needs help and won’t kick him to the curb – even though she easily could for his poor choices  

In addition, he continues to communicate with me – although less frequently than I would prefer. Yesterday he finally said, “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.

We will love but not enable him.

We will search for appropriate services, until they are found.

We will then 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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One thought 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.

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