If you suspect that your child is using drugs, he or she probably is.

I denied the classic warning signs of drug addiction in my son for years. The loss of old friends, the stealing, the lying, sleeping all day and going out all night. I was deluding myself into thinking it was a phase and did not dare to admit to myself that there was a problem. I certainly wasn’t going to talk to family or friends about my suspicions. I was embarrassed, ashamed and convinced I would be judged as a bad parent.

The reality is that the drugs had taken over my youngest son’s mind, body and soul. All my begging, pleading and threats made no difference in his behavior. The son I knew was gone, and I could not reach the shell of a person that was left in his place. How could he do this to me, to the family? Surely he could see how much he was hurting everyone around him. I felt isolated and alone. I realized I needed help, but didn’t know where to begin.

Out of desperation I called a drug rehabilitation center that was advertising on the radio and was told about a parent support group in Plymouth Meeting. I was emotionally drained and I feared for my son’s life every hour. I needed to do something, anything. So I summoned the courage to go to the meeting.

I walked into the room that night feeling apprehensive and scared. At the start of the meeting, I was asked if I wanted to share my story. For the first time, I said out loud the words, “I think my son is a heroin addict,” without fear of judgment. This was a tremendous emotional release. The secret that was consuming me no longer had as much power.

The most important thing that I learned that night was that parents need to help themselves in order to help their kids.

After the meeting I was able to begin the process of answering the question, “How do I help my son?” The group has given me first-hand recommendations and experiences about treatment options, rehabilitation centers and addiction counselors. Parents openly discuss what worked and didn’t work for them. There is no one right thing to do, no set timeline for recovery. From listening to other parents’ stories I learned that, for my son, it was best to be away from the people, places and things associated with his drug use. With the moral support of the parent group, I organized an intervention and attempted to get my son into a treatment center in Florida.

The intervention worked. The immediate crisis was over. My son was in treatment, but I was left to deal with a flood of intense emotions: relief, anger, fear and anxiety over the future. I clung to the parent support group, drawing on their collective strength to get me through each week. I needed a path forward, a way to heal myself emotionally and a plan for the long haul ahead.

A common thread throughout every addiction story is that, over time, a parent’s love is transformed into anger, resentment, disappointment and fear. By attending the meetings I have slowly begun to identify and adopt the tools I need to help me replace those negative emotions with feelings of compassion and hope. The willingness to change my own behaviors will make it possible to reclaim the love I have for my son and to get peace, joy and happiness back into my life whether he chooses to use drugs or not.

Parent support meetings have become a priority in my life; the parents there are my teachers and confidants. Through their stories and experiences, I am educating myself about the disease of addiction and learning that I need to show love to my son in a way that will not contribute to his addiction. Through the other parents’ stories, I realized that emotionally difficult decisions—not allowing my son to live in my home, cutting him off financially and even cutting off communication—are all acts of love where addiction is concerned. Just as important, parents must be prepared to offer their support when their child is ready to get sober. The group has given me the strength and courage to do this for my son.

Perhaps you have a son or daughter who is struggling with addiction. You’re in plentiful company; we’re in the midst of a regional and national heroin and opioid epidemic, with nearly 700 drug overdose deaths in Philadelphia in 2015. Perhaps you have been afraid to speak up and ask for help. It is vitally important that you educate yourself about the disease of addiction and establish a support system. Parent support groups are a good place to start. They are free. Over time, they will help to restore a sense of peace to your life—and, with persistence and luck, a path to recovery for your child. Visit  http://conversation.zone/meetings/ for more information about parent support groups.

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