“You don’t see cancer patients or diabetics stealing from the jewelry box or the family,” Annie Highwater writes in the description of her book, “Unhooked: A Mother’s Story of Unhitching from the Roller Coaster of Her Son’s Addiction.”
Battling her son’s addiction to opioids, this mother admits she was self-righteous about the fact that addiction is a disease.
As the struggle to help her son turned from months to years, Annie realized trying to “outsmart and tough-love” her way out of the situation wasn’t a solution to the family’s problem.
A staggering 75 percent of people seeking treatment for opioid dependence in the 2000s, report their first use of opiates was from a doctor’s prescription. This is according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which also notes that prescription painkiller abuse can and often does lead to heroin use.
Like so many other victims, Annie’s son was an athlete and was prescribed opiate painkillers after a sport’s injury. Despite her lack of understanding about addiction, she says as a mom, she noticed his behavioral changes in the house.
“We had an atmosphere – it seems like [he had] two moods,” she says in a recent edition of the Inside Addiction podcast. “Either extremely agitated and irritable…which has never been his personality, or overexcited and what I started calling the ‘opiate chatter.'”
What are the Symptoms of Opioid Dependence and Addiction?
Though she didn’t realize at the time, she was witnessing her son exhibit the signs and symptoms of opioid dependency and addiction. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of opioid dependence and addiction can include some of the following:
- Extreme mood swings and hostility
- Unusually amped up, jittery or appearing high
- Change in sleep patterns
- Stealing from friends and loved ones
- Losing prescriptions or seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
- Poor decision making
- Isolating from friends and family
Annie attempted to help her son in the best way she knew how at the time, by enforcing household rules and, in her own words, being a “rock-bottom-pusher type mom.” Over the course of a year, his addiction only worsened. Life at home became unendurable.
When she was out of ideas, she finally got her son, who was over 18 years old at this point, to seek treatment.
Relapse is Part of the Disease of Addiction
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease of the brain, which actually alters the brain’s chemical makeup. The longer a person is addicted to a substance, the harder it becomes, and in some cases physically dangerous, to simply quit and walk away. For this reason, addicts often relapse even after treatment.
Annie learned this almost immediately. After a short-term, 14 day stint in rehab, her son relapsed the day he came home. The next several years played out a painful and not uncommon pattern of living with different friends and relatives, seeking additional treatment and several more failed attempts to remain clean and sober.
Eventually, after living out of his car, her son made a decision that would change his life for the better. He flew to California where he committed to a full year of treatment. He now works at the very same treatment center.
Annie and her son’s relationship has vastly improved, though she confesses that her personal wellbeing was so wrapped up in his, she now consciously works for her own sense of internal peace. Ultimately, she says, this is why she wrote about her experience in “Unhooked.”
“I am telling my story,” she writes, “to let others know: You are not alone. You are responsible for your own life, health, success, peace of mind; you just have to take the reins. The same goes for your struggling loved one.”
“Unhooked” is available on Amazon.com and is a must read for parents struggling with a child’s addiction.