Robert and Cassie cared for Robert’s adult son Adam during his recovery from an addiction to heroin. He’s now doing well, but it hasn’t been easy. They tell their story.
How did you find out that Adam had a problem with drugs?
“Adam came over for a curry one evening. You could tell he was desperate to say something, but he couldn’t get the words out. In the end, he told us that he’d had a problem with heroin for almost 10 years, since he was 20. He asked for our help. Coming to live with us was a crucial part of that – he realised he had to move away from his old friends and his old life. It was a shock for us as we had no idea. But that night we agreed that we’d help, and just got on with it.
We contacted FRANK because they were mentioned in some of the information I found online. They were really good. They sent details of local organisations, and we got in touch with a Drugs and Alcohol Action Team. A lovely lady came to our house to advise us on what to do and where to go for help.”
What were the first few months like?
“Adam registered with a local GP surgery. He had weekly assessments with the nurse who talked to him and gave him his prescription for a drug that suppresses the effects of heroin.
"Working helped him a lot. It kept him busy and occupied. Not seeing people that he used to see was really important. He started to make new friends, and that was a real boost. But it was hard at home. There were times when he wasn’t doing so well – his friends from his old town would call him. His on-off girlfriend would stay over, and they’d smoke pot together and whatever else. She was still on heroin. Eventually I had to tell him that she couldn’t stay here as it was counterproductive. I hated doing that, but he accepted it.
"He had a very bad relapse at one point, and ended up in hospital. We had to have another heart-to-heart after that. The dealers had found out his new number and would phone him when they knew he’d be most vulnerable. I learnt that you don’t have to go to them, they’ll find you. He felt so awful. He felt guilty because he’d lied and scared us, and run up debts. He asked us to take his bank cards, so that he wasn't able to buy drugs for a while, until he was stronger. We gave him advice about how to pay off the debt he’d built up again.
"We desperately wanted to get him doing things – hobbies, things to keep his mind busy. I love reading, so I encouraged him to try it. We found books on subjects that really interested him. We found a book by a man who had had a drug problem himself in the past. We both read it. It helped – Adam liked reading about someone who really understood how he felt. And it helped us to talk about drug use in a more general way.”
What were the main difficulties you experienced?
“For Adam, one of the main problems was that he hated the support groups with other recovering addicts. Some of them were in a terrible state, and he didn’t like to see them. It upset him. And because he was working full-time, it was hard to keep the weekly appointments with the nurse at the GP surgery."
"It was such an emotional time for us," Robert says. "I felt so guilty that I’d let Adam get into this situation in the first place. I kept thinking about what would help Adam. At the time I couldn’t see that maybe we should get some help too."
"It has a huge impact on your relationships," Cassie says. "It’s distressing and demanding. We had very different ways of dealing with it all. I would have liked to use more of the support available, but it’s something we disagreed about. Men don’t like to ask for help. Plus, Robert wanted to put a roof over Adam’s head and feed him and just be there. I wanted to get inside his head a bit more, and work out what we could do to help him get over this addiction. It was painfully awkward at times, but we all got better at talking and living together.”
What would you say to others caring for someone with a drug problem?
“Talk a lot, get counselling if it’s available. It can be so hard to talk at home – drug users are used to being secretive. Plus, you have to find a way to change the dynamic, especially with an adult drug user. You have to become a carer, supporter or a friend who just wants to help them, rather than being a parent.
It depends on how bad things are, but try to show love, and remind them how good they are, or can be.
Treat them like adults, especially if they are one. You can’t be there every minute of the day to stop them making bad decisions, so don’t try to be. They have to learn for themselves. Even when we were living together, I said to Adam, 'you have to fight the fight. We can’t make those tough decisions for you'. But, encourage them to be strong enough to ask for your help when they need it.
Try to fill some of their time with activities, especially if they’re not working. If they have something to feel good about, they’re less likely to get depressed and feel the need to turn to drugs to feel better.
And ask for help yourself if you’re struggling. There is so much help and support for you as well as the person whom you’re trying to help.”
How do you feel now?
“After two and half years Adam felt he was ready to move out. He knew he had to move on, and make the right choices for himself. He’s very young still, and he’s got some emotional growing to do. Taking drugs for a long time can arrest your development. But he’s working and keeping really active – he goes to the gym and swims a lot. He’s opening his mind to new experiences, and we love doing things with him when he gets free time.
Although the pressure’s off us now, it’s hard not knowing what he’s doing a lot of the time. We know that the problem will always be there. We keep in regular contact with him, and try to find out how he is feeling underneath, not just on the surface. We often remind him how important he is to us, and we encourage him to love himself because he’s great, and to love life because it’s precious.”
Help and support
For more information about finding help and support, go to Advice for the family of a drug user. Alternatively, you can call FRANK on 0800 77 66 00 for free, confidential advice.