Opioid Addiction in Families: What Rep. Madeleine Dean Has in Common with Millions of American Moms

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Pennsylvania Congresswoman Madeleine Dean has released a new memoir that is a must-read for families dealing with opioid addiction. “Under Our Roof: A Son’s Battle for Recovery, a Mother’s Battle for Her Son” is a jarring and unflinchingly honest look at what addiction does to families, and a candid account of Dean’s own experiences with her son, Harry Cunnane, with whom she co-wrote the book. The memoir switches back and forth between both of their perspectives: one of a mother struggling to navigate her son’s addiction and get him help; the other of an often-desperate addict who, even with the best intentions, couldn’t overcome his substance abuse for years.

In their collaboration, Dean and Cunnane make a concerted effort to depict the honest and often-uncomfortable reality of addiction recovery and how difficult it can be. The book is also a reminder that loved ones can be naïve about the dangers and possibilities of addiction, especially when distracted by other things like their careers. The book represents a mirror-image of what many American families dealing with opioid addiction go through, as the crisis continues to increase, leading to higher-than-ever rates of overdose deaths amid the pandemic.

Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) indicates that nearly 50,000 Americans died from opioid addiction in 2019. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that over two million people per year receive treatment for opioids, including heroin, prescription painkillers and more.  If you’re battling opioid addiction or watching a loved one struggle with this disease, you may already know the impact and ugliness of it, but you may not know how to address it in your family or get the help you need for yourself or your loved one.

Impact of Opioid Addiction on Loved Ones

In an interview with Roll Call, Dean said of addiction recovery: “I don’t think you can fully understand just how joyous it can be without seeing the uglier side of it.” While this “ugly side” is different for each family, it often involves a mosaic of safety risks, interpersonal struggles, lost of trust and affection, financial impact and erosion of other family relationships. In other words, thousands of dollars in medical, legal and other types of expenses to “manage” the problem; family in-fighting; lying, theft and manipulation; and even physical threats and violence:

  • Over 80 percent of respondents to a recent True Link survey said their loved ones’ addiction had adverse effects on their finances.
  • The National Center for State Courts indicates that opioid arrests are skyrocketing and that the impact on municipal legal systems is deeply felt by chief justices and state court administrators.
  • A survey from The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health and the National Domestic Violence Hotline indicates deep physical and psychological intimidation related to opioid abuse and other types of drug use intimate partnerships.

But you may already know the full scope of opioid addiction in your family and are reminded of it every time your loved one threatens you, lies to you, loses their job, steals money from you or prescriptions from aging or sick loved ones, or gets caught doctor-shopping.

Empowering Yourself to Address Opioid Addiction in Your Family

Opioid addiction in families takes many forms. In some cases, it’s the well-off, college-educated student or executive who, for whatever reason, started using prescription painkillers and can’t stop; in others, it’s the graduation to heroin from other drugs, like cocaine or even prescription painkillers like oxycodone or hydrocodone. The NIDA reports that:

  • Approximately 25 percent of patients prescribed opioid for pain misuse them.
  • Between eight and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.
  • An estimated four to six percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
  • About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.

Understanding the origins and cultural factors of different types of opioid abuse behavior can help families intervene and guide their addicted loved ones toward help and recovery. It’s also important to understand the physical and behavioral signs of opioid addiction, which generally include:

  • Inability to control use
  • Uncontrollable cravings
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Irregular sleep habits
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Frequent flu-like symptoms
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Poor grooming and hygiene
  • Declining fitness and exercise
  • Isolation from loved ones
  • Stealing from family, friends or businesses
  • New financial troubles
  • Professional, legal or academic issues

Behavioral signs may vary, based upon what type of opioids your loved one is abusing. If they’re abusing painkillers, they may engage in certain behaviors unique to physician engagement, like doctor shopping, going to multiple hospitals to obtain prescriptions, checking into out-of-town emergency rooms under an assumed name, etc. They may also do things like watch the clock closely in obsessive anticipation of their next dose, constantly discuss their need for pain relief and how they need another pill and get mad when confronted about going against label directions and their doctor’s orders.

How Can I Help My Loved One with Their Opioid Abuse?

Families battling opioid addiction need to take a thorough look at the problem and take multiple factors into account when intervening, including the origins of the substance abuse, the addict’s mental health, their age, their physical condition, other family members’ personal safety and more. Dean’s memoir reminds us that there are complex, emotional and interpersonal dynamics at work within each family that can strengthen or weaken efforts to get an addicted loved one help. Some universal measures you can take to help your loved one include:

  • Speak to them with firmness and respect about the issue.
  • Don’t judge them and let them know you’re there to help.
  • Have someone from the family they particularly trust and respect reach out to them first.
  • Be tactful and delicate in your approach.
  • Educate yourself and the rest of your family on the disease of addiction and what addicts go through.
  • IMPORTANT: Learn how to obtain and deploy the overdose-reversal drug Narcan in the event of an emergency.
  • Take an active role in finding them treatment. Ask questions, get involved and be their partner.

It’s important to realize that a person dealing with any kind of substance use disorder will rarely take it upon themselves to get treatment. It’s only through a combination of education, sensitivity, firmness and support that you will be able to guide your family member toward care. We are fully prepared to help you organize an intervention.

Opioid Addiction Treatment in Northern Virginia

In addition to her struggles at home, Representative Dean goes to work every day in a region where opioid addiction is one of the leading public health crises. The need for opioid addiction treatment in Northern Virginia and D.C. cannot be overstated. Opioid overdoses in Northern Virginia and D.C continue to surge after experiencing modest declines in 2018. For every one of these overdoses, there is a community of loved ones mourning a friend or family member that they’ll never get back.

Recovery Unplugged offers compassionate, effective and evidence-based opioid addiction treatment in Northern Virginia. Our drug rehab center in Annandale is less than an hour from D.C. and offers a full array of addiction treatment services, including PHP and outpatient programs, sober living, medication-assisted treatment and more. We also offer a full continuum of care, including medical detox, and comprehensive behavioral rehab at multiple other locations across the country. Recovery Unplugged accepts most major insurances and is a trusted and reputable provider of Vivitrol® and Suboxone® for opioid addiction. If you’re looking for Northern Virginia opioid addiction treatment, you’re not alone and help is possible.

Helping Families Heal

Family support and involvement is a cornerstone of the opioid addiction treatment process. Addiction is a family disease, and it’s important that each person affected gets the help they need. The Recovery Unplugged Family Program is an educational and supportive resource for families affected by opioid addiction and other types of substance use disorder. It provides families with the tools they need to understand their role in the recovery process while laying the groundwork for clients’ gradual reintegration into the home and family dynamic. Recovery Unplugged Family Program takes place over the course of a weekend and allows designated family members to better understand the unique nature of addiction and recovery. Contact us today to learn more.

Madeleine Dean’s story is unique, but it’s also similar to what far too many families experience. While it illustrates the potential frailty of the family unit in the face of addiction; it also shows that persistence and love can help make a critical difference even in the most seemingly “severe” cases. The family is more empowered than they realize in influencing treatment and recovery, and you don’t have to battle your loved one’s substance abuse by yourself.

Recovery Unplugged is acutely aware of the family dynamics involved in addiction, and how they can either help or hinder recovery.  We have helped thousands of clients and their families overcome substance use disorder, and we’re ready to do the same for your family. Contact us today for a full insurance verification and to find out how we can help.

Recovery Unplugged

About The Author

The Senior Content Writer here at Recovery Unplugged, Dominic Nicosia oversees the maintenance of our online blog while also handling and overseeing all written communications within Marketing. He also writes articles, thought leadership pieces, and basically everything written regarding web content. Dominic has over seven years...
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