Addiction Doesn’t Discriminate

by Libby Cataldi
June 17, 2019

My son is a heroin addict. He wasn’t born this way, or maybe he was, and the addiction was there, hiding, all through his childhood years. I have spent a lot of time trying to ferret out the answer to why one son is an addict and the other isn’t, but I’ve given that up. I now spend my time learning about how best to support my son through his recovery.

Addiction isn’t going away. At one of my son’s first rehab centers, a place in Maryland called Father Martin’s Ashley (now known as Ashley Addiction Treatment), the counselors told me that for every one addict, at least four other people are affected. Addiction attacks the family first, then moves outward, affecting extended family and close friends; a cousin, a coworker, a teacher. In our home, addiction took on the characteristics of another living member, demanded attention, caused trauma, concealed itself, never went away, and never will go away. My son will always be an addict. There is no finish line.

Every addict has a mom and dad. We parents suffer as we see our children dying a little at a time. We want to save them, jump into the fire, grab them, and bring them to safety, but we can’t. Tell that to a parent, that he or she can’t save her child—the pain is incomprehensible. I would have sold my soul for my son’s recovery, made a bargain with the Devil himself—but all this was to no avail.

Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It happens in solid families and broken families, in educated families and in uneducated families. It happens regardless of socioeconomic status, college degrees, or religious upbringing. It happens in churches, in schools, on good streets and bad. Our children are bright and capable; they’ve been loved and cared for, yet something happens, and they lose themselves to drugs. My son was a leader, the captain of the soccer team, and an A student. Addiction didn’t care about any of this.

A young girl once told me, “I used to think that addicts were people from messed-up backgrounds with sad lives. Obviously, this stereotype is completely inaccurate, and your family’s story clearly showed that. I realize that it could be my family or one of my friend’s. It made me realize that we’re not invincible.”

Throughout my son’s fourteen-year addiction, I’ve learned that addicts live a tortured existence. My son, Jeff, told me that he was filled with shame, regret, self-blame, and self-loathing. He says addicts, even those who can’t mouth these words, hate themselves for what they are doing, despise the destruction they are causing, but they can’t imagine a life without drugs. About the final days of Jeff’s last descent, he wrote, I chalked death up to an unfortunate repercussion, not a deterrent. I couldn’t imagine my life without drugs in it. I didn’t want to die, but I didn’t want to stop using. They say that addicts aren’t afraid to die, they’re afraid to live without drugs.

Those of us who have addicted children know that this illness doesn’t discriminate. I realize that society might criticize us and hold us at fault for our children’s addictions, but I won’t blame anyone because blame doesn’t help. What I will do is stay committed to my Al-Anon or family group, trust God, and keep hope in my heart. He is my son.


Links from Libby Cataldi:

Book: Stay Close: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction
(St. Martins Press, Macmillan, NYC; translated and published by Rizzoli, Milan, Italy)

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Libby Cataldi

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