I don’t believe in medication for addiction. I didn’t need it; why does my daughter?

A mom says, “As a mom in recovery myself, I’m very upset that my daughter’s doctor prescribed medication-assisted treatment. Although I’m an alcoholic and my daughter is addicted to heroin, I don’t believe in trading one drug in for another. I was hoping she’d be able to benefit from AA meetings like I did, but now I don’t feel comfortable bringing her because she isn’t really sober. How do I convince her to get off the drugs she is on now?”

This is an issue for many people, but just as no one’s recovery is the same, no one’s addiction is the same, either. Alcohol is a dangerous drug that kills many people each year. Yet drinking is also socially acceptable and even encouraged in many communities, making it more difficult to abstain. While the ideal may be to be free of all substances, we have learned—by watching 130,000 people a year overdose and die from opioids, leaving 130,000 families with an empty chair at the table—that it may not always be possible at first. Alcohol may be just as destructive as heroin, but there is less time to enter recovery with opioids. Heroin and fentanyl are taking our children while they are still barely adults.

A solid strategy with any disease that might be manageable under the right circumstances, such as obesity-related diabetes or hypertension, is to begin a medication regime and follow through on all of the other recommendations, with hopes of eventually weaning off the medication. In the case of weight-related illness, diet and exercise and possibly therapy or Overeaters Anonymous meetings would be recommended.

Addiction is rarely about the substance and usually about the reasons it began. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) gives our loved ones time away from the use of dangerous street drugs and allows them to connect with mental health services and other support, begin working or going back to school, clear up any legal issues, and basically see that recovery is possible and they can repair their lives. The most important part of the treatment is the plan that surrounds it.

Many AA and NA groups are becoming more accepting of MAT and realize that this evidenced-based treatment has value. There are also new MARA or Medication-Assisted Recovery Anonymous () meetings springing up all over for people who decide they need the extra support while they utilize methadone, Suboxone, or naltrexone. Don’t forget that naltrexone, or Vivitrol, is one of the three FDA-approved medications that do not contain an opioid.

I would recommend that you support your daughter’s path even though it may differ from yours. Educate yourself on the science behind MAT so you understand the need and the success rates compared to abstinence alone as related to opioids. Encourage her to put all of the other supports in place, and hopefully she will see a path to become free of substances if that is what she chooses. Most of all, celebrate her willingness to begin her recovery journey. She needs your support, and remember that so many others never have the opportunity to walk this or any recovery path with their children.

Stay strong,
Coach C.

Disclaimer: The above advice is not meant to be construed as medical or legal advice. If you need professional medical, psychological, or legal advice, please contact a doctor, lawyer, or medical center.

Maureen Cavanagh is a peer recovery coach and interventionist who works with families and loved ones supporting a person struggling with a substance use disorder on their own recovery. She is the founder of Magnolia New Beginnings and Magnolia Recovery and Consulting, and the author of If You Love Me: A Mother’s Journey Through Her Daughter’s Addiction and Recovery, published by Henry Holt/Macmillan, and NAADAC-approved FAST: Family-Focused Addiction Support Training. You can learn more about her at www.maureencavanagh.net

Each new edition of MomPower will feature questions from you, our mamas, along with my replies, to help educate and guide you toward the answer that works for your family. If you’d like your concern featured, please send a brief question to Maureen@MagnoliaCS.com with MomPower in the subject line. Reach out. You are not alone.

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Questions for Coach Cavanagh

9 Comments

  1. Hi Maureen, thank u for your wisdom. Yes the most important part is the recovery plan that surrounds the rehab. I am sober 40 yrs in aa . My daughter is 50 on the streets of Chicago, because she didn’t want to do what I did to get sober. I thought it was my way or the highway. Some aa folks are very very hard core. It is not one size fits all in my opinion. Luvya ❤️Jan

    • Thank you Jan. It’s so very difficult to stand by and watch when it’s so clear to us what they need to do but as you said, “Not one size fits all.” Congrats on your 40 and I’ll keep you both in my thoughts!

  2. Can you address heroin/opioid addiction and mental illness? My son is off heroin for 15 months but is taking suboxone (which he can’t seem to wean off) and scripts for anti anxiety, depression etc. He has ADHD as well. I’m trying to get him to explore that as I have read a lot about that being the root of it all. I don’t know where to begin to get him to help himself. Still in active addiction!??? Sorry so long. Thank you

    • I think that having a loved one with Mental Health issues and and substance use disorder is so much more difficult. Many of our children had mild anxiety and depression before using drugs and many seem to experience it in recovery. ADHD as well as the medications to treat it have both been called the root of the problem. There are some ADHD medications that are more difficult to divert, but I’d suggest having him re-evaluated, sober, by a professional educator who is skilled in determining whether he does, in fact, have ADHD that requires medication. I am a special education teacher and in all my years of teaching I saw one student that truly needed medication but so many that were medicated. Many diagnosed with ADHD benefit from a teacher with the skills to teach to their particular learning style and encouragement to develop coping mechanisms to ‘learn the way they learn.’

      Often with therapy and trauma work, a prolonged period of abstinence and some ‘wins’ in life, they appear be able to deal with life on life’s terms and may not need as much medication, or possibly the same medications. Many of these medications are difficult to wean off and there is also a certain amount of fear associated with getting off of them. Another issue is that many are prescribed medications in active use or very early in recovery and for behaviors and feelings that may pass in sobriety. It’s a vicious cycle and Im honestly not sure what we can do about it, aside from making sure the prescribing doctor is reputable and discussing the treatment center’s philosophy on mental health medications. As much as you’d like to see your son off of all medications it is ultimately his decision but perhaps encouraging him to try some activities, either work or training related, where he can feel successful might help him get some ‘wins’ behind him and he may feel more comfortable thinking about weaning off some of the meds. Best of luck to you both.

      • Thank you Maureen.

        • You are very welcome Kathy.

  3. I was a heroin addict at 17 years old back in the 70s. My 18 year old granddaughter has been using 6 months and went into rehab. They gave her so many damn pills along with Suboxin. They never explained it to her and basically said if you don’t take it you can’t stay. Wrong on so many levels. This med is also free while in rehab but costs a fortune to get a prescription monthly by greedy doctors once out of rehab. She stayed on Subs for 7 months and did outpatient treatment. It took me and her mother, both RNs along with the doctor to ween her off all this crap the rehab gave her. Took 9 months to ween VERY slowly off of Suboxin. We did it OUR way, not the recommended 21 day ween. My granddaughter wanted off and it was always her choice. We just assisted her. She is now 8 months clean and says her cravings are almost non existant. Maybe because she was young, maybe because she had not used for years….I don’t know….but that is where she is at now. Almost 21 years old and sober. One day at a time and always her choice. I still don’t believe these rehabs should flood these young people with so many drugs. She was on Suboxin, Trazadone, Klonopin, Zoloft, and Risperdal. This kid never took any pills. These rehabs should be shut down. Almost a year to get her off the pills.

  4. Also…back in the 70s when I kicked heroin it was cold turkey and I never used again once I was 18 years old. I am 63 now and been an RN for 32 years. She did not need all this garbage. It is always her choice to use or not to use…..Yes, she is sober…would she have been sober without all these meds? Guess we will never know. Grateful she has 2 years almost of not using heroin.

    • Debbie-

      Congrats on your sobriety. I think your point is well taken and I believe we will see the impact of our kids being over medicated, even in recovery. I will say that the drugs that were available when we were young are a world of difference from the drugs and synthetics that are out there now. Im not sure what the answer but Im so grateful that your girl, like mine, has been able to find her way out.


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