‘I Raised My Son to Be an Addict’

I’ve had 31 years to love my son, imperfectly. He is an addict, and I have done everything from tough love to soft touches to screaming expletives to get him to wake up and face his addiction. I am trying to save his life, of course.

I don’t have a lot of leverage, though. He’s clearly a fully-grown adult now, able to make whatever decisions he likes about his life. But the darker side of this is that my son started using drugs when he was 11 by stealing the marijuana I thought I had hidden.

My son was ripe for addiction; it was just a matter of time and opportunity, and having a single, working, stoner mother gave him plenty of both. So did his other relatives: His grandfather was an alcoholic. His uncle and an aunt spent a short time in a methamphetamine rage.  His father was a pothead, a methhead and absent, and I was a mother who spent many years self-medicating. My son is also half Native American and the scientific literature shows that alcoholism, leading to liver disease and cirrhosis, is the fifth-leading cause of death for Native Americans.

Growing up, my son would tell me about his experiences with drugs. Being the “cool” mom, I just listened attentively. But growing up in a family where denial was also a drug of choice, I chose to believe that his admissions were bravado, and I didn’t take them seriously.

On his 21st birthday, I threw him a party to celebrate: I bought the keg, the liquor and the food and provided the location. I heard my son vomiting into the wee hours of the morning. I thought, Oh, he’s just an inexperienced drinker. He’ll taper off; I did. That night, though, was also when he started using heroin with his friends.

My contribution to raising an addict is so clear now. As I watch my son, I know that that party was the start of his addictions, and that his disease is likely to be a death sentence. Ten years later, he has an enlarged heart and his edema is so bad that he can barely walk from one room to the next without gasping for air. And yet the alcohol and heroin still call to him like a seductress he cannot refuse —damaging, dysfunctional and deadly.

A Parent’s Responsibility

'I Raised My Son to Be an Addict'My son has been in rehab twice and detox three times. He chooses his friends based on who can bring him “shit” because that’s all he wants from life. He has lost custody of his son, been in jail twice and, as I say, is at death’s door. I bear a lot of the blame, I know, and all the therapy in the world will never take away the shame, guilt and tremendous regret I have about the terrible role model I was for him. He had a mom who wanted to be a friend, to be the cool mom. He had a mother who used alcohol and weed to cope during some of the most impressionable years of his life.

When my son was in rehab, I attended family support meetings. I listened as parents cried and raged about their kids’ addictions. I listened as they sat baffled that their kids had found drugs as a solution to problems. Pressure from peers, in my opinion, is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Our kids choose to use because behavior is learned, because their pain is overwhelming and reaching for a way to relieve that pain is the only coping mechanism they’ve seen. They use because parents are too busy with work, life and their own parties, and because they need to survive in homes where domestic violence is the norm. They use because parents get addicted to oxycodone and other, legal drugs. They use because uptight parents loosen up after a few drinks. All of us also find comfort in community and many kids seek out that which is familiar to them: other broken people with whom to share their pain.

I found two liberating truths at the family meetings:

  1. You cannot “re-parent” out of guilt; and
  2. With awareness comes responsibility.

So while I own my part in my son’s addiction process, I also hold him accountable for his ongoing decisions to choose drugs/alcohol as his coping mechanism, and I must let him find his own way out. It is he who must make the decision to quit.

I wrote this essay because I wanted to begin a conversation about parents’ responsibilities to our children as we raise them. We need to drink responsibly in their presence; we need to use prescription drugs as directed; and we need therapy to guide ourselves through our own pain so we don’t transmit it to our children. We need to involve the entire family in the healing process.

I found my way out of the druggie lifestyle with no physical damage. Knowledge helps me cope now, but “With much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief” (Ecclesiastes 1:18). This, I know all too well.

Do you feel in any way responsible for your child’s drug use? Do you think you’re a healthy role model?

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43 Responses to ‘I Raised My Son to Be an Addict’

  1. Avatar
    Stephanie Cisneroz Martinez June 9, 2015 at 10:52 am #

    As I read your article, it brought tears to my eyes. So beautifully written in honesty and love for your son. If only, we (parents) all could stop blaming others and just heal. I admire your love and wisdom, and I continue to pray for all of us, because at times I feel like my boat is sinking with my own daughter.

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      angela August 22, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

      I cried when I read your article because last night my son completed rehab, for the 14th time, he has been in and out of prison and jails, overdosed, he is my only child, and he told me last night I didn’t deserve to be a mother because I did cocaine with him at 15, I did and he is almost 30 now and I am clean but I feel so much guilt it overwhelms me. I feel like I did this. I was a young parent and had just lost my mother to cancer , which is no excuse , I was a mess then. Thank you for letting me know I cant re-parent because I have been trying to make it up to him the last fifteen years, because of my guilt. He wont take responsibility so im guessing he will relapse soon. Im tired of feeling like a failure when I cant go back and change things. thank you for making this known, I felt like I hid in the shadows of my poor choices which I do take full responsibility for.

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        Sherrie Gonzales-Kolb August 25, 2015 at 10:12 am #

        Hi Angela:

        I’m sorry I didn’t see this sooner. Your post also made ME cry. I am learning to let go of the guilt through therapy. I also just returned to my 12 Step program. The program doesn’t work for everyone, but it has and does for me. I find great comfort in the support of people who share our story, and who struggle with addiction themselves, and the addictions of people they love.

        I vacillate between anger and guilt toward myself, and anger toward my addict. I don’t know what the solution is except to keep getting the help I need. I can be of no good to someone else if I don’t take care of myself. The program teaches me that the past is over and there is nothing I can do about, so I must move forward. I’m so grateful for the comments I’ve received here. They have been encouraging and kind…and some even a bit stern. I need that sometimes too.

        I’ve been told a hundred times that I did the best I could at the time with what I had. I was terribly broken by my own childhood. I self-medicated for many years. I wasn’t the best role model then, but I am now. When I think of all the time I lost in my own haze, I get sad, but now I let the sadness motivate me and not defeat me. I find ways to contribute to those who still struggle. I give back to those who need to hear our message of hope.

        Hang in there…let the tears cleanse your heart and clear your mind. You are healing and by your healing your family will heal.

        I send you a great big hug. Thank you so much for sharing your heart with me. Namaste.

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    Julie June 9, 2015 at 11:05 am #

    Such a touching story you did a wonderful job sherrie writing this ..No more blaming yourself your sons an adult and is making his choices now just love him and pray for him : )

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    Who Steeno June 9, 2015 at 11:25 am #

    Wonderful reminder to parents about setting a good example during their children’s impressionable years. I so appreciate the courage that it took to write this.

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    Yldifonso Sapien June 9, 2015 at 11:44 am #

    I know that I am not a perfect parent, but I believe I’m a good one. I’ve done my share of drugs and drinking, now I, have to take responsibility for my actions.

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    Ben Cassel June 9, 2015 at 11:50 am #

    As a high school teacher, I see this phenomenon all the time. We can only work so that the past is prologue. Congratulations on a very personal and courageous piece.

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    Kaitlin Yates June 9, 2015 at 11:53 am #

    I admire your honesty and courage.

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    Sherrie Gonzales-Kolb June 9, 2015 at 11:53 am #


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    Gordon Johnson June 9, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    What a balance of the passionate, compassionate and dispassionate. This piece feels like a fuse leading to dynamite. So much churning beneath the measured words. But it makes us think, makes us reconsider our roles as parents, makes us think forward toward healing. Thanks.

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    Carl Chipp June 9, 2015 at 1:19 pm #

    A brutally honest & thought-provoking story; equal parts hope & warning.

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    Steven Snodgrass June 9, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    Great article and very touching. However, sometimes the parents do everything right and the kid chooses the wrong thing. This can happen for many reasons, to be cool, pressure from friends and just want to see the drug effect themselves.
    A good parent can have a bad child so don’t blame yourself for everything. We all make our choices!
    I’m looking forward to reading more of your articles!!!

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    Rachel June 9, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

    Thank you for this! It was very insightful. I myself am a recovering addict/alcoholic and the reason I got clean & sober is because for the first time in my 30 years I’ve become a mother. Something I didn’t think was possible. I’m still new in my recovery just passing my one year birthday however, I think about how the fact that my son has two addict parents will effect him in his life.! It worries me to death!

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      Sherrie Gonzales-Kolb June 9, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

      Rachel: I’m not a licensed psychologist, but from personal experience, I can tell you that the best thing I have done for myself, first, and for the relationship with my adult son, is to get therapy. In doing so, I have greater skills to communicate my regret and my absolute love for him, and to have the greatest life possible. We have discussed the part I played in his addiction process, and he encourages me to let the guilt go, but it’s difficult, and through therapy I have begun to learn to forgive myself.

      Therapy will help you be the best parent you can be for your baby, and will help you to have a beautiful life. Keep attending your meetings, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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    Nancy June 9, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

    This was written with such great courage and compassion. We parents strive to be perfect out of love and hope for our children, but we all can only do the best we can with the skills and abilities we have at the time. Ultimately every child grown into adulthood has the responsibility to continue to grow and make their own choices regardless of the many examples seen in childhood, and they will do so to the best of their current abilities. We are ALL a work in progress!

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    Mary E Boyer June 9, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

    Mi Amigita, My adage to my children is that you raise children to the best of your (at the time) ability, and if you believe in a greater power . . . you pray that it was right. Enter genetics (hispanic/indio), socio-economics, real and virtual circumstance, etc . . . You now have no control. You are braver than most, as I know you understand and feel all that he comprehends as his reality. The “Demons” are, as a rule, stronger than we that fight them (even when we win, it is by a small margin. I know the pull is always there). I have told you this before, and I truly believe that we can not exist beyond our allotted time. I also believe that, even though it is most painful, those brought to our lives for a short time are brought to us for enlightenment. Whether it be ours, or theirs. His existence is painful, to you, to him, and to all that love both of you. I can only wish you both well, and sincerely hope that those charged with allowing you to continue to write articles such as this, do so. It will help you immensely, and it will make the rest of us more enlightened, and hopefully, more sympathetic to the plights of those that suffer as you and your son do. Namaste Chica! You are loved.

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    Kathy Wilson June 9, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

    Courageous, articulate, fully engaging! Thankyou so much for an article that does not “flinch” from the tough stuff!

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    Theresa June 9, 2015 at 8:18 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your story my friend

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    Tatjana June 10, 2015 at 12:26 am #

    I feel inspired by how honest you are with yourself, your son, and the world! What a humble and thought-provoking way to ask parents to question their influence in their children’s lives. This article speaks to all families – addicts or not. Brokenness and the resulting potential to seek comfort in unhealthy ways is a risk any family can face.
    Thank you for contributing to mental health in such a powerful way!
    On a more personal note, I think you did the best with what you knew and had at the time and with your level of awareness and commitment today, you are making a huge difference in raising that grandson!

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    Tim Gibson June 10, 2015 at 7:55 am #

    I was helpless with my own son, who himself ended up in prison for a short period of time. Life became the good time, the HIGH life, using meth and god knows what else. I thought I had tried to be a good parent myself and my son never saw me smoke weed, which I myself did not use for an extended period of time, until a party at his home.

    My own drug lifestyle was learned in my own home growing up and the last kitchen cabinet to the left was a regular pharmacy available for my own use and which I took liberal advantage of. Yet I also spent time on acid trips of one kind or another outside the home myself.

    I gave that life up, I had to, not only for my own personal well being but for my child and for my work as I was randomly drug tested in my position that put hundreds of peoples lives into my hands on a daily basis. I tried to be the cool parent in other ways, trips to the Grand Canyon, down into caves in Missouri. I bought him the clothes he wanted, the things he wanted and offered to send him anywhere in the world he wanted.

    His choice, like my own past, was not healthy. Perhaps we pass on shame from our own broken past. But it is true, we do need to have a conversation about our children, about ourselves and how we survive being a child as well as a parent. How we have to let go in order to survive ourselves and learn new skills of parenting in letting our adult children make their own decisions, no matter how painful and how we ourselves became survivors and warriors.

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    Sherrie Gonzales-Kolb June 10, 2015 at 9:08 am #

    I am overwhelmed by the love and support of friends and those I have not met who have posted comments here. To be honest, I was so afraid of others’ judgment at first, but then I thought, “No, my Soul needs expression and I have learned a very hard lesson.” I wanted to share the wisdom I’ve gained through the consequences of the actions in my early life.

    Each of you have affirmed the importance of narratives in our lives. Please share your stories. Your life experiences are important. I learn from others, and it is my life’s purpose that others learn from me as a writer and as a researcher.


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    Carol June 10, 2015 at 10:26 am #

    you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it and you can’t cure it. I understand how you feel. My son became a heroin addict right out of high school. He lived with me and I thought I could fix it and tried very hard to control the situation and everything all around me. I nearly killed myself doing it. But he was destined because he has the disease of addiction. His father does too. And while I partied on in my younger days,, I did not harbor that disease within me. And so today I rarely have a drink and no longer do drugs. Back to you and your son… You see, even if you had set the good example he probably would have gone down this road, because he has a disease that prevents him from controlling his use. I hope he finds his bottom. Try Al anon. It’s a great program.

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      Sherrie Gonzales-Kolb June 10, 2015 at 1:20 pm #

      Thanks, Carol. Yes, Al Anon has been a great resource for me. I touch base from time to time, and I did spend two years attending what I considered to be my home meeting. In many ways, at my lowest point, Al Anon did restore me to sanity. However, I am also a science major, and the science supports phenomena that suggest that behavior is learned, that addiction most likely is an inheritable genetic trait, that there may be a pattern of apprehension of addiction due to unhealthy attachment (Phillip Flores, Ph.D.) and that the types of behaviors modeled for children by their primary caretakers, i.e. parents, etc., are all contributing factors to onset of the disease of addiction.

      I do assume responsibility for the example I set for him, and you could be right. He had a predisposition for addiction anyhow, but he also had several people during his formative years who modeled for him an unhealthy manner of consumption of both legal and illegal substances. I think in terms of the age old argument: it is both nature and nurture, perhaps distributed equally in human beings.

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        Kris June 16, 2015 at 4:07 pm #

        Thank you for sharing. And although I think all the groups and therapy are great, I believe that energy healing (Pranic Healing) will bring faster results. From the scientific perspective there is a cellular level pattern that is transfered genetically from parents. – things being passed down. Check that out! It makes it easier to let go of the guilt. Also try to cut energetic cords or attachments, things not serving your higher good. All that will put you on the fast track of healing. Namaste

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          Sherrie June 17, 2015 at 10:49 am #

          Kris: Thanks so much for your comment. I am a psych major, and as I learn about neurochemistry and the positive effects of meditation, I am hopeful for healing. Loving detachment is a journey and a discipline in and of itself. I am learning to let go of the guilt. Had I better coping skills back then, and not so tied to the ones I learned in my family of origin, I would have done better. I love my son to the best of my ability now. He and I are very close. I was a single mother, very broken, and I have worked hard to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I love life, and I hope that my son will be charged by the positive energy I give off now. That’s the best we can do…move forward in love for the Highest Good. Namaste.

  20. Avatar
    SHELLIER June 11, 2015 at 4:20 am #

    Very brave and honest of you. Nobody kicks me harder than I do.

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      Sherrie June 17, 2015 at 10:59 am #

      Isn’t that the truth, Shellier? I’m learning to let go. My son even tells me to not beat myself so badly over the decisions he chooses to make at his age, and even before he became an adult. I appreciate your comment more than you know. Thank you.

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    Phil June 16, 2015 at 9:16 am #

    I would be interested to know what you did to absolve yourself of addiction and where this came in your story (before, during, after)?

    An engaging read

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      Sherrie June 17, 2015 at 11:05 am #

      Phil: I come from a long line of addicts. I guess, if I’m understanding your question, I would say that the more I learn about neurochemistry and how behavior AND chemicals change us emotionally, since the body is the mind and vice versa (IMO), the more I am able to “absolve” myself of having been an addict myself. Addiction is a family disease and it spans many generations, so I guess, it was something that probably would have happened anyhow. My siblings all had their periods of addiction. My father, his father, his father, and on down the line. My mother has an addiction to Dr. Pepper. Not harmful, you might think? Not if you’re diabetic. I wonder about how self-destructive we’ve been in my family, and marvel at how hard most of us have worked post-awakening to change our circumstances. I am hopeful for my son, but I am also realistic. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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    Hollywood Mark June 16, 2015 at 10:38 am #

    Why can’t your son go to NA?

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      Sherrie June 17, 2015 at 11:08 am #

      H.M. An addict first has to have the awareness that he/she is an addict, and then he/she has to want to get the help he/she needs. My son is not there yet. His disease has a grip on him that is incomprehensible to many. I encourage him; that’s the best I can do.

      • Avatar
        Lisa SmithTaylor May 7, 2016 at 8:21 am #


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    Lisa Matusek June 16, 2015 at 11:34 am #

    This is something that needs to be talked about and I applaud your honesty and courage. I have two adult sons with heroin addictions. I feel very guilty but not for the same reasons that you do. Neither my husband or I used drugs or alcohol. In fact we were evangelical Christians who didn’t even drink socially. However, we had dysfunction, unhealthy ways of dealing with conflict, rigidity, emotional abuse and hypocrisy. I stayed in this marriage and my son’s saw, not drugs as an escape, but other unhealthy escapes….avoiding, not talking, leaving in anger, watching too much tv, workaholism, etc. I blame myself for allowing that and not taking stronger steps to combat it in their formative years.

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      Sherrie June 17, 2015 at 11:19 am #

      Lisa, in Al Anon (a GREAT resource), we learn that addiction/alcoholism is a family disease, so that even if the parents don’t use, but came from backgrounds where addiction was present, we still present with the behavior that stems from addiction. My mother never used anything (besides Dr. Pepper) — but she still had the behavior that an addict has. She was self-destructive, self-defeating, and prone to other types of addiction (chocolate, sodas, and because she is a diabetic, those substances are self-destructive for her).

      Dysfunction is painful, and if people were honest, we all have it in our families in varying degrees. Conversation, communication, airing it out kindly, compassionately, with resolve to get better as a family, the healing flows through us like energy from the Sun. My son is healing, certainly not as quickly as I would like, but little by little, one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time. He needs therapy. He needs to stop being so self-destructive. He needs something that is greater than his disease to hold on to. He is on his own journey, and I hope and pray (in my own way) that he finds his way out before he dies in his disease. He is very sick both emotionally and physically, but he has the power to change his life. He just has to want to.

      Self awareness about his familial history will help him to let go of his own guilt, and catapult him toward healing…but again, he has to want it. We did the best we could, Lisa, with the tools we had, even if some of those tools were broken. You and I need to forgive ourselves and talk to our boys about the things we thought we hid so well, our escape from important conversations. We can have those conversations now, healing both the relationship we have with ourselves, and the relationship we have with our boys. It’s a start.

      Thank you so much for your honesty. I have an affinity with your experience. Blessings.

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        Lisa June 18, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

        Thank you Sherry. Blessings to you as well.

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    Lillian June 18, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

    Every parents fear is that regardless of how they raised their children, they could take a damaging turn in life. As a single mother I feared not being home during the day and held tightly to my daughters reins. Then to set a good example of marrying instead of cohabiting with a man I ended up being married to an abusive person that ended in my second divorce. Overall, I feel I got lucky because I certainly didn’t do it the best that I could have.
    Laying your knowledge and heart out in this well written piece shows that you not only want to help and heal yourself but others as well. The words bravery and courage don’t even come close to who you are my dear.

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    Cheryl Adams June 21, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    Check out the Children of Alcoholics Syndrome literature. I think you will find that the inability to cope with the real world and needing to escape it is an inherited trait. It may be useful whether you also became the addict or the opposite. I became the opposite but still see the escape behaviour running rampant in the family.

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      Sherrie Gonzales-Kolb June 22, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

      Cheryl: Tian Dayton, Ph.D. has written an amazing book called Trauma and Addiction, in which she discusses types of behavior, including the tendency toward addiction, whose probability is likely to present in those with PTSD. And even if one didn’t experience the actual trama, he/she will be affected by the historical trauma. I think there may be many probable causations, and some may be genetic, but behavior that is experienced throughout the history of a family increases the likelihood of someone becoming an addict or not. It is never, from what much of the scientific literature suggests, as simple as “it is inheritable or genetic” or “it is the result of modeled behavior.” IMO, it is a combination of both and several other components that have not been brought to light using the scientific method. Add to that, with my son, the Native American component, see url above from the CDC, which states that liver disease and cirrhosis are the fifth leading cause of death in Native Americans.

      Those elements are worth consideration, and do, in fact, alleviate some of the guilt I feel about my son becoming an addict. I hope that those those elements alleviate some of my son’s guilt too. Even so, I do have some responsibility, certainly, for the example I set for him, but there were a few other things that reeled him in, too. I will definitely check out that book. Is it a 12 Step book available through AA?

  26. Avatar
    Sherrie Gonzales-Kolb June 22, 2015 at 3:52 pm #


    Please check out my writer’s page where I post various topics that are open for discussion. Would love to see you there.

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    Jacey June 25, 2015 at 8:16 pm #

    If Bill W. & Dr. Bob had waited for scientific proof regarding anything about alcoholism, the world & I personally would not have been supremely blessed with the divinely inspired program of Alcohoics Anonymous. If their wives, Lois and Ann, remained focused on what their responsibility or responsibilities (fault/faults) were regarding their family members’ diseases & on the family members themselves, then families in the world would continue to dance around the addicts & alcoholics rather than live freely & I personally would not be able to live with myself not to mention accept that which once seemed unacceptable in every way. I don’t have answers for everyone, but I am beyond grateful that AA has given me a solution for 22 years & Alanon provides me with answers that have always tiurned out to be true for me. Nowhere in AA’s Big Book does it tell me to stop & neither AA nor Alanon are meant to be done in isolation. I have a great deal of apparently relevant education & training & ultimately it helps not at all with my recovery; it gets in the way with the spiritual principles on which the two programs are based. Every time! Yet, I get confused & will still try and use my intellect & knowledge sometimes!
    These comments are based on what others have passed on to me & on my experience.

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    Sherrie Gonzales-Kolb July 20, 2015 at 7:06 pm #


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    John M July 30, 2015 at 1:13 pm #

    You can’t blame his addiction on yourself. You threw a party, sure but he could have just as easily went to someone else’s party and began doing heroin. Drug use often comes down to choice and decision making and you can’t make your son’s decisions for him. Great write up! http://www.valleyrecoveryca.com.

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    Cindi September 18, 2016 at 4:13 am #

    I woke this morning and searched for this topic about me. My son is in jail and I have so many regrets and blame his addictions from my parenting. He needs therapy and in my raising him he always refused to go. He is 29 and I can no longer bail him out and over the years no matter how I said No I always gave in. This time I can’t he gets out of jail in 30 days I will offer him to attend counseling with me and that will be it as he even got kicked out of the sober house after 2.5 months and I paid his rent for 1.5 months. Any feedback is greatly appreciated thanks for your courage

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