Many who are on the outside looking in may be quick to say “speak up” or “reach out for help”, but for one Mitchell’s Plain mother, it is not and has not been that easy.
After reading an article on substance abuse outreach and interventions, the Eastridge mother reached out to People’s Post to tell her story.
“I grew up in Manenberg and at that time we had drugs and gangsterism, but what I see now is substances ruining families. Drugs and alcohol (addiction) and teenage pregnancy and gangsterism have taken over our communities,” she says.
For many families, denial that there may be a substance abuse problem adds to the overall damage these substances do.
“I was in denial for so many years and only recently I realised how badly my family has been affected, to the point where we are now at a complete breaking point,” she says.
Admitting her son “could do no wrong” in her eyes, she says she hid his addiction from their extended family.
“There is a lot of shame in admitting you or someone you love has a problem because you are judged so badly, you are stigmatised and I was embarrassed to admit he had a problem. He steals from us to feed his habit and over the years, his life has only gotten worse,” she says.
“I cannot throw him out to be killed out there. I still feel responsible for him and what will people think if I abandon him?”
But the anguish of addiction does not end there. According to the mother, her family has a history of addiction.
“My father was an alcoholic and I always looked at him and said I did not want to live this life ever again, but I married a man exactly like him.”
She says the strain of her son’s addiction may have contributed to her husband’s newly acquired addiction as well.
“I am sure this toxic relationship with alcohol started because of our son. We fight all the time because I do not want to kick him out despite the theft to feed his habits. He is my child and now I am caught in a tough spot. Addiction is tearing my family apart,” she says.
The mother says she has tried to reach out for help, but often is ashamed because of the judgement she fears she will receive.
“I know this is happening in so many households in Cape Town and on the Cape Flats and I know exactly why people don’t reach out for help. We are made to feel it is our fault for raising addicts when actually, they are making their own choices. It is easy for someone to say ‘get help’ or ‘speak out’ but you do not know the pain of being judged when you do. Now I have an addict husband who refuses to believe he is also an addict, because to him alcohol is not that bad. ‘I can stop whenever I want to’, he says. He forgets that is exactly what our son said about his problem and look at us now,” she says.
Ashley Potts, Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre director, says this mother’s story is not unique and that they assist families of addicts who find themselves in the same or similar situations.
“The stigma of addiction is a real gripping one and it is a reality that causes our families to be fearful of confronting the substance use disorder that is occurring in their home due to the loved one – son, daughter, husband or wife – being trapped in the use of that substance.
“Stigma is a huge reason why these (warning) signs are ignored as well as just the denial of the family because they don’t want to accept the reality straight out that there is a potential drug problem,” says Potts.
He continues that there are several warning signs that a person you love may be struggling with addiction.
“These warning signs are very easy to pick up on. Number one is that the user will start to fail to care for her or himself so their personal hygiene will take a dip,” he says.
Other signs include sleeping pattern disruptions dependent on the substance. For example, methamphetamines as a stimulant will see the addict be more active, while heroin will have the person sleep more as a suppressant. Eating habits, more or less food consumption, is another sign, says Potts.
He continues that addiction can manifest at any age and has a lot to do with genetics.
“It has a lot to do with a predisposition and the genetic makeup of an individual, and in that regard it doesn’t really matter what age it is. But, there is enough research and statistics to indicate that it is people between 20 and 35, so your middle-youth category (that are most prone to addiction),” he says.
While adolescents and even pre-adolescents are also prone to addiction should they have a family history of addictive behaviours, he says not every user is an addict.
The mother calls on communities to be more supportive.
“I wanted to tell my story so that others can see what we go through. It is not just what you see. I know many say it is my fault on both ends. One, that I protect my son and now even my husband, but also that I should have spoken out. I can’t force someone to get help if they don’t want help,” she says.
“I know how difficult it is to ask for help. It is embarrassing to be judged when all you want to do is get some help. So many families suffer with addiction. Drugs, alcohol, sex addiction, so many ways it shows itself. We need to break the stigma then more people will get help.”
Potts agrees. The Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre offers outpatient counselling for both addicts and their families.
- For more information, call the Mitchell’s Plain branch on 021 397 0103 or visit www.drugcentre.co.za. Alternatively, call or Whatsapp Ashley Potts on 082 887 6440.