I Did Not Cause My Son to Become an Addict

By Sandy Swenson 08/03/14

Substance abuse is a choice. Addiction is a disease.


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I did not cause my son to become an addict. As a parent, I do not possess that power. Addiction happens because a renegade sip or snort or sniff crosses an invisible line between want and need.

When my sons were little I imagined I had all kinds of power. I could decide when it was time to put them down for a nap – but they might play in their cribs rather than fall asleep. I could serve up a healthy dinner – but if they didn’t want to eat the small mound of lima beans on their plates They Did Not. I could teach my sons right from wrong and good from bad – but my word alone often wasn’t enough and they experimented to see how those rights and wrongs worked. It soon became clear that while I could be their guide, my boys were going to be who they were meant to be. My real power as a mother was simply to love them.

And, of course, to annoy them and piss them off.

Depending on the kid, the phase, the age, the mood and the moment, as a parent I was perceived to be too nosy, too hovering, and, on occasion, not hovering enough. I sometimes didn’t listen carefully when I should have, and sometimes listened in when I should have not. I hurt my children’s feelings. I made them feel angry and sad and unheard and misunderstood. Try as I might to be otherwise, I am an imperfect mom. Imperfect parenting, however, does not cause children to become addicts. (If that were so, every child would grow up to be one.)

Maybe I drove Joey to drink, so to speak. Maybe he was hurting. Or mad. Or embarrassed of this old gal who brazenly adored him for the sweet boy he was. Or, maybe Joey was insecure and uncomfortable with the process of growing up. Whatever his reason for first using drugs and alcohol, Joey had also been enticed towards the glamorized hole-filler by popular culture since birth. (Even though I had taught him to Just Say No.) Substance abuse and addiction are not the same thing, however.

As a child – a child – substance abuse was a choice Joey made. But, why he started and why he can’t stop are two different things. Addiction snuck up on my son – picked him out of the substance-abusing crowd – and choked him.

Substance abuse is a choice. Addiction is a disease.

As a parent I made a lot of mistakes, but causing my son to be an addict is not one of them.

The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story From The Place Where Love And Addiction Meet will be published September 2014 by Central Recovery Press. Visit Sandy's website, sandyswenson.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Sandy Swenson is the author of The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story From The Place Where Love And Addiction Meet . Visit Sandy's website, sandyswenson.com, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.