How do you help a drug addict?

That is a question that my family has debated for the last 30 years. My nephew has used drugs since he was a teenager and he is now 46 years old. The answer to this question depends on who you ask and when you ask the question. When he was a teenager and a young adult, my mother made a lot of excuses for him and explained how his unfortunate life circumstances caused the problem, She gave him money (but not to buy drugs), yelled at him, preached to him, prayed for him and helped him get into various rehab programs and didn’t hold him accountable when he stole from her.

My father was angry and hurt and tried to give him love and advice, but he pretty much let my mother handle what was done and said. My sister, his mother, also had a drug problem and had no influence on changing his behavior. She was too busy trying to hide her own addiction problems and worried about him stealing from her. My sister and my nephew both were enabled by my mother. She knew they both had a drug problem, but ultimately, she either gave them money or reluctantly accepted the fact that they were stealing from her.

Most of my family were brutally outspoken about his drug problem and wanted him out of their lives. They didn’t want him at their houses and were very suspicious about what he was doing whenever he was at a family event. I invited him to my family holiday party every year, but he didn’t come very often, When he did come, he didn’t fit in with the rest of the family and was basically just at the party. No one was mean to him, but no one really said much more than “Merry Christmas” or “do you want something to eat or drink.” He also got some presents. Mostly clothes because he didn’t have a job and could always use some clothes. No one gave him any money because we all knew that he would use the money to buy drugs.

As he got older, he spent time in prison and disappeared to Camden. He never did anything that was really bad, but he always had unpaid fines and the police were very familiar with him. Throughout all of the years that he was using drugs, he always had his grandmother to help him. When his bipolar episodes ,became too much of a problem, or he stole from her and his grandfather, they would tell him to leave and he would go to his mother’s house. He would do the same things at her house and she would call the police to have him removed. Sometimes he would be put in jail because of open warrants, but they didn’t seem to keep him very long and then he would disappear to Camden.

This ongoing cycle ended when my mother, his grandmother, died. There was no longer the protective net that paid the bills for my sister’s apartment and the money for food and other essentials. As my sister’s life spiraled out of control financially and her own health problems overwhelmed her, she lost her apartment and went to a medical rehabilitation center where she died. Now, there was no safety net and my nephew became one of the many homeless drug addicts on the streets of Camden.

Next time: Has he hit bottom and is he ready to get help?

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I have a BA in Psychology and a teaching certificate as a Special Education teacher. I have a MA in Student Personnel Services and I recently retired from my position as a Guidance Counselor. I have been active on advisory boards concerning disability issues for over 25 years. I also have over 25 years of business experience in Human Resources and Operations Management.

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