‘No’ to drugs, not users

Christos was a childhood friend who lived in the apartment bloc opposite. From time to time, he would take part in neighborhood games (hide-and-seek, catch and so forth). But when we went to junior high school, he slowly disappeared. He had been swallowed up by the world of drugs. His mother – a singularly cheerful and sociable individual – became more dour. Her smile flashed rarely. She became more and more reserved. Christos seemed to be heading for the point of no return until we learned that he had managed to complete a detoxification program. But a few months later, at just 24 years of age, he was found dead in a park with a syringe stuck in his arm. His mother never got over it. She too, left this world shortly afterward. Parents of drug addicts live their own Calvary from the moment they discover that substance abuse has entered their own home. Unfortunately, not all have the strength to avert the terrible outcome. Most panic, others go into denial. It is exceptionally difficult for parents to keep their heads and help their children by taking a few correct, cautious steps. It is, however, essential. «Parents come here in despair because they cannot persuade their child to enter a detoxification program. But it has been observed that if they participate in a counseling group, the user will also make the decision (go on a program) within six months,» psychiatrist Katerina Matsa, who works for the drug treatment program 18 Ano, told Kathimerini. What are the warning signs parents should watch for? «Usually, the users changes schedules and the company they keep, sleep all day and stay out all night, spend a long time in the toilet, flare up without reason, do badly at school or drop out, and often become isolated,» Matsa said. «Parents are usually defenseless, the victims of insufficient information or of misinformation,» Costas Balas, the national coordinator for the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, told Kathimerini. Parents often adopt two, wholly contradictory stances toward the problem. The first is harsh, even brutal. For some children, it may be appropriate, for others, it is disastrous. This is when the parent throws the child out of the house, severing all financial support. «This tactic could prove fateful for some users, driving them to crime or strengthening their ties with the people who supply them with drugs. If they also suffer from mental problems or a secondary disease, such as hepatitis or myocardia, then it’s a tragic mistake to throw such a child out of the house,» Balas pointed out. However, the Therapy Center for Dependent Individuals (KETHEA) is in favor of a strict (though not so harsh) stance, coupled with counseling for parents. «It’s useful for parents to impose boundaries on users, such as demanding that they return to the house by a certain time, that they don’t take money,» the head of the Thessaloniki drug treatment unit Ithaki, Phaidon Kaloterakis, told Kathimerini. At the opposite extreme are parents who supply their children with the substances, so as to distance them from bad company and prevent them from committing crimes. This method rarely brings results. «Parents should behave neither like hawks nor doves, but like owls: They should keep close watch and not engage in knee-jerk responses,» said Kaloterakis. The first move that parents need to make is to go themselves to some center or counseling unit, because alone, they cannot persuade their child to ask for help. Nor can they impose arbitrary prohibitions or exercise control. «This is what we call drawing the line in a loving way. When the parents apply to drug treatment counselors, things change as if by magic. First, because they have to redefine their relationship with themselves, they maintain a distance from the problem and chiefly, the child is given the chance to notice the changes they try to make in their own behavior,» Kaloterakis explained. Unfortunately, in many cases – much more frequently in the provinces – this is not an easy process. Parents fear social disapproval and try and hide the problem. Not only do they not go for help themselves but they may prevent their children from attending a treatment program. Magical solutions that apply to all types of users just do not exist. Nevertheless, it is useful for parents to know that they should not constantly harp on the problem, they should mete out advice, not criticism, and they should be frank and consistent with their children. Above all, they should understand that everyone has the right to fail, including their own child. Parents need to show humanity, respect and tenderness, to understand that the problem is not individual, but social. Only then can they help effectively.