Pam Roberts has three kids in long-term drug recovery. She said it took years for her to stop panicking when the phone rang.
“At night, when they would go out and the phone would ring, my body would physically react to that,” she said.
Addiction is a diagnosable mental health issue. But, like Pam Roberts, parents of adolescent addicts find that supporting an addict takes a toll on their mental health as well.
So in 2006, the Roberts family helped to create the parent support group they needed. The group, now based in Bryn Mawr, provides resources and emotional support to parents who might want more than the traditional Alcoholics Anonymous model. The Roberts also helped kick off another group in Rosemont.
Michael Blanche, an addiction therapist who advises the group, says AA is a great resource. But, the “Al-Anon principles of detachment — it kind of goes against the grain of parenting.”
Parents benefit from hearing how hard it is to “let go” from other parents in their position, said Blanche, and that can be “much more effective than it is for me as a therapist saying it.”
Blanche and Roberts also acknowledge that supporting an addict can be a traumatic experience in itself – one that can result in anxiety, depression and sleeplessness.
“A lot of times parents are triggered by an event like a phone call,” said Blanche. “Their first thought when their kids says there’s a problem is, ‘Are they using again?'”
When her kids were addicted, Roberts said she had a range of physical and mental responses, from despair to stomach issues to stress.
That first parent support group, which the Roberts helped found, has now sprouted 25 parent groups in several East Coast states, many of which are hosted by or affiliated with Caron Treatment Centers.
Pam and Bill Roberts will be recognized for their support work by Caron Treatment Centers in November.