Living with an addict
April 11, 2016
Mark Anderson stares at the track marks on his 21-year-old daughter Melanie Anderson’s arm as a police officer pulls up her sleeve during her arrest. Devastated, Mark feels naïve that he didn’t realize sooner how serious his daughter’s addictions were.
Hours later, the family sat in a circle in a hotel room near Ripken Stadium. They read heart-wrenching letters expressing their sadness towards her addiction and the necessity of proper treatment.
After that day, everything changed.
“It’s made everything a lot more serious for us. It’s had a huge effect on our family,” junior Amy Anderson said about her older sister’s addiction. “It seems as though almost everything we do revolves around her problems in general.”
Amy, Mark, and Melanie Anderson are pseudonyms used in order to protect the identity of the family.
As the Anderson family knows, the first dose of heroin not only consumes the life of its victim, but it also damages the victim’s family, forever.
“They [teenagers] need to be aware that once they step into that pool, they may not be able to get out, and it’s going to affect their entire life,” Mark said. “Even if they get into a recovery phase, they’re always recovering for the rest of their life because they can always relapse.”
Melanie, now 27, nurses a 10-year addiction to heroin that can be traced back to addiction problems that surfaced around age 15 or 16 with drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. According to Amy, Melanie had always referred to herself as the “rebellious one” and surrounded herself with people who got her into trouble.
Besides her friends, Melanie was heavily influenced by her boyfriend of three years who attended C. Milton Wright. “My parents didn’t like him at all, and they just didn’t support the relationship, but obviously they couldn’t really tell her not to be with him,” Amy said.
Once Melanie had developed an addiction to heroin, the family started to notice changes in her. “She became really skinny, and she never had much color to her. [She was] really pale, very tired, just all the common symptoms you would associate with that [heroin],” Amy said.
According to Mark, “it took away her focus, her drive, her ambition, [her] confidence, [her] ability to cope, and in some regards, her personality.”
Melanie began to beg her parents for money so she could feed her addiction. According to Amy, the family knew what she was putting the money towards and refused to give her any. This led to the common occurrence of physical and emotional outbursts while she was living at home.
According to Amy, she would find syringes and caps on the bathroom floor. While Melanie was struggling with heroin, she also became addicted to prescription medicine such as Oxycontin and Xanax. “We didn’t know how serious her problems were until we had an intervention,” Amy said.
Although Melanie willingly went to Father Martin’s Ashley, a treatment center located in Havre de Grace, Md., this was only the beginning to a long recovery process. “It’s hard at that point for an addict to really care about what other people are saying when they’re so focused on what they need,” Amy said.
Since then, she has been in a dozen rehab places due to relapses. Two months ago, Melanie relapsed again and was sent to a rehab center in Boca Raton, Fl. “It’s made everything a lot harder for our family because of the expenses of sending her to rehabs, and it’s also been emotionally hard on my parents because they want me to have a normal life, but we have to deal with this,” Amy said.
According to Mark, the hardest part about having a child fight an addiction like heroin is the fear of “getting a phone call in the middle of the night from the police telling you, ‘Your child has overdosed.’” Melanie has experienced two near-death situations before, one when she was 26 and another when she was 27. According to Amy, the family was left disheartened and frightened.
Caroline Cooney is an In-Focus Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.
Tearing families apart
Similar to the Anderson family, junior Emily Schiavone’s cousin developed an addiction to marijuana in middle school, which escalated to harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine. According to Schiavone, heroin stuck with him and he has been doing it for years.
Her cousin, who will be given the pseudonym Ryan to protect his identity, started to steal and beg for money from his 15-year-old sister, older sister, and parents. According to Schiavone, he has stolen an estimated $1 million from the combination of family members and companies he worked for in order to purchase drugs.
“My aunt and uncle kept it hidden from the rest of the family for years,” Schiavone said. “I think up until it got very serious, which was recently with the heroin.” She thinks that they kept everything hidden from the family because they were ashamed.
Her cousin’s addiction interfered with his family and caused problems in their relationships. According to Schiavone, he once did heroin in a parked car with his five-year-old son in the back seat. “They really don’t think he will ever get full rights back to his child,” Schiavone said. She said that it is hard to have sympathy for him because of all the pain he has caused.
Additionally, it created tension in his parents’ marriage due to the different outlooks on the situation: his mother wanted to help him and his father wanted to let him be on his own and away from the family.
According to Schiavone, Ryan was on heroin during a family vacation to Disney World. The atmosphere of the trip was changed completely because he was unable to function properly. “They [Ryan’s parents] actually said, ‘That was the worst trip we’ve ever been on’ because he was sleeping through days, not showing up to planned events, […] and he was absent for a lot of it even though he was there,” Schiavone said.
Ryan, according to Schiavone, drastically changed once he became addicted to heroin and was no longer the “really fun kid” that he used to be. “When he was sober, he was in the middle of the dance floor [at my aunt’s wedding] just dancing with everyone and being so happy and vibrant,” Schiavone said. “But when he was in the middle of his addiction, he was very quiet and reserved, and he almost always had something on his mind.” He became frail, pale, and would sleep through days.
“I think when you’re addicted to drugs sometimes you don’t have a choice. You lose your free will,” Schiavone said.
Mark has a similar belief to Schiavone’s. “Addiction is ultimately up to the individual themselves. Any parent, friend, [or] loved one can’t do anything to stop the addiction until the individual is ready to stop it themselves,” Mark said.
Because of Ryan’s addictions, Schiavone’s parents are strict about substance abuse and the use of drugs and alcohol in general. “They’re so strict and cautious about becoming addicted to something, and they always use him as an example,” Schiavone said. When talking to her about drugs and alcohol, her parents always tell her, “You don’t ever want that to happen [to you]. That’s the worst thing in the world.”
“I think that [other people] think that addiction is something you can beat just by strong will and determination,” Schiavone said. “[But] people don’t understand that it’s a disease and that it’s not a desire. You know you don’t want to keep on endangering your child’s life or stealing from your family or doing more drugs, but it’s just kind of inevitable once you’re addicted because it’s an actual disease.”
Caroline Cooney is an In-Focus Editor for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.