Life Cycles Counseling (LCC) is dedicated to raising awareness of substance abuse disorders by eliminating shame and creating a counter culture in which sharing one’s struggles is not only acceptable but encouraged. One individual who embodies much of what we preach is Anne Moss. Her following, or “village” as she calls them, is an impressive group of people, and it’s no wonder why – she has a heartbreaking yet uplifting story to tell. Read on for our exclusive interview with Anne about addiction and her personal experience with her son’s depression, addiction and suicide.
Adina Silvestri (AS): Why is Opioid addiction on the rise in VA?
Anne Moss (AM): There have been more overdoses so far in 2016 than ever before, I believe for two main reasons:
The first is that undiagnosed mental illness is on the rise. Adolescence is the onset of most mental illnesses. Because they don’t understand their depression or anxiety, kids will often reach out for whatever makes them feel better. Sadly, drug abuse often starts right in your home. We want to blame a “bad crowd” or dealers, when you yourself may be your child’s first drug dealer. Kids typically try things in your medicine cabinet, fridge or pantry such as RediWhip (inhalant) to vanilla extract (alcohol) or even the dog’s medicine like Tramidol, which is an opiate. Even letting your kids have a seemingly innocent drink in the basement increases a child’s risk for substance abuse.
The second reason is surgery. When kids get wisdom teeth removed or have an athletic injury, they are handed a 30-day supply of oxycodone or other opiate. That practice is hopefully winding down after the all US physicians, dentists and oral surgeons were issued a letter from the surgeon general. All it takes is one pill and a predisposition for addiction. People under 25 have a 15-18% chance of becoming addicted. By contrast, adults have just a 10% chance, which just goes to show you how much more impressionable the teenage brain is. You can find out more in the article I wrote about teen depression: 7 reasons I think we are seeing more teen depression
AS: Teens and young adults become good at hiding addiction until their life becomes unmanageable. What were some early signs that you saw with your son?
AM: Charles was a happy, fun-loving child but I did see traits that I was concerned about, such as his seemingly innocent love of candy. One time while I was looking in his room for something, I ran across a wagon-load of candy wrappers hidden under his bed. I remember sitting on the bed and crying. It just hit me that he had likely inherited the genetic tendency for addiction.
He was also very deep feeler. That’s why so many loved him. He really carried your pain inside himself which is typical of people who suffer from depression. He also got sick all the time which is a trait of those who suffer depression.
Charles showed definite signs of anxiety in middle school. He would be too overwhelmed to be prepared for class, so when he was called on it would trigger some form of panic. He’d blow up my phone with calls and texts when he was anxious. He just hated the feeling and it scared him to paranoia at times. It took us a while to identify that it was anxiety he was suffering from.
AS: Are there invisible or easy-to- hide behaviors parents might miss?
AM: Yes! Signs of drug abuse are:
- Leaving the house at odd hours and coming back 5 minutes later = making a drug deal
- Sleeping at odd times = marijuana use
- Moodiness and anger, change of friends, missing medications
- Less interest in their normal activities
- Getting the “nods” where they nod off in the middle of conversation.
- Manic behavior where they are more happy than usual
- Jewelry, silver or gold going missing because it has been sold to buy drugs
- Seeing lots of baggies, prescription bottles with no labels
- Aluminum foil going missing or being packed (for heroin use)
- Being very protective of their phones
- Long showers are common in teenagers, but are often used to cover up smoking pot or heroin addiction
- A sudden interest or willingness to walk pets because they are doing drugs while walking outside at night.
- Random water bottles in the rooms of kids who don’t love water. They will fill them with vodka or clear liquor.
- Pill bottles that don’t look as full because pills have been “skimmed”
- Whipped cream that’s always flat = the fumes are used to get a quick high
- Sudden air fresheners in the house or car.
AS: What should parents do to help prevent abuse within the family and to address behaviors trending towards the addiction continuum?
AM: Tell your school you want mental health screenings. They screen for eyesight and everything else. There should be a screening for this, too. The more parents mention it, the more likely they’ll be to offer it. Other prevention methods include:
- Keep all medicines locked up.
- Familiarize yourself with the possible substances in your home used to get high.
- Limit phone and computer time and do not let them have those devices in their rooms at night.
- If you have really young children, avoid sugary snacks. That was my son’s first addiction.
- Be open to awareness programs if your child is showing signs of mental illness early. Get a psychological evaluation. Don’t dismiss comments that seem like they don’t like themselves. Go with your gut instinct. Undiagnosed mental illness is the primary reason kids will grab for a substance. ADHD kids are also at higher risk for drug abuse/addiction.
- Don’t let kids gather in your basement and drink. Don’t let them smoke pot at home with the thought that they’ll get caught outside the home and get a police record. Let them get caught but don’t let them smoke in your home.
- Don’t take home opiates after surgery for kids under 25. Discuss with the doctor ahead of time about pain management
I knew early my son was predisposed to addiction and we did all we could. But I have to say I didn’t know that the dog’s medicine was an opiate and I didn’t have everything locked in a safe. I didn’t know to do that.
AS: What are the death rates among students – up to age 21 or 22?
AS: Your most precise definition of an addiction disorder?
AM: I do believe based on Charles’ tendency to “never get enough fun” was the result of a broken reward system. So my definition is a faulty reward system in the brain. They are thrill seekers or just can’t ever get enough.
AS: What led you to start your blogsite, annemoss.com?
AM: I wrote an article for Richmond Times Dispatch about my son’s suicide. It took 9 months to write and it was agonizing. But I realized there was a certain release to writing that helped me work through my grief. We had suffered a triple stigma: addiction, depression and a suicide. I was tired of suffering in silence and didn’t want anyone’s rules telling me what I could and could not write. At first writing was to relieve my pain. Later I realized the group effort of sharing from followers was literally saving lives, helping people to connect with resources such as grief support groups.
AS: What is the most surprising or shocking thing you’ve learned along the way with the work that you do in educating others about this disease and sharing your journey?
AM: That the blog is saving lives. Literally. I didn’t think anyone would want to read what I wrote or allow me to come speak to their group, but the opposite is true. The support has been nothing short of amazing. With the help of my readers, we’ve reached hundreds of thousands of people since February 2016. I get letters all the time that someone has reached out for help for suicidal thoughts or addiction based on what people have shared. Talk does save lives. We are proving it.
AS: If you could give advice to yourself as a young parent, what would you say?
AM: Don’t be so competitive with your kids or so judgmental about others. We are driving our kids to succeed at too early an age so that by nine or ten, they’re stressed out over tests and competition. Let them focus on what they love and let the unimportant things go.
You can learn more about Anne Moss’s journey at her website.
For more tips or to sign up for a substance abuse screening for your child, please sign up here.