Families count the high cost of addictions

Barbara Lawrence who now helps families affected by addiction.
Barbara Lawrence who now helps families affected by addiction.

It is estimated that two or more people are affected by a loved one’s addiction. In 2013-14 there were 296,340 people treated for drug and alcohol addiction, but there were more than 592,680 hidden victims.

Due to the shame and stigma associated with drug or alcohol misuse, quite often family and friends will try their best to support their loved one, often without support themselves.

Barbara speakiing to an addict in recovery.

Barbara speakiing to an addict in recovery.

One such person is Barbara Lawrence. Supporting one child with a heroin addiction would take its toll on most parents, but Barbara had three children gripped by the drug. Heroin killed one son and it still dominates her family.

Heroin can affect anyone regardless of class, upbringing or ambition, as Barbara knows only too well. It has devastated her sons’ lives and ripped her family apart.

She has scrutinised every aspect of her parenting and considered whether she is to blame.

Her nightmare began in 1994. Her kids were growing up in a loving environment but her eldest son Tony began smoking cannabis.

Barbara takes time out at the Sheffield Drug and Alcohol Centre.

Barbara takes time out at the Sheffield Drug and Alcohol Centre.

He then went to art college where he dabbled with ecstasy and LSD

“He said it enhanced his imagination for art,” recalled Barbara, who admits she knew nothing about the perils of drugs or how easily available they were on her estate.

“He was 21 when he first took heroin. His friends were using it and they said ‘we’re not addicts’ so he tried it.

“Tony was sharing a bedsit with his brother Gary, then just 18, and before long he was hooked too.”

Alcohol is a deadly drug.

Alcohol is a deadly drug.

The brothers would steal from their mum and turned to crime to pay for their habits and Barbara said: “It was a merry-go-round of crime, court and prison.”

Barbara’s third-born son Paul had grown up with his brothers’ addictions and chaotic lifestyles and had witnessed them being dragged kicking and screaming to detox programmes.

“So after all that I can’t understand why he too turned to drugs,” said Barbara. “He hated drugs and he hated his brothers using heroin.”

Paul pleaded for Barbara’s help and together with her youngest children, twins Rachel and Richard, she helped him detox.

“When he came back he was clean but then he came asking for money and that was the last time I really spoke to him.” Sadly, Paul overdosed aged 19 at the family home and was found dead by his sister Rachel.

Two years later Rachel, who suffered from a condition called Marfan Syndrome, passed away. Barbara believes that Paul’s death had a profound impact on her health.

More recently however there is better news, Gary is now clean and has a family of his own, and Tony is currently receiving treatment for his addiction.

It’s 14 years since Paul passed away and, Barbara says, it has taken more than 10 years to really come to terms with her losses and to be in a position to move forward and help others.

Barbara now volunteers her time to support other family and friends affected by a loved one’s drug or alcohol misuse at the Families in Recovery Project, based at 44 Sidney Street, S1 4RH.

The project offers one-to-one support, telephone support and weekly support groups.

If you or someone you know might benefit from some support call 0114 2721481.

If you would like to find out more about what treatment and support is available in Sheffield go to www.sheffielddact.org.uk website.

n Our second story is from an Alcoholics Anonymous member and is a story told a thousand times before.

The circumstances and relationships may differ but the results are the same.

Having a much loved alcoholic in your family has a dramatic and traumatic impact on everyone’s life, says this person – ‘and my alcoholic is my son’.

We are in our 11th year in the grip of this family disease.

As the drinking increased rapidly, his behaviour became more extreme, life becomes one of constant crisis, fear and worry.

As a family we have tried a multitude of things to “cure him.”

I became his enabler, doing all I could to help him, or so I thought, but I couldn’t say no to his extreme demands.

Needless to say something had to give and that was my state of mind. I had nothing left to give. My life was totally unmanageable.

I could see no good in life, but I found al-anon at just the right time. In any recovery a person needs to hit rock bottom and I had for sure hit mine.

That was nine months ago. I now attend Alcoholics Anonymous, have a wonderful sponsor and other members that I can call if I need help.

I can now love and support my son in a way that is healthier for both of us and our family as a whole are happier and more relaxed.

For details about Al-Anon groups in Sheffield, go to Sheffield DACT