A Sister’s Honest Talk About Her Brother’s Heroin Addiction

Allison couldn't remember the last time her brother was happy - or sober.

Alex didn’t answer the phone. He missed their father’s birthday party and still wasn’t answering. But Allison kept dialing.

It didn’t seem right, but then again, things hadn’t seemed “right” for a long time. Alex had all but stopped showing up for family events, and on the rare occasion he did show up, he just didn’t seem like himself.

The last time Allison could recall seeing the “old Alex” was at her wedding. She was twenty-seven and he was nineteen. He looked so cute in his suit. He seemed happy.

Allison knew about their family’s history of substance abuse – her father drank all the time. Sometimes she felt the pull of an extra glass of wine after dinner or a margarita at the beach, but she resisted. Mostly because she was afraid of gaining weight.

But what happened to Alex? Why wasn’t he able to resist the pull?

When Did Everything Go Wrong?

It was just a few months later when she got the call. Alex had been arrested for heroin possession.

She sat up late with her husband, the window was open as the North Carolina air blew in. How could her baby brother be in jail? Her parents retained a lawyer and were trying to get him released to a rehab.

A few years later, Allison dialed the phone to wish Alex a happy birthday. He didn’t answer. She didn’t know if he was alive or dead.

Allison lived with the fear that all families of people who use illegal drugs feel. When is the call going to come? When is he not going to make it out alive?

The phone continued to ring, but no one picked up. Allison hung up; there was nothing more she could do. So she kept praying. Every night, she and her husband said their prayers with their two children. Uncle Alex was always in them.

Treatment Outside the Box

The silence and unanswered questions are always worse for family members and loved ones. Allison hadn’t seen Alex in years. Every few months, she’d hear he was in or out of jail. He’d been through more than seven rehabs by now. Her parents were going broke after paying for treatment programs that never seemed to work. There had to be another way.

One day Allison was reading online and found an article about a different kind of rehab – something called “harm reduction.” It wasn’t a 12-Step. It wasn’t about abstinence only. It was just about meeting people where they were. It sounded like a great option for her brother, so Allison dialed the number.

For the first time in years, she felt hopeful…

If you can relate to Allison – or her brother, Alex – it’s important to realize that recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. While 12-Step may work for some, it may fail miserably for others. Maybe inpatient rehab works for you, while medication assisted therapy works for me. The main takeaway is to do your research; there are a lot of different treatment options out there. Don’t give up.

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