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My Father, the Secret Cocaine Addict--And My Out of Control Drinking

I discovered my dad's habit when I was a teenager.

Photo Credit: Sinisa Botas / Shutterstock.com


The following first appeared on Substance.com

I was 16 years old when I first found my dad’s stash of cocaine hidden behind some books in our living room. After that, I began to find packets of white powder secreted all over the house.

Up until this discovery, I had imagined my father and me as a team. My mother and sister were the dominating personalities in the house and I needed someone in my family I could relate to—someone who understood me. By default, that was my dad. He never voiced any kind of solidarity, but I was happy to read positives into his silence.

By the time I started high school, I realized there was something I didn’t know about my dad. He spent hours in the basement, took long bathroom trips and would abruptly leave conversations. I watched him and I began to follow him, culminating in my discovery.

Once I knew that the missing piece of my father’s puzzle was actually an addiction to cocaine and alcohol (there were hidden bottles of Smirnoff, too), the fantasy of the father who silently understood, supported and loved me disappeared. The man who went to rehab a few months after my seventeenth birthday wasn’t the father I’d always believed I had. He suddenly seemed like a stranger.

But I could understand his need to escape. At 16, I was already a few years into my own drinking career. I would often shut myself in my closet and smoke a little weed before family dinners or sneak out of the house to meet a friend down the street to share pilfered booze and Marlboro Lights.

The guy who came home from treatment a month later wasn’t my perfect dad, either. He seemed awkward and unsure of himself. He oscillated between trying to be involved in my life, and nervously darting to meetings whenever possible. But even if he had magically transformed overnight into the father I’d always wanted, I might not have noticed.

By the time my dad got out of rehab, drinking had already begun to consume my life. I was a senior in high school, doing what I thought all high school seniors did. It never occurred to me that there might be a link between my father’s behavior and my own.

A year later, I was off to college, halfway across the country. While I was grateful Dad was sober, I had no intention of following in his footsteps—I drank steadily through college, blacking out four or five times a week.

After graduating, I moved to New York and my drinking, though few would have thought it possible, actually increased. Finally, on January 24, 2008, after passing out in my office, I found myself in the emergency room with a BAC of .4. The hospital staff had concluded, based on my behavior and the amount of alcohol I’d ingested, that I was suicidal.

Four days later, my father, who was six years sober at the time, collected me from the psychiatric ward where I had been committed. There was a treatment center in California I could go to, he said. They would find me a bed if I needed it, on one condition: my sobriety.

A very small percentage of addicts are able to go to an inpatient treatment center, which are often extremely expensive and not covered by insurance (though that is changing somewhat with the Affordable Care Act). An even smaller percentage stay sober after leaving treatment. My father and I are fortunate to be in this minority. He’s now been sober for 11 years, and I’ve been sober for five.

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