In a five-month investigation called Operation Bird Cage, a drug and gun distribution ring in central New Jersey was brought down this month, resulting in the arrests of 20 people across three counties. Amidst the arrests, law enforcement officers seized more than 2,000 bags of heroin, one pound of marijuana, more than 350 prescription painkillers, 1 kilo of cocaine, almost 300 unidentified pills, more than 200 Suboxone films, ecstasy pills, methamphetamine, firearms, and a range of drug manufacturing equipment. The estimated value of the drugs alone is more than $370,000. Almost $100,000 in cash was seized as well.
Among the 20 people arrested were a man, age 40, and his mother, age 69. Law enforcement alleges that he was the “first degree leader” of the organization and hit him with a slew of drug manufacturing charges as well as drug and gun possession and distribution charges. His mother was charged with promoting street crime and conspiracy in the second degree, and also faces a number of possession and intent to distribute charges, making the drug ring a family affair.
A Systematic Problem
There are a number of reasons that multiple people in a family may have issues with addiction.
- Genetics: A child born to one or more parents who struggled with addiction has an increased chance of developing an addiction disorder. The focus of that addiction may be different – that is, a parent may have lived with alcoholism while the child struggles with opiate addiction or a gambling problem – but the difficulty managing impulsive behaviors and cravings is very much the same.
- Financial difficulty: If an aging parent is having a hard time paying the bills on a fixed income or a middle-aged child is struggling due to job loss, divorce, or long-term addiction, they may feel that their only recourse is to enter into the illegal drug trade.
- Co-occurring mental health problems: If one or more people in the family are living with a mental health disorder – mood disorders, personality disorders, behavioral disorders, etc. – it may be more likely that drug use would become an accepted method of self-medication. That is, someone may use alcohol, prescription medications, or marijuana to manage feelings of depression, and their family member may join them if they feel that they, too, need escape from difficulties.
- Environment and culture: Often, when multiple family members engage in active addiction together, it is perpetuated by living in an environment that is permissive of continued drug and alcohol use. It makes it difficult for one person to stop drinking or getting high if others in the home or neighborhood continue to use substances.
Is Addiction a Problems in Your Family?
It can be equally difficult to acknowledge that you are struggling with drug or alcohol use and try to address that problem healthfully when everyone around you is still actively using substances. When a family is in crisis, the entire family needs healing. Both separately and together, it is imperative that individuals who are living with active addiction enter treatment separately so they can focus on their personal needs, and that family members who are at home also undergo treatment. Once everyone has started their own journeys into treatment, set treatment goals, and stabilized in recovery, they can begin the process of repairing individual relationships. Spouses, parent and child, and other important connections can begin to find a strong footing in recovery in therapy sessions designed to improve communication and give everyone a safe forum to share, grieve, and get needs met healthfully.
It can be difficult to identify addiction in someone else if you are living with a substance use disorder of your own.
If there are multiple people in your family who are facing addiction, take the time given to you this holiday season to have an honest conversation about the problem and begin to identify the solutions that will jumpstart the healing process now and allow you to start 2018 off on the right foot. For some, it may mean spending the holidays actively seeking treatment. For others, it may mean finding the right outpatient services to build off in the new year.
What is the best path forward for your family?