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Opinion

‘People fall into addiction because they feel lost, alone, unhappy or just baffled by life’

Sam Delaney is wrestling with a difficult topic in conversations with his teenage daughter.

I’ve just finished watching Dopesick, the brilliant dramatisation of America’s opioid crisis, with my 14-year-old daughter. It was a challenging watch but I was delighted by how engaged she was by the story. Mind you, I did feel uncomfortable with the graphic scenes of drug use we watched together: children her own age crushing and snorting OxyContin tablets, junkies injecting heroin into their arms, addicts of all flavours committing sordid and violent acts in manic pursuit of a fix.

All parents know the discomfort of having to endure a sex scene on the telly in the company of your teenage kids. In my house we usually laugh about it while desperately fumbling for the remote to fast forward through the saucy bits.

But fast forwarding on a streaming service with any precision is (strangely) more difficult than doing so on an old-fashioned VHS. So we end up going too far forward, then too far back, often having to see bits of the scene all over again and lengthening the whole torturous moment.

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I asked my daughter if she was freaked out by the scenes of drug-taking in Dopesick. She laughed at me. I kid myself that she is as sweet and innocent as she was when we used to sit on the same sofa watching princess movies, her dressed up as Snow White, just a few years ago.

Her school is hardly Cheltenham Ladies’ College and the smell of skunk on the playing field at lunchtime isn’t an unfamiliar one. Either way, she was at pains to indicate that she was familiar with the notion of drugs, drug taking and drug addicts.

Dopesick is on Disney+

Awkwardly, I myself am a recovering addict – something I’ve never discussed with her in much detail. She knows I don’t drink – and she knows the reason for that is that I used to drink too much. But the rampant drug taking that went hand in hand with my boozing for a couple of years towards the end – that’s something I’ve yet to get around to telling her about. I write and talk about it a great deal in public. Soon, I’ll be writing a book about it. I figure I need to tell her the truth face to face before she reads about it elsewhere.

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We were in the car driving to Brighton for a pre-Christmas shopping trip when I said, “This book I’m writing… you know some of it will be about how I used to take drugs?” She grinned dismissively. “Pfft. You used to smoke weed? Big deal.”

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The strange thing is that I found myself fighting an impulse to tell her the truth with an air of adolescent boastfulness, “It was coke actually and I had a very serious problem!” But that would have been pathetic. So I laughed, happy for her to see me as the needy old bastard I am.

There’s nothing much I can tell her about the risks of drugs that she isn’t smart enough to understand already. People don’t fall into drug addiction because they are unaware of the dangers. They fall into addiction because they feel lost, alone, unhappy or just fucking baffled by life and the world around them. Drugs – like drink, gambling, sex, shopping or food – get out of hand when people start using them as a means of coping with emotional pain.

Love, a sense of stability and some human connection: those are the only things I can give my kids to help
protect them from addictive tendencies. Part of that is being honest with them. I’ve deferred the drug chat
with my daughter for now because, frankly, I lost my bottle. But it’s coming soon. Thank god she doesn’t read The Big Issue.

Read more from Sam at samdelaney.substack.com

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