What Happened After I Found Out My Son Was Addicted to Heroin (2023)

What Happened After I Found Out My Son Was Addicted to Heroin (1)

Left Photo:Still ofLesha Cuttaia via VICELAND.RightPhoto of Frankie Holmes byMike Beyer

Eighteen years ago, Lesha Cuttaia got a phone call from her son Frankie Holmes on what should have been a normal snowy Thursday night. It wasn’t.

“He wanted to know if I could pick him up,” Cuttaia, who goes by Mama Dukes, told me over the phone. “I thought it was girl problems, because him and I are close.” Instead, her son dropped the bomb that he had a heroin problem and needed help.

“We literally stopped at nine different hospitals on the way home,” she explained. “[Opioid addiction] wasn’t an epidemic at that time, and we were being told that he could quit if he wants, give him Imodium, lock him in a room—just the most absurd answers. Now I have a son who’s going into detox that I know nothing about.”


What Happened After I Found Out My Son Was Addicted to Heroin (2)

Soon Cuttaia left her job managing car dealerships to pursue a career in social work so she could help those who, like her son, were stuck in what she called “the hamster wheel” of rehabilitation. Now they both live in South Florida, a sort of ground-zero of the opioid recovery industry—a place where people go to get clean, but often end up on the streets because of lapsed insurance or a lack of space in treatment facilities. The mother-son duo teamed up to create their own activism group, the Fuck Heroin Foundation, to help those in need without bringing hostile, War on Drugs-style attitudes to the table. What started as a Facebook group became a safe haven for families like their own.

Today, Cuttaia’s son Frankie is also co-starring on the VICELAND show Dopesick Nation, a docu-series about the opioid crisis and treatment industry in their area. To learn more about her personal fight, I talked to her about the growing epidemic, the billion-dollar rehabilitation industry’s corruption scandals, and how to support those in your life who are currently struggling with addiction.

VICE: From where you sit, what are some of the biggest issues people with addiction face?
Lesha Cuttaia: The stigma is one of the biggest problems, because not only are they fighting the stigma of being an addict, but there’s also a lot of this inner turmoil going on with themselves. If you’re not doing AA, then you’re not clean. If you’re on Suboxone or Vivitrol, you’re not clean. There’s a lot of judgment if you didn’t choose the same path they chose. I think a lot of that stigma is what causes people to relapse so often. It’s a continuous everyday battle. It’s hard for others who aren’t [in recovery] to understand that. A lot of times family, loved ones, everyone else around them thinks, “Oh they went to treatment, they’re cured.” They don’t realize that they’re fighting that battle every day. So I think that one of the other biggest thing that they face daily is the continuous turmoil of feeling like—let’s say you love candy and you feel like you want that candy every day. And you can’t have it and you know you can’t. The urge doesn’t go away. So many think that the urge goes away.


There’s been a lot of scandal within the treatment industry. What have you learned about that while working so in depth with Frankie?
When I moved to Florida and decided to go into this full time, I believed that anybody helping people had a passion. I believed everybody was good. I just thought everybody was in it for the right reasons. Unfortunately, very shortly into it, it was very eye-opening to realize a lot of the people that were involved in the industry were people who had been part of the timeshare scams that went on. They went from that into the pill mill scams into owning treatment facilities. So there were a lot of people that weren’t into it for the right reasons.

Then, on top of that, I saw a lot of good people that were in it for the right reasons then see the money that could be made. Over the years, we’ve walked away from a lot of places, because you saw the greed set in. From that, of course, you had kids acting like their insurance cards were like an American Express, going in to get comfortable when they wanted to get off the streets and then going back out when they felt like it. Getting paid by other places to go in and actually take good people out with them to another treatment center. Just a lot of lines were getting crossed. People being at meetings, passing out cards, trying to entice kids to go to their treatment center instead. So it became very commercialized.


Then, also having their family believe they’re in treatment and doing really good. So you would have sober-home-owners or managers lying to the family. They’d say, “Yeah, your child is doing extremely well,” when they didn’t even know where they were. Or still billing their insurance when they’re out on a three- or four-day run. But at the same time, there still are a lot of good places. You just have to be asking the right questions before you send your loved ones somewhere.

What are some of those questions?
One of the big ones is what’s the ratio of therapists to the patient? How often are they going to be with the therapist? Because some get out and only see a therapist once over 30 days. A good ratio is five—no more than seven—[patients] to therapists as a caseload. What are some of the groups going to be? What are groups about? Do they touch on PTSD? Do they touch on getting in depth if you’re a cutter? Do they go into that? If you have an eating disorder? What other underlying issues do you have? Are [the therapists] equipped to and able to address all the things you got going on?

Most of all, is your family welcome to be a part of it? Do they do family therapy? Is the therapist willing to include your family over the phone on sessions? The more they are able to and want to involve your family, those are usually your good places. Do they allow couples? Because I’ve never seen a good place that allow couples to come through together. They need to separate. When they get to a sober living level, do they have to pay rent? Sober living is supposed to be reacclimating your social skills and getting back into life, and if you’re not paying rent to live there and you’re not made to go get a job and learn how to juggle your meetings and paying bills and all those things, when you get back to reality, you’re going to fall on your face, because you don’t know how to manage all those things. Those are important questions that I feel you need to ask, as well as what level of degrees do these treatment centers do they hold? What degrees do their therapists have? Is there a doctor on staff or is their doctor somebody that is on staff at a hundred treatment centers just signing off on everything?


How have you seen perceptions of the opioid crisis change over the past few years?
People are definitely becoming aware of it and don’t have their heads in the sand. I don’t think there’s really anybody that hasn’t been affected in one way or another by it, be it they know somebody or they know a family that has someone involved. I think a lot more people in their 50s to 70s are asking a lot more questions wanting to know more about it, but I also feel that you have a lot of negative [attention] with people are on that bandwagon of [people overdosing] shouldn’t be given Narcan, just let them die.

What I’ve seen is a bigger divide instead of so many people over the years that were kind of in the middle, not sure how they felt one way or another. I feel like people have definitely picked one side over the other, where they think [people with addiction] should just die or they’re trying to at least be a part of the solution—or at least get educated.

What advice do you have for people who are just finding out that their child is struggling with addiction?
Don’t beat yourself up trying to figure out what you’ve done wrong, because you’re going to take forever trying to figure that out. Chances are it’s not anything you’ve done wrong. So if you can, stop worrying and concentrating on that and try to be as open with your child as possible. Let them know you don’t judge them. Try to get as educated as you can to understand what it is that they’re truly going through, and that it’s not as simple as them saying they’re going to quit and looking you right in the eye and then 12 hours later they’re using again, because they 100 percent mean what they say when they’re saying it. When that drug starts wearing off and they start going into withdrawal, it’s like a demon has taken over and nothing else matters.


The biggest thing is you’re going to feel like they hate you and they’re putting you through this because they hate you. You can never say or do anything that makes them hate themselves more than they already hate themselves. So love them, learn how to not enable, and keep that door open so they know that you’re there for them no matter what—and that you’re willing to help them get through it.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. Those struggling with addiction or concerned about family or friends or related issues can visit the official federal government SAMHSA National Helpline website for treatment information.

Dopesick Nation airs Wednesday at 10 PM on VICELAND.

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What happens to the brain of an addict? ›

However, with chronic use of the substance, over time the brain's circuits adapt and become less sensitive to dopamine. Achieving that pleasurable sensation becomes increasingly important, but at the same time, you build tolerance and need more and more of that substance to generate the level of high you crave.

What is one outcome of addiction in families? ›

A person's addiction usually has a negative impact on the family, which can lead to conflict and fighting between family members. Family members can become stressed or anxious when dealing with the person using, which can negatively affect their own health.

How do addicts feel about their addiction? ›

They may become paranoid, sure that others are out to get them. Completely self-centered, addicts care only how they feel in the present moment. They are incapable of recognizing or caring how their current actions translate into future consequences.

What is the effect of addiction on the family of an addict? ›

One of the most profound ways addiction affects the entire family is the higher risk of abuse. Whether it's emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, the risk increases. There is a higher likelihood that family members may experience violence at the hands of an addict.

What are the stages of addiction in the brain? ›

To recap, addiction involves a three-stage cycle—binge/intoxication, withdrawal/negative affect, and preoccupation/anticipation—that worsens over time and involves dramatic changes in the brain reward, stress, and executive function systems.

Which psychological trait is most often associated with drug abuse? ›

Impulsivity is thought to be a facet trait in the neuroticism personality domain (overindulgence/negative urgency) which is prospectively associated with the development of substance abuse.

What is the power of family in addiction recovery? ›

Family members can provide a sense of community and connection, which can be helpful for those who are feeling isolated or lonely during addiction recovery. One way family members can do this is by creating and maintaining a positive environment.

What are 3 effects of addiction on a family? ›

Substance abuse affects a family on every level: emotional, psychological, financial, and social. A parent's preoccupation with getting drunk or high can lead to neglect or abuse. The use of alcohol and drugs can lead to financial hardship, poverty, or bankruptcy.

What are some of the common characteristics of addicted families? ›

Identifying Common Personality Traits & Characteristics
  • The Need to Feel in Control. ...
  • Immediate Overreaction to Changes Outside of Their Control. ...
  • Impulsive Behavior. ...
  • Isolation. ...
  • Judgmental Behavior. ...
  • Seeking Approval. ...
  • Low Self-Esteem. ...
  • Difficulty Maintaining Relationships.
Jul 29, 2021

What are 4 common symptoms of addiction? ›

Signs and symptoms of recent use can include:
  • Feeling "high"
  • Increased sociability.
  • Increased energy and agitation.
  • Increased sex drive.
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Problems thinking clearly.
  • Loss of muscle control.
  • Paranoia.
Oct 4, 2022

What personality traits are associated with addiction? ›

6 Personality Traits Linked to Addiction
  • Impulsivity. Impulsive people are often viewed as fun to be around due to their spontaneous nature, but this personality trait has a serious dark side. ...
  • Nonconformity. ...
  • Anxiety. ...
  • Low Tolerance for Stress. ...
  • Sensation Seeking. ...
  • Blame Shifting.
Sep 13, 2017

What drugs cause personality changes? ›

These include methamphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy or Molly), LSD, and certain prescription medications. When taken in large doses, these substances can alter your mood, behavior, and even your identity. In some cases, long-term use of such drugs can result in permanent changes to one's personality.

What is a typical addict behavior in relationships? ›

Drugs can cause mood swings and paranoia. This can make it difficult for an addict to maintain healthy relationships. An addict may become irritable, argumentative, or even violent. For example, they may accuse their partner of cheating or being unfaithful, leading to a strained relationship.

Why do people become love addicts? ›

The causes of love addiction are rooted in childhood trauma. Individuals lacking self-esteem or who had less-than-nurturing childhoods may grow up looking for constant reassurance from others. Relationship addicts also tend to enjoy the feeling of excitement that being “in love” brings.

How does addiction affect behavior? ›

Adults who use drugs can have problems thinking clearly, remembering, and paying attention. They may develop poor social behaviors as a result of their drug use, and their work performance and personal relationships suffer.

What are the 7 steps to recovery? ›

The 7 steps are: 1) awareness, 2) surrender, 3) readiness, 4) receptivity, 5) acceptance, 6) perspective, and 7) action.

What is the most effective way to deal with addiction? ›

5 action steps for quitting an addiction
  1. Set a quit date. ...
  2. Change your environment. ...
  3. Distract yourself. ...
  4. Review your past attempts at quitting. ...
  5. Create a support network. ...
  6. For more information on finding an effective path to recovery, check out Overcoming Addiction, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.
Jan 14, 2021

What is the first stage of treatment for addiction? ›

Detoxification is normally the first step in treatment. This involves clearing a substance from the body and limiting withdrawal reactions. In 80 percent of cases, a treatment clinic will use medications to reduce withdrawal symptoms, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

What personality type is most likely to be addicted to drugs? ›

The Adventurous, Risk-Taking Trait

Individuals who like to take risks and who have little impulse control around experimenting and playing with new experiences and dangerous activities are more likely to try drugs.

What is a drug personality? ›

A drug personality can broadly be characterized by general traits of drug-seeking behavior, criminal tendencies, impulsivity, etc. Usually, chronic drug use is summed up by being an addiction to escaping reality.

What are the protective factors for opioid use disorder? ›

Protective Factors

Positive connections to family, friends, or community strong coping and problem-solving skills. Cultural or religious beliefs that value self-preservation.

What are the three P's in addiction recovery? ›

In eating disorder recovery it is essential to focus on the three P's: Passion, Power and Purpose.

Can addiction be passed down from parents? ›

Yes, there can be a genetic predisposition to substance abuse. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) states that “at least half of a person's susceptibility to drug or alcohol addiction can be linked to genetic factors.”

Can you save someone from addiction? ›

Alcohol or substance dependency can be a destructive illness that keeps someone from living the life they want. Fortunately, with consistent treatment and compassionate support, it's possible – and common – for people to recover from addiction and get back on track with their health, relationships and goals.

What are the three most harmful addictions? ›

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a famous phrase that goes as such: The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.

Are addictions genetic? ›

More than half of the differences in how likely people are to develop substance use problems stem from DNA differences, though it varies a little bit by substance. Research suggests alcohol addiction is about 50 percent heritable, while addiction to other drugs is as much as 70 percent heritable.

What does addiction is a family disease mean? ›


Addiction doesn't just affect the person, it affects the entire family. Friends and family members of addicts often feel confused, frustrated, angry and helpless. The family of the addict is often unable to see the true cause of the family problems.

What personality trait do most addicts have in common? ›

No single personality type sets someone up for addiction, but there are a few personality traits common among people who have a substance use disorder: an inability to handle stress, impulsivity, unaccountability and a lack of empathy.

What are the problems with parents with substance abuse? ›

Children with parents who use substances are at an increased risk for child maltreatment. Drugs and alcohol inhibit a parent's ability to function in a parental role and may lessen impulse control, allowing parents to behave abusively.

What are the most common things to be addicted to? ›

Top 10 Most Common Addictions
  1. Nicotine (Tobacco) Nicotine is an addictive substance that is found in tobacco. ...
  2. Alcohol. Alcoholic beverages have been enjoyed by humans for centuries and are now consumed in almost all parts of the world. ...
  3. Marijuana. ...
  4. Painkillers. ...
  5. Cocaine. ...
  6. Heroin. ...
  7. Benzodiazepines. ...
  8. Stimulants.

What are the three types of addicts? ›

However, in terms of substance addictions, some of the more common types of addiction include: Alcohol addiction. Prescription drug addiction. Drug addiction.

Which of the following are early warning signs of addiction? ›

Psychological warning signs of drug abuse
  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude.
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, spaced-out, or angry outbursts.
  • Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason.

What are the 10 stages of addiction? ›

Read on to learn more!
  • Stage 1: Denial. You should be proud of yourself during recovery. ...
  • Stage 2: Avoidance/Defensiveness. ...
  • Stage 3: Crisis Building. ...
  • Step 4: Immobilization. ...
  • Step 5: Confusion/Overreaction. ...
  • Stage 6: Depression. ...
  • Stage 7: Behavioral Loss of Control. ...
  • Stage 8: Recognition of Loss of Control.

How to help a child with an addictive personality? ›

Parenting Tips
  1. Teach and Model Positive Coping Skills. If your child sees you come home from a challenging day at the office to proclaim, “Gosh, I need a drink!” they will imitate that behavior. ...
  2. Enact Logical Consequences for Impulsive Behavior. ...
  3. Criticize Behavior, Not the Child.
Mar 11, 2020

Which illicit drug is the most widely used on college campuses? ›

Other Prescription Drug Misuse in College
DrugPercentage of College Students Who Have Reported Using Drug
4 more rows
Dec 12, 2022

What drugs cause strange behavior? ›

The drugs that are often reported in cases of drug-induced psychosis, and are most likely to result in psychotic symptoms, include cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamine, psychedelic drugs such as LSD, and club drugs such as ecstasy and MDMA.

What drugs can cause mental illness? ›

Drugs that may lead to depressive, anxious, or psychotic syndromes include corticosteroids, isotretinoin, levo-dopar mefloquine, interferon-a, and anabolic steroids, as well as some over-the-counter medications. PSEs are often difficult to diagnose and can be very harmful to patients.

What drugs cause altered mental status? ›

Among these drugs are: acyclovir, anticholinergics and atropine, anticonvulsants, tricyclic antidepressants, asparaginase, baclofen, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, buspirone, caffeine, chlorambucil, chloroquine, clonidine, clozapine, cytarabine, digitalis glycosides, disulfiram, dronabinol, ganciclovir, ...

Are addicts narcissists? ›

It is important to note that people with an addiction do not always show signs of a narcissistic personality disorder and that people with narcissism do not always develop an addiction.

What are 3 characteristics of addictive behavior? ›

Some signs of addiction are:
  • Always wanting more.
  • Constantly needing more.
  • Continuing despite negative outcomes.
  • Inability to follow rules you have set.
  • Not being able to stop.
  • Obsessing.
  • Replacing relationships.
  • Secrecy.
Mar 10, 2019

Do love addicts cheat? ›

Love addiction is a complicated thing. It can take a lot of different forms and can cause someone to behave in a variety of damaging ways. It may seem counterintuitive that someone addicted to love would cheat on a partner, but it happens more than you might think. Love addiction and cheating too often go together.

What do addictive relationships often begin with? ›

A codependent relationship often begins with one person putting their partner's needs above all else — including their own needs, interests, and independence. This behavior in a relationship is called codependency.

Is it unhealthy to be addicted to someone? ›

An addiction to a person involves obsessive thoughts about the relationship, feelings of hope, anticipation, waiting, confusion, and desperation. Addictive relationships are toxic and very powerful. Healthy relationships do not involve constant drama and continual feelings of longing. Healthy relationships just are.

Is addictive behavior a mental health issue? ›

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) drug addiction is classified as a mental illness because addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, disturbing a person's normal hierarchy of needs and desires, and substituting new priorities connected with procuring and using drugs.

Why addiction is a brain disease? ›

Because changes in brain structure and function are fundamental to the development and expression of addiction, it qualifies as a brain disease--a brain disease expressed as compulsive behavior.

Is addiction learned behavior? ›

Abstract. Addictive drugs are habit-forming. Addiction is a learned behavior; repeated exposure to addictive drugs can stamp in learning.

What to expect after 6 months of sobriety? ›

In the first 6 months of your sobriety, your body will start getting rid of toxins in order to become healthier. By the 6 month mark, your skin appears healthier. People around you notice your eyes are clearer. You've been taking care of yourself and bathing regularly, so your hygiene has improved.

Which part of brain is responsible for addiction? ›

Most PET studies of drug addiction have concentrated on the brain dopamine (DA) system, since this is considered to be the neurotransmitter system through which most drugs of abuse exert their reinforcing effects (5).

What is addiction a disease of the brain that affects? ›

The American Society Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines Addiction as a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.

Can sugar brain damage reversed? ›

According to a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications, teens with Type 1 diabetes who tightly control their blood sugar levels may be able to lessen the disease's damaging effects on the brain, effects that have been shown even in younger children.

What is the hardest time in sobriety? ›

The first week of sobriety is often the most difficult. You may experience withdrawal symptoms that last for a few days or weeks. These symptoms are uncomfortable, and the risk of relapse can be high.

What does it mean to pink cloud? ›

Sometimes referred to as pink clouding or the honeymoon phase, pink cloud syndrome involves feelings of exhilaration or euphoria. The person is overjoyed with their recovery. They feel successful and confident they will remain sober in the future.

What is the first rule of sobriety? ›

It is based on a few simple rules that are easy to remember: 1) change your life; 2) be completely honest; 3) ask for help; 4) practice self-care; and 5) don't bend the rules.

How do you break an addiction to someone? ›

Tips on How to Break an Addiction to a Person
  1. Figure Out Your Addictive Relationship. ...
  2. Detach Yourself from an Unhealthy Bond. ...
  3. Surround Yourself with Positive People. ...
  4. Welcome Your Independence. ...
  5. Learn to Set Boundaries in Relationships and Friendships. ...
  6. Pay Attention to Yourself. ...
  7. People You Should Avoid.
Aug 17, 2021

What triggers may lead to an episode of drug abuse use can be? ›

Things. Objects surrounding your daily life can lead to drug and alcohol cravings. For example, if you were using spoons to consume heroin, the piece of cutlery can trigger those memories. Empty pill bottles, movies, magazines, and some paraphernalia are common triggers of substance use.

Is drug addiction considered a brain disorder? ›

What is drug addiction? Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder, because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control.

Is addiction a treatable brain disease? ›

Addiction is a chronic disease

A chronic disease is a long-lasting condition that can be controlled but not cured. Most people who engage in substance use do not develop addiction, and many young people tend to reduce their use once they take on more adult responsibilities.

Is drug addiction considered a brain disease? ›

Because changes in brain structure and function are fundamental to the development and expression of addiction, it qualifies as a brain disease--a brain disease expressed as compulsive behavior. It's the quintessential biobehavioral disorder.

Why do dementia patients like sweets? ›

Abnormal sweet-food craving may occur in subjects with Alzheimer's disease. This behavior may be due to abnormalities in the brain serotonin system. Fenfluramine stimulates the brain serotonin neurosystem, producing an increase in systemic prolactin.

How long does it take for the brain to recover from sugar? ›

But if you cut sugar from your diet, how long does it take for your memory to return to normal? About seven weeks, according to new, intriguing – but very early stage – research.


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