Lessons from Laura

Lessons from Laura

The Golden Child at Risk

Lesson from Laura by Carolyn Bradfield

When my children were growing up, it appeared to me that my son really struggled while my daughter Laura excelled. He was diagnosed with ADHD at 5 years old, struggled in school, and went through a period where he was the target of bullying. My daughter Laura, on the other hand, was a solid student, had a good social IQ, had lots of friends and excelled in sports. To the family and perhaps the outside world she looked like "The Golden Child".

What is a "Golden Child" ?

I had the privilege of meeting with a "golden child", who is now an adult, struggling to recover from an opioid addiction, and beating himself up that he is no longer the paragon of excellence he was in high school. Everyone knows a golden child because his or her parents spend a lot of time lauding their accomplishments.

They excel at everything from academics to sports. They have lots of friends and are the popular kid that everyone wants to be around. They don't cause trouble, obey their parents, are very respectful, charming and wonderful. Their parents look at their golden child and feel blessed and privileged.

But sometimes that popular golden child is now the center of teenage partying, starts to lead the crowd as they steal liquor from their parents to have the cool party, then progress to pot and other drugs to liven up the crowd. But this particular golden child just happened to be that 1 in 10 who were genetically predisposed to addiction, and all of a sudden, their brain begins to rewire creating that uncontrollable desire to chase the high despite the risks.

Life now starts to become more difficult as that golden child's grades begin to decline, their once proud parents start to notice the changes and begin jumping on top of their behavior in a way that they just have never experienced, and their friends start to distance themselves. They wake up one day, whether it's in high school or once they've gone to college, wondering what happened to that star student, athlete, popular kid, and achiever.

They Had It All, So Why Give It All Up?

Remember that once the process of addiction begins, the brain is now sending signals to seek out the substances that feed the pleasure center. The golden child would really like to go back to where he started, but he's likely lost control and because he's never really had to struggle before, his path back is much more difficult. In addition, they have generally defined themselves as other people see them, the "star student", the "good kid", the "quarterback", in the "popular crowd". Now that those things are gone, they are left asking themselves, "who am I, really?"

And maybe being perfect is really hard work. Perhaps the golden child is trying to figure out who they are, how they feel about themselves, and feeling the pressure to perform. Sometimes drugs and alcohol offer an escape, a release, and freedom from having to perform all the time. And because the golden child is a performer and high achiever, they could be smart enough to hide their problem from their parents for years, so by the time an incident happens, the DUI, an arrest, or being kicked out of school, the disease has had time to fester and take hold.

Once these changes occur, choice is essentially may no longer be an option for the "golden child". 

The golden child feels the shame of their disease much more acutely.

Because of the social stigma of the disease of addiction, the golden child is forced to face their family and friends who just don't understand and who heap much more blame on them because they were after all, the golden child. "How could you do this to your parents?". "You were such a good kid, what happened to you?" Believe me, the golden child would like to be back on the podium, receiving the awards and have their parents brag about their accomplishments, so having criticism and disgust heaped at them is really much more painful than if they had never been a high achiever.

My Takeaway

Parents need to understand that their "golden child" needs to be managed much more carefully. They should focus on being proud of the person their child is vs. relishing only in the accomplishments they can brag about to their friends. They should give their child the opportunity to face problems, work them out for themselves, and overcome obstacles without the parent putting the net up. They should be especially vigilant if they have a family history of addiction, and know that even though their child is golden, they may get the disease anyway. Remember, it's not just the screw-up, the bad kid, the kid from the ghetto that gets addicted, it could be your golden child.

My daughter Laura was the golden child and now she's no longer with us. The child that struggled didn't have the genetic wiring for addiction, so he grew up, matured and overcame his issues to become the fine adult he was meant to be.

InterAct LifeLine

InterAct provides technology for Virtual Care and Opioid Education Programs for use by treatment programs, state and local governments and non-profits.  Carolyn Bradfield founded InterAct LifeLine in 2018, shortly after her daughter overdosed and died.

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