Lessons from the Child of an Addict | Emily Smith | TEDxErie

I'm standing up here in front of you right now at 19 years old and I'm fighting for my life no I'm not battling cancer or dealing with some irreversible disease I'm fighting the cycle of generational addiction I am fighting to find my way through life as a young adult without being branded by my family's past history and experiences you know one of the most vivid memories of my mother isn't what you think it'd be it's not her laugh her smile how she would cuddle me and give me raspberries before bed you know I thought she would perfectly line up her pills and little groups day by day for the entire week ahead of her I mean she would literally have them laid out at least six days in advance and God forbid if you try to move or touch them in any way you see my mother is a prescription drug addict my mother is a prescription drug addict and her mother was a prescription drug addict and my father's mother and father were alcoholics and their parents were alcoholics and all died from it at young ages this came to my awareness when I was about three we moved ourselves across country from California to Pennsylvania for my father's career and when we did this both my parents believed they had overcome a cycle of addiction but sadly my mother fell into old ways our histories often have a way of following us fast forward to now I was about 10 my mom was agitated in hi one night I mean she took a lot of mixed pills like usual but instead of sleeping them off day in and day out she decided to be a functioning addict that night and functioning addicts can be the scariest part I don't know what really happened is that her off but the next thing I knew through my eyes as a 10 year old she's on one side of the door with a knife trying to shimmy the lock and I'm on the other with my father and Ramnath phone with 911 and am didn't know what was going on or what was happening in nine years later I'm still not quite sure if I do no one can ever truly understand addiction my mother soo moved out of the house and my life the walls were white and bears me and my father just stared at each other what was an ounce full of you a girl and a single dad a cerebral palsy he's supposed to do how are you supposed to move on after everything that's happened to us within the past couple years we just built a life together just the two of us and I was heavily involved in the arts program throughout my high school career to focus my energy elsewhere but more importantly as I grew older I wondered how was I supposed to find my way without following my family's legacy sure I can say no when someone offers me a cigarette or a beer but I've learned that breaking the cycle of addiction isn't that simple how do I ground myself you see everyone in this room is predisposed to addiction through revolution Harvard researchers have been studying a new science called epigenetics epigenetics is the evolutionary pool of certain genes that affects how our brain works for example when you eat something yummy it triggers pleasure and that pleasure drives us back to that food kind of like an automatic light switch turning on and off so epigenetics works in the same sense that it turns certain genes on and off but yet there's a hyperactive genetic component to epigenetics in the world of addiction if you even a mother who's an addict and she passes on her epigenetics to someone like me that makes me 50% more likely to be an addict add in the environmental factors in the heritage that makes me four times just as likely to be an addict so humans and animals are similar in this regard except humans have a capacity to control this evolutionary pool you see there's yet another component in this equation for addiction newarker choice despite my legacy despite the risks despite genetics and despite epigenetics we ultimately make a choice that leads us down the path of addiction you see every alcoholic took that first drink every addict use that first drug and it's knowing one's risk and knowing my risk that I know not to go down those paths every now and then I receive a text message from my mother who's in hospice dying from drug abuse organ failure and of course as our system goes they have run all the prescription drugs that destroyed her life sometimes the texts are lucid other times belligerent lashing out so up on the screen I have a picture of a text message from my mother you need to take a class on mental illness I have heard you over the years but you've hurt me too and I cannot take it anymore I'm giving up she's telling the psychology major to take a class on mental illness and I feel empathy towards her despite my rational understanding these make me feel hurt this woman who by birth is my mother realizes I'm not there but yet is I to fight for my life she's not here either see what I realized I figured a stop addiction we must put ourselves before the addiction so while my mother left me so many years ago I too must now distance myself sure in a sense I can forgive her for what she's done doesn't make her actions excusable while figuring out how to do this in my teenage years I realized something we are more than our family's legacy and past we don't have to let it define us if we define ourselves or let others define us as someone who isn't capable of being more than that statistic more than that mental illness more than that will be college dropout we will live our whole lives believing that we aren't capable of being more than that rather than taking advantage of opportunities to change that to rewrite our fate so I started defining my own path I fell in love with adolescents addiction counseling after having an intern for my high school senior project I discovered how many children like me were going down that path of addiction and I swore from that point on that was my purpose in life to help those kids I discovered how I can help them while making sure I stay on that correct path as well it said that life gives us second chances in my case I pray what life gives us fifth chances because I am fighting like so many others to break the generational cycle of addiction that is my family's legacy what's most scary is that I cannot tell you I'll break it only time will prove that but as I stand here in front of you on this stage I am doing it thank you [Applause] [Applause]


  1. Guess what. There's a million of us. This is like a long drawn out sob story. if she laid her pills out for a week, she wasn't a true addict.

  2. Yeah towards end when says her literal job is to help stop kids from getting addicted. So all the comments and sub comments that hate on her…….

  3. As an addict and child of one, a lot here was quite honest to me. Can someone tell me why comments here are so polarized? She's not pretending to be an addict. She said at the beginning of was about the cycle and fear of repeating. I wasted 30 years of my life and would have gladly listened to warnings or someone worried about said cycle if it could have resonated with me. So please explain the hate.

  4. Love this ❤️ except for the choice bit….many people chose to drink alcohol and don't become addicts. It isn't fair to say someone chose addiction.

  5. She says she’s fighting for her life and she can’t say if she will break the cycle but she’s doing it an all this stuff…
    but she’s not an addict. She didn’t talk about any struggles with not choosing drugs or alcohol etc and why it’s hard at all so I assume she doesn’t actually have an issue with any of it? It would have been helpful if she did touch on this or otherwise if it isn’t an issue I don’t get it.. what’s she fighting ? She’s not an addict
    She’s dealing with leftover childhood trauma. She’s not fighting addiction herself

  6. im a BS in psychology, not masters or phd, but this is really onesided and not really acceptable. although heartfelt.dont stop and move on.

  7. Reading that message from your mother in front of everyone at a TED talk while she’s in hospice is kind of rude.

  8. You're amazing! Keep "doing it!" ….and please keep speaking. You are inspiring others as well as healing yourself. Way to go Emily!!!

  9. HI EMILY – yes people are understanding addiction. Please read a book called The Freedom Model by Steven Slate and Michelle Dunbar.

  10. call the Center for motivation and change- Read Beyond Addiction by Jeff Foote. CRAFT for Families – Stay away from Al ANON –

  11. Heartrending and so moving.Very brave and courageous I love her for saying alcoholism should not define her

  12. Every Single person knows someone/ love someone/ is related to someone with an addiction or dependency. All these environmental factors blah blah blah yes it does matter a little bit but people become addicts because they have something missing in their life they are unhappy they are depressed they use it as a Band-Aid they don't have certain genes and they take one drink and become an alcoholic that is not how it works at all 👿 go hug and kiss your mom in the hospital let her know that you love her that you're there for her don't tell people about her problem like it's your own. I'm sure you were affected by her addiction but you will never know what it is like to be an addict unless you are one. Do not make people with addiction feel bad show them love and support and they will grow and hopefully not need the crutch anymore or the Band-Aid if you shun them away they're going to end up dead under bridge with a needle in their arm; the last words you spoke to each other "you're a failure drug addict"

  13. This girl is so off the mark and her talk is SO fear based it's ridiculous. Pull your pants up and love and respect your sick mother for the person you know she is as she is near end of life. Don't be so selfish, it's NOT all about you. She gave you life, now give a little back. Good Lord.

  14. Absolutely amazing! Emily’s story is just heartbreaking, but also has a lot of hope in it. I met her recently and she’s still totally drug free! She’s a beautiful and insanely kind person that has completely earned my respect and my friends’ respect!

  15. Wow…. I hope Emily rehearsed this talk….. I hope it IS social engineering at work…… at least the message is about aspiring to live a conscious life…. and hope…. and the challenge of making a conscious choice not to go the addiction path….. Keep talking Emily and shout it out if you need to 1 day at a time…..you will help many people and yourself in the process.

Leave a Reply

(*) Required, Your email will not be published