Marion Barry’s son following in his addictive footsteps, tragically

Petula Dvorak
Columnist July 18, 2011

Talk of the apple and how it doesn’t fall far from the tree did abound.

There was plenty of head-shaking by the ladies who sit outside on porches and fan themselves with newspapers.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

“Sad. So sad,” many of them said, because they had hoped that maybe, this time, the story wouldn’t be so familiar.

You know, that old story about how the father was an addict and got into all kinds of trouble and then the son grew up and did exactly the same?

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who has spent a lifetime famously fighting his addiction demons, is staying quiet about the recent drug arrest of his son. Christopher Barry, 31, was arrested May 28 after neighbors called police because of the racket coming from his apartment in the 4300 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SW.

Christopher Barry jumped out of the window and fled, leaving behind five sandwich bags of weed and a vial of PCP. He’s scheduled back in court later this month to face possession charges.

“Hey, we all struggle. Don’t we? It can happen to anyone,” said a man I was talking to in a parking lot in Ward 8, a man who said he struggled, too.

Actually, he is right. Generational addiction isn’t limited to the Barry family or a particular neighborhood. It happens to families everywhere.

Those “sad, so sad” conversations about a child following a parent into the grip of addiction are happening at the country club pool, at the beach in St. Barts and at the white-tablecloth restaurant.

Want to talk about the Kennedys? A family awash in money, education and opportunity.

Two years ago, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) talked openly about his addiction — and mother Joan’s alcoholism — after he crashed his car in the District and went into rehab for a prescription addiction.

In fact, researchers have found that affluence enables even more generational addiction. Daddy’s lawyer is always on hand to help smooth things over, you know.

Michael Cortese, chief executive and president of Gospel Rescue Ministries in Northwest Washington, said that 80 to 90 percent of the people who come to live and recover at the rescue mission are the children of addicts.

The cycle of that addiction is churning so fast it’s giving the counselors at Gospel Rescue whiplash. In the 1970s and ’80s, there were at least grandmothers around to guide and raise and protect the children of addicts. Today, those grandmothers are often addicts and dysfunctional themselves, Cortese said.

“Children see what their parents do,” he said.

Ardell Simmons, executive assistant at the ministries, deals with addicts every day. But she’ll never forget the kid back in her hometown in New Jersey whose mom was a city council member. She was an addict; her kid was an addict.

There’s a lot of scientific evidence that addiction is genetic. And there’s no doubt it’s environmental, too. Kids who grow up with weed on the coffee table or a parent always balancing a drink in one hand are probably going to follow that path.

That addiction is so often passed on through generations “is something people don’t want to talk about,” said Amelia Arria, the Director of the center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

The first lady of talk in this department, Betty Ford, opened up in 1978 about her addiction to alcohol and the influence her alcoholic father and first husband had on her life.

The Betty Ford Institute is one of the few places that has focused on children when it comes to addiction. Arria teamed up with the institute last fall to hold a conference in Washington on that topic.

Parents who are addicts are probably not parenting too well when they’re raging on with drugs or alcohol, so there’s that damage to repair. And even though they might recover themselves, they can’t always undo the wreckage they’ve left in their wake — or even admit what they’ve done to their children.

The refusal to address those issues festers in the kids. And what better way to deal with a problem than tackle it the same way that dear old mom or dad did?

“This cuts across socioeconomic status,” Arria said. “Addiction is an equal-opportunity problem.”

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