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Addicts as Parents, Part I: Pregnant, Now What?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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This post is part of a collaborative narrative series composed of my writing and Chris Arnade’s photos exploring issues of addiction, poverty, prostitution and urban anthropology in Hunts Point, Bronx. For more on the series, look here.


One of the many complexities woven into addiction is that of children. Because of the issue’s many facets, I’ve decided to break it up into multiple pieces. This is the first of several vignettes surrounding those who maintain active addiction and face decisions or un-decisions about their kids (or those they care for as children) — past, present and future. It’s hardest to consider, ethically and emotionally, this part.

Part I: Pepsi

Pepsi: Hunts Point, BronxPepsi: Hunts Point, Bronx. Courtesy of Chris Arnade.

Pepsi’s pregnant. Don’t tell anyone.

She cooks with flashlights dangling from strings above the stove. There are three flashlights. Cousins to the recessed, canned lighting in two-story model homes. There’s no electricity. The ingredients in the refrigerator have gone bad besides a lemon, which is midway through its shrivel stage in the door behind the brown-clear partition. Smells inside the lightless unit make it down the hall into the main room. No one ever takes out the trash besides Pepsi. She huffs about it, throws exaggerated arms into the air, decides to slice the wrinkled yellow citrus.

Someone bought an economy-sized container of garlic powder and pork chops.

“Mrs. Dash, now Mrs. Dash is the best as a spice. That’s what you really want to use.”

She hums and gives culinary advice over her shoulder, fingers mashing pork chops in a light blue plastic bowl. She prepares enough for the house.

“Cooking is easy. I’ve always done it. I grew up knowing.”

She runs her tongue between her thumb and index finger after she adds spices. She wants to taste the spice. Lots of spices. She shakes the garlic powder upside down with both hands.

This was her baby’s father’s favorite dish.

“I want to dance! Mami, put music on for me.”

She’s forgotten the hour before the pork chops, when she yelled curses at sidewalk targets, turning on one friend, then another. How dare you disrespect me? My children hate me: do you people know what that’s like? I’m a bad mother. I’ve lost custody of them. No one respects me. I can’t stand this.

My kids can’t know I smoke crack. They know, but they haven’t seen. What would they think of me?

Michael tells a man on the street that Pepsi doesn’t know what to do about the baby, that her mood swings, that she conjures arguments out of the air when she’s high. The man on the street’s voice has the lilt of affection: “Pepsi got the Disease. But she act crazy. Gets violent and stupid, acts crazy. I knocked the shit out of my ex for that.”

Inside, Pepsi smiles a wide kitchen smile at the pork chops. Her hips sway.

She struggles an oversized bag of rice out of the top cabinet. She mashes things and stirs with a long spoon.

A woman staggers in the door, words melded by drugs to the point of nonsense. She slumps and bends limply against a wall.

Pepsi puts the spoon down to maneuver the woman onto a milk crate — You can’t go back out like this. Do you need pajamas? I’ll take care of you, just don’t move. You’re OK, Mami. I’m making dinner. We’ll get you some food, then we’ll get you some dope. We’ll get you straight. I got you.

More Hunts Point Addiction Writing
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Cassie Rodenberg About the Author: I write on culture, poverty, addiction, and mental illness: I explore things we like to ignore. I also teach public school in New York City's South Bronx. Follow on Twitter @cassierodenberg.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. tuned 9:16 pm 06/19/2013

    I dunno why SA has gotten so unscientific.
    I do know about addicts, my “mother” was an alkie/addict. They typically give sluts/hookers a bad name even.
    The chances they will get clean are slim, and the odds they will relapse are as big as the odds their kids will have genetic problems (physical and mental). Huuuge.
    The only answer ultimately is genetic. Whatever can be developed that will make a person as immediately ill upon ingesting addictive substances as Ipecac syrup would be helpful at a genetic level, like an implanted response to lethal poison. Or resistance to intoxication, period. Perhaps a liver and kidneys strong enough to expel it in seconds, then regenerate the damaged parts.
    Until then the world suffers the madness…

    Link to this
  2. 2. stevecastleman 4:50 pm 06/20/2013

    Addiction is a chronic, progressive brain disease. It’s treatable. Perhaps not as successfully as one might like, but on a par with other chronic diseases that require substantial behavioral change, like diabetes and hypertension.

    Unfortunately, many people still don’t believe addiction is a disease. That’s why science-based education is so important.

    For a not-for-profit website that discusses the science of substance use and abuse in accessible English (how alcohol and drugs work in the brain; how addiction develops; why addiction is a chronic, progressive brain disease; what parts of the brain malfunction as a result of substance abuse; how that malfunction skews decision-making and motivation, resulting in addict behaviors; why some get addicted while others don’t; how treatment works; how well treatment works; why relapse is common; what family and friends can do; etc.) please click on

    Link to this
  3. 3. CurrentOutlook 5:27 pm 06/26/2013


    Link to this

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