America’s opioid crisis has become a common topic in the media and in conversations with friends. Surprisingly, much of the coverage has started to focus on families: stories about individual addicts are now being given a context and that context includes the family members who suffer right along with them. Debates about criminality versus medical condition continues to take up too much space but, just like individuals and families struggling with addiction, we can’t fix what we don’t acknowledge.
I’m glad we’re finally talking about it. I worked in the addictions field and was part of one of the first residential treatment programs for families of people with chemical dependency issues. Addiction — in all of its forms — can be devastating to families.
And, according to a number of experts in the field, it can also come from many forms devastation in families: abuse, neglect, addiction, divorce, abandonment, and violence. Such circumstances are now being termed ACE: Adverse Childhood Experiences. And, while most people have at least one such adverse experience, those with multiples are deemed high risk for a variety of health crises ranging from addiction to heart disease. (You can get your ACE score here.)
Back when I was developing addiction awareness programs for parents, we used to ask, “Why do teens use drugs?” The answer? “Because they work.” What that answer assumed was common sense that is now becoming part of the mainstream awareness: people use drugs to feel better. (I know, “duh.” Right?)
So why do people need to feel better? We could all fill volumes on the overwhelming pain and difficulties so many people face on a daily basis. And if we work at it together, we could probably fill an equal number of volumes about compassion, resilience, and prevention.
And, while opiate abuse has reached epidemic status, there are still simple things parents and grandparents, friends and neighbors can do for those who are closest to them.
- Set a good example
- Maintain rituals and
- Incorporate spiritual practice into your family life.
As much as most of us would like to guarantee good health and success for the young people we care about, the best we can do is try to stack the odds in their favor. Safety, security, and skills are a great place to start. Any work to decrease risk factors improves their odds.
In addition to creating a list of resources for families, I’ve put together this small list of resources to help families facing addiction. Please download and invite your friends to do so as well. In the meantime, please share stories about individual and community efforts that area working to enhance resilience and decrease risk. Thanks.