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Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018

A Family Disease: Breaking the Chain of Addiction

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Addiction is a family disease. Its impact resonates throughout the family structure, leaving no one unaffected.

Yet most often it is only the person with a drug or alcohol problem who receives treatment and support, while the rest of the family is left to sort through the pain on their own.

“That’s why we are so excited about our new Tootsie Davis Family Education Program,” said Stacy Eppers, a project coordinator at the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (CADA). “This free program provides a safe, nurturing support group designed to provide hope and begin healing for family members of all ages who have loved ones dealing with substance use disorders.”

One of the goals of the Davis Family Education Program is to help families learn about addiction, including its impact on the entire family and in their own personal lives. “Through support and education, we hope to help family members learn new and healthy ways of living,” Eppers said, “thus, affecting the overall family system in a positive way to help make a change and begin healing.”

CADA is a nonprofit private health organization founded in 1958 whose mission is to educate, counsel and treat persons of all ages who suffer from alcoholism or other substance use disorders. CADA has helped thousands of clients rejoin their families through recovery. Many families, however, are devastated by addiction when their loved one is not yet ready to seek help.

Even if a loved one is not ready for addiction treatment, family members can begin their own healing now. “CADA is here for the whole family,” said Eppers. “When we attend community outreach events, we often encounter people who have family members that have not made their way to treatment and recovery, and they need help and a safe place to share their story. We understand that we need to work with the whole family to help in the recovery process so the family will learn how to change and make lasting improvements.

The new program is named in honor of Edna “Tootsie” Davis, who was a special friend of CADA. “Tootsie believed in our mission and understood firsthand the impact of addiction on families,” Eppers said. “She found her support through Al-Anon and CADA in dealing with her husband’s alcoholism. When Tootsie passed, she left a gift to CADA which her daughter, Dianne Hanes, matched in order to establish a program designed to help the whole family begin to heal.”

Living with someone struggling with addiction can consume life, happiness and well-being. The frustration of feeling powerless is coupled with misplaced feelings of shame and isolation.

“Family plays a huge role in addiction,” said CADA’s Clinical Supervisor Claire Madden. “It is important that family members understand their role in both addiction and recovery. Looking at addiction from a family system’s perspective, helps family members understand the interdependent nature of that system and work to replace unhealthy thoughts, attitudes and behaviors with healthier ones.”

Recognizing each family member’s role is about empowering them to make positive change, find hope and take back their lives, with the ultimate goal of helping their loved ones succeed in recovery. “We hope participants will explore relationship patterns among family members,” Madden said, “and work to restore trust and rebuild damaged relationships.”

“Primarily, we hope our participants will begin to realize they are not in control of their loved-ones’ self-destructive behaviors,” Eppers said. “They didn’t cause it. They can’t cure it themselves, and, most importantly, they cannot control it. We also hope to educate them on what addiction is, their role in addiction and steps they can take to help heal themselves and their family.”

This unique program also has a mission to provide meaningful support for the children of the participants who come. Children are significantly impacted in a family where there is addiction. While the adults are learning more about addiction and how to deal with it, any children that tag along will receive training in coping skills and mindfulness.

“Children grow up learning from everything they see and experience,” Eppers said. “If a child is in a home where addiction is causing instability, fighting and/or danger, then that child learns that this is normal. They also learn the behaviors of the family members in their home. Children can be in physical danger of abuse and neglect but also in danger of repeating all these behaviors as they grow up. Children who are in dangerous and stressful situations are at risk for depression, anxiety, blaming themselves and acting out. We hope to educate parents about these risks as well as steps to take for helping their children.”

The Tootsie Davis Family Education program meets the last Monday of each month (sometimes adjusted for holidays) at the Dan Talley Memorial Building at 2000 Fairfield Avenue near Olive Street. Each session includes a different educational topic and includes subjects such as “The Family System and Addiction” and “Self- Care and Coping for Families Affected by Addictions.” Experts will present these topics and then invite participants to share their experiences, concerns or questions in a supportive and nurturing group of peers.

This program is provided free of charge, and a light meal is served during the meeting. Participants are encouraged to bring their children. “It is important that people register before coming so that we know how much food to order,” Eppers said.

To learn more about CADA programs, go to www.cadanwla.org.

– Susan Reeks

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