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I met Sharon LeGore four years ago in New York City.

We were among a group of eleven parents who had gathered to learn how to coach parents using CRAFT.

Sharon is one of those amazing people who has experienced a personal tragedy and yet reaches out to help other parents. Sharon gives back by spreading the word about the dangers of addiction. Her organization works to help other families with parent resources, support and more so that they can make a positive change and not feel so alone.

I’m honored to share Sharon’s interview. I know her experience and wisdom will help others.

Sharon, please briefly introduce yourself to the readers who may not know you.

My name is Sharon LeGore, and I grew up in the suburbs of Wilmington Delaware. I’m the mother of four and grandmother of 7 and today reside in York, Pennsylvania, not far from the historic battlefield of Gettysburg.  I began my journey with substance abuse as a child of an alcoholic.  You see, this redhead was a spirited little girl and learned at a very early age how to advocate for others.

I would get in the middle of my parents to stop the fights over my dad’s drinking and to protect my mother. I loved my mom and my dad but the dysfunction and stress of living with a substance abusing parent left me hospitalized with a stomach ulcer at the age of 6.  With that diagnosis, my father joined Alcoholics Anonymous and began his road to recovery, and my mother began hers through Alanon.  It was at that young age that I made the decision to never to use alcohol because of my childhood experiences and that decision made over 50 years ago is a choice that I still abide by today.

As my own children grew, I shared my own childhood experiences with their grandfather’s alcoholism and through genetics, they stood a greater chance of becoming addicted. My children did not listen and made the choice to experiment with drugs and alcohol and each dealt with their own addictions as a result. As their mother, I lacked the knowledge to fight this disease and could only watch helplessly on the sidelines.

Through those years, I became keenly aware that I needed to do something to change what was happening with my children, and those thoughts led me to my work today as a family advocate for substance abuse issues.

Could you please share why you created the organization, MOMSTELL? 

My only daughter Angela struggled with her addictions to drugs for four years. She eventually lost her battle with heroin and died of an overdose in the winter of 1998.  The loss of Angie devastated our entire family and changed the entire direction of my life.

I grieved for my daughter tremendously, but when I finally returned to my job as a dental assistant, I was unsettled and just knew I had to do something to prevent what happened to Angie from happening to anyone else.  In less than a year after her death, I became a woman with a passion for those families, who like me, had been impacted by the disease of addiction. This is how the idea for MOMSTELL was born.

I began looking for other moms in Pennsylvania who like me had lost a child to drugs. That search led me to create the organization MOMSTELL. I contacted the IRS to receive help in setting up a non-profit organization and MOMSTELL was established.

In the beginning, the name MOMSTELL, stood for, Moms on a mission to advocate for Drug Treatment, Education and Lobbying for Legislation. (That is until the IRS told me we could not use the word lobby) We obtained our nonprofit status. And the rest is history.

Since parent resources and support were scarce, we thought reaching out through a free website would help other parents out there, who like me, were searching for help, but felt very alone.  I purchased a website template online for $25 and put in all the information about addiction that as a parent I wanted to know.

MOMSTELL has evolved since its inception and strives to cover treatment, recovery, policy, and legislation while always keeping the primary focus on supporting parents and family members impacted by addiction.

What is the purpose of the organization?

MOMSTELL’s mission is to educate, support and unite everyone impacted by substance abuse/co-occurring issues. Families must receive the help they need not only for their child or loved one, but their entire family must be supported in the process. Our vision is to see that anyone impacted by substance abuse / co-occurring issues, receives the education, support, and services needed to improve and maintain their health and well-being.

MOMSTELL will continue to support and unite parents and family members in order to work together towards supporting parents, ending stigma, and advocating for improvement in substance abuse treatment and recovery.  We want to see the stigma surrounding the disease of addiction drastically reduced and ultimately eliminated. Treatment and Recovery must be within the grasp of every individual and family member.

Can you explain the goal of the National Family Dialogue?

In 2009, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) convened the first national meeting of family members of youth with substance use disorders. This historic meeting brought together representatives of families of youth who were receiving, or who had received, treatment for substance use disorders.

The purpose was to identify challenges and opportunities to improve the youth treatment and recovery system and to strengthen family involvement in that system at the Federal, State, and Tribal levels. Family members from 34 States, the District of Columbia and 4 Tribal Nations attended the conference. This meeting is where the NFD began.

The goals of the National Family Dialogue (NFD) included strengthening and shaping the roles and responsibilities of families as valued partners and advocates in the youth substance use treatment and recovery system, developing supports to empower families of youth with substance use disorders in order to create positive changes in the youth treatment and recovery system and developing recommendations for CSAT/SAMHSA on strengthening and expanding family involvement in youth treatment and recovery at the practice, program, and policy levels.

The NFD has provides an opportunity for family members of youth with substance use disorders to have a voice. Our approach includes creating a network of individuals, groups, and organizations to promote coordination and collaboration.  Those local or regional based individuals groups and organizations will assist in reaching an even broader audience with resources and support.

Given the current pockets of excellence within local and state substance use disorder families, groups, and organizations across the country, the opportunity to create a strong national voice is within reach. That organized voice can coordinate learning and resource exchange, educate on national initiatives impacting families, such as the Affordable Health Care Act and inform decision-makers of the family experiences when seeking and or accessing treatment and recovery services and supports.

What are three suggestions that you have for families who are struggling with an addicted family member? 

Why is it that with the disease of addiction, we cannot stop, take a deep breath and think about a plan of attack for this devastating disease? We seem to quickly react and spend time worrying about what to do than actually doing something?  I was guilty of that, but to be honest, I was uneducated about addiction.

One of my top three suggestions for families who are struggling with an addicted family member is first, educate yourself about the disease of addiction. Whenever our loved ones are really sick, we insist on a Doctor’s visit in order to diagnose the problem. If you’re like me, when a serious diagnosis is made like diabetes or cancer, you begin to read everything you can about the disease, so you know not only what you’re up against. You learn about treatment methods, how to take care of your loved one’s overall health, and prevention methods, so their chances of recovery are greatly improved. Why should substance abuse addiction be any different in our quest for answers?

Secondly, learn to act, not react.  The Center for Motivational Change has a publication called the 20-minute guide. In this guide, you learn how to communicate in a more positive approach with your child. (Now if you’re skeptical about being positive in this frustrating, mind-boggling, uncontrollable situation, so was this parent.)

I was made a believer in the Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) communication method when I saw results in my own children’s lives.

Thirdly, make time to take care of yourself as well.  We as parents tend to neglect our own mental health needs in the midst of all this turmoil. I was so focused on my children that I could not see the toll this was taking on my own health and wellbeing and soon developed post-traumatic stress syndrome from the constant chaos and stress.

How could I give my child the best possible advice and help when I was falling apart inside? I sought treatment and began the process of getting myself healthy and in return could make healthier decisions concerning my child. Self-care is a critical and must not be neglected.

What is your vision going forward?

My personal vision is that addiction will be seen and understood as a disease that must be addressed with quality treatment and which is readily available for anyone who needs it.  Families must receive support services in order to effectively help their addicted loved one and themselves. I envision a time when substance abuse families are welcomed and appreciated in the treatment and recovery process and to see family involvement embedded in the treatment plans of individual and families valued at the system tables at the program, practice and policy levels.

To see parents and family members unite with “one voice” creating positive change in substance abuse treatment, education, legislation, and policy is a vision I want to see become a reality in my lifetime.

 Sharon LeGore is the founder and president of MOMSTELL, Inc. a parent advocacy organization she formed after the drug overdose death of her 18-year-old daughter Angela. She created the MOMSTELL website to expand the reach of joining concerned parents, family members, and loved ones together to educate, support and unite everyone impacted by substance abuse/co-occurring issues as well as improving drug treatment, education, legislation, and policy issues.

Did you like this article? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below and share the interview on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.  Also, if you need to contact me, please feel free to use the contact form or e-mail me directly at (cathy@cathytaughinbaugh.com) Don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know how I can help you.

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Are you feeling anxious your child might relapse now that he is sober?

Know you are not alone. Many parents are of course thrilled that their child has decided to change his or her life. Yet those first few weeks, months, and even years can be uncertain for all involved.

Parents can do a great deal to help their child overcome their misuse of drugs or alcohol. They can also do a lot of harm if parents are not ready to help support their child’s recovery in a positive way.

I’m a big proponent of staying in treatment and sober living for as long as possible. Ninety days is more helpful than thirty when it comes to treatment. Three, six or even twelve months of living in a sober living home can help internalize the change your child is trying to make.

Whether your child is living at home, in their own apartment, or in a sober home, your approach can go a long way towards helping your child stay healthy.

For your child, there are many pressures to consider including old friends, familiar stomping grounds or toxic communication between family members.

For parents, the anxiety and worry that your child might relapse can feel overwhelming. It is helpful to learn all you can about how to best support your child while they are making this important change in their life. Everyone will feel more hopeful and positive.

Relapse is hard, yet many have relapsed and come back to embrace long-term recovery.

Dr. Robert Meyers says, “When they relapse, let’s not condemn them because they had one or two days where they went backward. Let’s start all over again and keep that positive attitude.”

Here are some ideas on how you can best support your child in a positive way.

1. Let Go of Obsessive Thinking

Obsessive thinking involves a lot of “what if” thinking. What if he relapses, loses his job again, or he has to go back to treatment? What if she never wants to quit? This type of thinking is fear of the future. None of us know what the future will bring.

In my experience, the future has rarely lived up to what I worried about. If something dramatic happens it’s been a surprise. Since we can’t predict the future, obsessive worrying, while understandable isn’t a good use of your energy.

According to counselor, Pat Aussum, “Catch yourself when you drift into “what if” thinking territory. Pull yourself back to the present. In the present moment, what is happening? Remember, the situation can change on a dime. There are many paths to recovery – perhaps, not in the straight line you would wish for, but it happens all the time.”

2. Tackle Your Anxiety

You may feel calmer now that your child is in recovery. You may, also find yourself continuing to feel anxious that your child will relapse.

It is impossible to never worry yet allowing your worry to overwhelm your day is not helpful. It also reflects on your child. She will feel your worry and take it as a lack of confidence.

Stay as positive, calm, and hopeful as possible. It will help you both continue on the journey to healthier living.

Here are some tips from SMART Recovery.

Tackle your anxiety when those negative thoughts continue to linger.

  • Call someone you trust. Let them know that your anxiety has gotten the best of you and that you need their support. That may mean asking them to stay on the line with you until you’ve worked through your symptoms, or coming over to keep you company and help you put your mind at ease.
  • Do something physical. Take a brisk walk, go up and down the stairs, or do some jumping jacks. Give your body a way to use up some of the excess energy.
  • Distract yourself – try an adult coloring book, knit, crochet, or draw. Repetitive activities, like meditation, can have a calming effect.
  • Go somewhere safe and quiet. Challenge yourself to have a full-blown anxiety attack. Many people find that challenging themselves to have an anxiety attack actually has the opposite effect.
  • Deep breathing can help. One popular method is belly breathing. Lie on your back and breathe in through your nose, watching your belly rise as you inhale. Hold your breath for a few seconds then exhale deeply, through your mouth. Watch your belly fall as you exhale. Repeat until you notice yourself feeling more relaxed. Singing can also regulate your breathing if you find yourself starting to hyperventilate.
  • Write it down. Getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper can be helpful. This could be making a to-do list to organize your thoughts if your mind is racing and it’s hard to focus. Or write in a journal to express what is bothering you.
  • Focus on things you can control and take action. Pick out your clothes for the week. Plan your meals for the next couple of days. Organize your desk. Taking care of small things empowers you to take charge when it comes to larger tasks.
3. Encourage Aftercare

Sober living is a wonderful support system for someone in early recovery. If your child is finishing up his treatment program, ask the counselors to recommend a sober living home. Some programs suggest being at least three hours from home to minimize triggers from the past as much as possible.

Sober living is a nice way to ease back into real life. My daughter was in sober living for six months. One of the requirements was that the girls were either going to college or working part-time. They had weekly meetings with only the house members and the normal curfews as well as rules like no young men in the house.

Sober living can be a safe, supportive place for your child to feel more confident. She will be more prepared and ready to face the pressures of the outside world. It’s not easy for anyone to stay sober, but particularly for young people. It’s awkward to be the only one not drinking. Having a group of housemates on the same path can make the difference in your child’s ability to stay sober.

Aftercare can also include meeting with a counselor, a recovery coach or regular meeting attendance. Other things that help are regular exercise and eating healthy food. The key is having a support plan that feels doable.

4. Don’t Try to Manage Your Child’s Recovery

Remember this is your child’s recovery, not yours. It may ease your anxiety to remind your child about attending meetings, going to their counselor or looking for a job.

Yet, over involvement in someone else’s recovery is not helpful. Living at home can sometimes work. However, if your child is in a sober living home you won’t be so tempted to get involved in monitoring your child’s recovery process.

Although you are trying to encourage and support your child by reminding him to stay in recovery, he may begin to feel rebellious. This leads to tension which is not what you want when someone is trying to recover. Patience is needed during this sensitive time. Give your child the space to find his way so that he is motivated to change.

Instead of reminders, notice what your child is doing well. If you do see him often, try and acknowledge his hard work in creating change. This is a great time for rewards as well. Gift cards, special dinners, or a fun outing can all be rewards for your child’s efforts to live a healthier life. When you are making positive comments, it also helps you keep a more hopeful frame of mind.

5. Consider Possible Triggers to Relapse

Unfortunately, relapse is sometimes part of addiction recovery. 

This process of considering what triggers could get in the way of your child’s recovery is helpful so that you can be supportive. You may want to share this with your child too.

Here are six questions to consider in case a relapse should happen from Dr. Carrie Wilken’s article, “Finding Your Way Through a Relapse.” 

Questions to Ask Yourself:

  • What were the internal (e.g., thoughts and feelings) triggers that contributed to a return to old behaviors? For example, were you feeling lonely because you avoided friends who were continuing to use? Were you struggling with critical thoughts about your ability to make a change at all?
  • What were the external triggers (e.g., stress at work, fighting with a friend, or financial worries) that contributed to a return to old behavior patterns?
  • Once you have identified the triggers, try to identify ones that could be changed or avoided.
  • Think about the plan for change you had before the relapse, was it specific enough? And if you had a plan, did you carry it out or just think about it.
  • Was there something unexpectedly hard that happened? Something you did not see coming or anticipate as a problem.
  • While you were trying to make changes, what were the biggest problems you faced?
6. Brainstorm Options

What can help with the obsessive thinking or anxiety is to have a Plan B in case relapse should occur. This plan can remain flexible yet having a plan in mind may help you feel less worried. Consider all the options that could be put in place if your child relapses.

He could go to detox and reenter a treatment program if the relapse is severe. If it is more of a slip, and your child is ready to get back to recovery, he could gather support around him. A counselor, recovery coach, or a sponsor can help with supporting your child’s recovery.

While it is frustrating and painful, relapse can often be a bump in the road.  With a few small steps, your child can get back on their recovery path.

7. Practice Gratitude

Rather than looking back, have gratitude for what your child has accomplished. Gratitude allows you to continue taking baby steps forward to living in a positive healthy way.

It takes courage to live in recovery. Every day, your child must make the choice to lead a new life without the crutch of their drug or alcohol use.

Celebrate the steps that your child has taken to change their life. Encourage them to continue on their recovery path. You will have a more optimistic outlook when you are grateful for how far they’ve come.

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It can be hard to forgive your child for the damage caused by their substance use.

An apology is always nice to hear.

It can help wipe the slate clean so that you can move on.

When I look back at the twelve years my child has been in recovery; I’m not sure I remember a clear apology from her.

We did our regrets and requests at our treatment center’s parent weekend. She mentioned her feelings then. She said she didn’t want her mom to cry anymore about her drug use. That was nice to hear that she cared about my feelings.

But, I don’t ever remember hearing a clear, “I’m sorry.” If I did, it wasn’t memorable.

What has been memorable, though, is seeing how she lives her life now.

Recently I’ve talked to a few moms who are feeling impatient.

Their child is in early recovery. Their child has not apologized.

“We’ve done so much for him. We’ve put up with the drug use, lying, sleepless nights, worry, and chaos. He is finally in early recovery. Where is the apology? I’m waiting for him to tell me he’s sorry,” said one mom who had struggled with her son’s addiction for years.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a tricky thing.

Forgiving your child can be challenging, especially when there is no apology.

On top of that, you may still be having trouble forgiving yourself.

There is plenty of blame to go around when you are dealing with addiction.

But there never seems to be enough forgiveness.

Whether you get an apology or not, if your child stays on their path in recovery, forgiving him may not be the hardest part.

Forgiving yourself is where you may struggle. 

Underneath it all, you know there is a payoff for not forgiving.

You can allow yourself to feel miserable and blame it on others.

Subconsciously, you may want others to take responsibility for your happiness.

A study at the University of Wisconsin found that the more forgiving people were, the less they suffered from a wide range of illnesses. People who were less forgiving reported a higher number of health problems.

Research conducted by Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University found that people who are taught how to forgive become less angry, feel less hurt, and are more optimistic. They are more forgiving in a variety of situations. They also are more compassionate and self-confident. Dr. Luskin’s study showed a reduction in the experience of stress, physical manifestations of stress, and an increase in vitality.

“I Hereby Forgive”

Forgiveness is taught in most religions. In Judaism, according to Dalia Marx in her article, “Wrestling with Forgiveness,” a poem “I Hereby Forgive” was added to the beginning of the Bedtime Sh’ma which is a prayer recited before going to sleep.

I hereby forgive anyone 
who angered or annoyed me
or who sinned against me,
whether against my body, my property,
my honor, or anything of mine;
whether they did so unwillingly,
willfully, carelessly, or deliberately;
whether through speech or action…
And may no one be punished
on my account.

In Buddhism, forgiveness is seen as a practice to prevent harmful thoughts from causing havoc to one’s mental well-being. Buddhism recognizes that feelings of hatred and ill-will leave a lasting effect on our mental karma.

C.S. Lewis reminds us that “To be a Christian means to forgive the unexcusable, because God has forgiven the unexcusable in you.”

For our kids, an apology can be hard to give.

The pain is overwhelming. The shame is crippling. Time may be what is needed before an apology can come forth.

When you see the pink cheeks and sparkling eyes of your healthier child, feel gratitude. When you see their smile and their sense of hope return, allow your forgiveness to flow.

It is important to forgive your struggling child for the pain they have caused you. It is also important to forgive yourself.

Permit yourself to let go of the guilt you feel for all the mistakes that you made. Once you forgive yourself, you’ll be lighter and more capable of transformation.

It will make it that much easier to forgive your child.

It would be nice to get a clear apology from our kids early in their recovery. Some do tell their parents how sorry they are for the misery they caused them. Others need to wait until they are ready.

Timing is everything when it comes to apologies and forgiveness.

According to Chuck Fenigstein, an addiction counselor at The Sundance Center in Arizona,

“When you’re asking for forgiveness, it’s for you; it’s not to get it from the other person — that’s really the core. While timing is important — asking for forgiveness too early or too late can hurt people even more — “you’re doing this for you so that you can clean up the past and learn from it and not have to live there.”

Sometimes our kids send letters from their treatment center. Words of apology are said that sound sincere. And sometimes they are. Other times they have been expressed too soon.

Ryan Howes, a professor at the Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, California, and writer of Psychology Today’s “In Therapy” column, regularly counsels those with addiction issues. He applies what he calls a “forgiveness model” that is made up of the four elements of forgiveness (as he sees them): expressing the emotion, understanding why, rebuilding safety, and letting go.

“The extra hurdle for addicts has to deal with the first element, expressing the emotion,” he says. “I find that emotions are very challenging for people who are addicted. In order for someone to forgive, whether themselves or [another], they have to come to terms with the fact that, ‘I’m going to have to feel something here.’ That’s very hard work.”

My daughter will never forget the past. Neither will I. Her drug use was one of the most challenging times in our lives.

And yet, I’m okay without a clear apology. My daughter has expressed her regrets in other ways. I have what I need.

While there are still moments when I struggle to forgive myself, I do forgive my daughter.

I know forgiving her has set me free.

Whether your child has given you a clear apology or not, live each day to the best of your ability. Choose to lift up yourself but also family and friends as well.

You will begin to understand the power of forgiveness in your life.

So, I hope one day, an apology does come from your child if you are still waiting.

It may come. Or it may not.

Either way, I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive your child.

The best apology you can hope to receive is your child’s changed behavior.

That will be the sincerest apology of all.

If you are having a hard time forgiving your child or yourself, apply for a Breakthrough Session. It will help you gain more clarity on your situation. You will gain tools to let go of what is keeping you stuck so that you can feel better.

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My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give. He believed in me. ~ Jim Valvano

This coming Sunday is Father’s Day.

It’s the day we remember our dads.

For some, Father’s Day is bittersweet because of their child’s substance use.

Today, I’m featuring some great dads who have taken the devastation they experienced with their child’s addiction and are using it for good. They have made it their mission to spread awareness about the dangers of drug use. They are giving back to make life a better place for those coming after.

There is so much work to be done and these dads are helping to pave the way.

Here are 11 amazing fathers who have stepped up to take on addiction.

David Cooke

As a dad who believed he could fix anything, I felt more like a failure every time my son fell deeper into his addiction. It nearly destroyed me. Fortunately, in the midst of my brokenness, I realized I wasn’t doing anyone, including me, any good.

Hopefully, there will be a day when your child finds their way back; so you can celebrate their success and be there for them. However, if you allow their addiction to destroy you, there will be nothing left for them to hang on to when they need you the most.

The best gift you can give, besides your unconditional love, is to be strong for them when they are present, and stronger for yourself when they are not!

David Cooke is the founder of 100 Pedals, Recovery for Parents of Addicts, which is a non-profit resource for moms and dads and other family members.  

Dave Humes

“First save the life. Where there is life, there is hope.”

My son, Greg, relapsed after seventeen months of sobriety. In his new-found sobriety, he was doing everything right in his life. Greg was in regular contact with my wife, Gail, and me. He was working. Greg was getting in shape for a ‘mud ruckus’ for MS. He was doing community service. One night he ran into some of his old running mates. The strength of the disease raised its ugly head and his relapse cost him his life.

In the aftermath of Greg’s death, the investigating detective said to me, “If we had a 911 Good Samaritan Law or a Narcan Law, your son might very well be alive today.” After the shock of his unnecessary death, I made a vow to Greg that I would somehow save a life in his name. The words of the detective were like that song that gets stuck in your brain, words I live with every day.

And sometimes you get lucky. I had some conversations with David Sheff. I worked as a parent advocate with Gary Mendell. I was partnered with two wonderful people, Jeanne & Don Keister, who founded atTAcK addiction, a truly grass roots advocacy group in Delaware. I am very proud to say that by working with all of these selfless advocates, we have instituted 911 Good Samaritan laws and Naloxone laws in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Florida, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

My vow to my son, Greg, has been honored. A life saved in his name. And now I’ve gotten greedy. More lives saved. We continue to battle the public health crisis of the 21st century, over 550,000 lives unnecessarily lost.

On Father’s Day, it will be a day of “Saudade” – the joy of spending it with my son, Dave, and the sadness and emptiness because Greg is not with us.

Dave Humes is a board member of atTAcK addiction, a truly grass roots advocacy group in Delaware. Upon the death of his son, Greg, he closed his business in order to make a difference in the lives of those struggling with addiction and their loved ones.

David Sheff

Research says that most likely your child is going to be OK. In the middle of it, you don’t believe it, but it’s true. Of course, there are no guarantees, this disease is life threatening, so we have to take it seriously.  Most young people who become addicted will be OK.  That is the first thing to know.

The second thing to know is that it is so stressful that it can cause lives to crumble. Parents get divorced, and families explode, so we need to get help by going to therapy or going to Al-Anon meetings or whatever support is helpful. The hopeful part is that when you do have that help, you will feel better. It still doesn’t make this easy. Nothing makes this easy, but you can help yourself by making better decisions.  You can reduce your suffering considerably.

There is also hope that as this field progresses, we are going to learn more about why people use and how to stop them from using the first place, why drug use escalates and how we can stop it before it gets to be a serious addiction. And when it does escalate, to better understand what addiction is and how we can better treat it.

David Sheff is a journalist and New York Times best-selling author. His books on addiction include Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction and Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy.

Dean Dauphinais

Stay calm. This is something that will likely take some practice for most people (myself included). No matter how much anger you feel toward your loved one and their substance abuse problem, losing your cool and yelling at them will not make anything better.

In fact, it’s likely to make things worse. Believe me; I was anything but calm early on in my son’s addiction. I have since learned that cooler heads definitely prevail.

Work on your own recovery. So many parents and loved ones of people with addictions don’t realize that their own recovery is just as important as the addict’s. In fact, it might be more important. If you are a physical/emotional wreck, you will be unable to help your loved one in any positive way. Instead of one healthy person being available to help one sick person, there ends up being two sick people, neither of whom can help the other.

To paraphrase David Sheff, don’t become addicted to your loved one’s addiction. And know this: You. Can. Get. Through. It.

Dean Dauphinais is the author of the blog My Life As 3D, a Parent Coach for the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, and a former Lead Advocate for Heroes in Recovery.

Shatterproof PSA - YouTube

Gary Mendell

If I can give you one piece of advice, show empathy towards your loved one. They have a disease no different than any other physical disease like cancer or diabetes.

Because of stigma, doctors aren’t treating it. Researchers aren’t getting enough money for research. People who are addicted will not seek treatment.

Most of the time it is because they are afraid of family, friends, and coworkers finding out about it. If you had asked me how many fathers in my small town had a son who was addicted, I would’ve raised my hand and said, “I’m one of the few.”

But I’ve learned that there are 25 million Americans today that are actively addicted. That’s one-quarter of American families.” Our teens, our youth, and all our loved ones are dying in communities all across America, not just inner cities.

This is a huge epidemic around this country (Business Insider).

Gary Mendell is the founder, Chairman, and CEO of Shatterproof. After losing his son Brian to addiction in 2011, Gary founded Shatterproof to spare other families the tragedy he has suffered. 

Herby Bell

My best advice is to learn how to get in touch with their own intuition. The answers are inside if we create a process for ourselves to be introspective. Let’s examine how we view our lives and start the education process very early on. This is an intergenerational, family legacy, multi-factorial problem, including a genetic predisposition. It requires a holistic, integrated approach.

Education, education, education.

Open up and start the conversation. Let’s get addiction out of the closet and turn over every stone we possibly can because there are different strokes for different folks.

I love the concept of rehab, but now let’s get prehab and let’s get posthab. Let’s make it a part of our culture early on in our educational system so that we can prevent a lot of this very expensive treatment. We can find a way to offer continued–aftercare–much like diabetes or heart disease. Ultimately, that will abate a lot of very expensive relapse episodes and recidivism in our prison systems.

It can be more robust; it can be spread out more in the culture. We like to say, “Let’s have the addiction treatment community be the entire community from the beat cop, to the teacher, to my brother.” Everybody can get up to speed on this because addiction touches all of us, one way or another.

Herby Bell, D.C., D.A.C.A.C.D(c) has been a practicing chiropractor for over 30 years. He is currently in private practice at Recovery Health Care in Redwood City, CA where he specializes in individuals with addictions. Herby also lectures at The Sequoia Center, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Redwood City and he produced a podcast entitled, Sober Conversations (iTunes) exploring sober and wellness lifestyles.

Facing Addiction in America - A National Summit, Closing Remarks - YouTube

Jim Hood

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Trade your expectations for appreciation and your whole world changes in an instant. ~ Tony Robbins

There is plenty of information available about helping a struggling child when they live at home or close by.

Yet, there isn’t as much information on what to do if your adult child does not live in your home or even in your town.

It creates an even greater dilemma when you have concerns that your child may be using substances or caught up in a full-blown addiction.

Some adults maintain good contact no matter what is going on in their life. Yet, many parents find their children tend to call less often when they live far away and are struggling with substances.

I remember having this discussion with my daughter soon after she was in recovery. She reminded me that when you are using drugs your life is a mess. You don’t have anything positive to say.

You want to avoid phone calls with your parents. Questions will be asked that you don’t have the answers to. Then again, you may have answers, but they are not the ones your parents want to hear. So it’s easier not to answer or respond to their calls.

If your young adult child decides not to answer phone calls or texts, it can be painful and worrisome.  The lack of contact creates more anxiety. It can turn into resentment, anger, and sadness.

I like the Community Reinforcement and Family Training, or CRAFT approach. It works well for those families whose children live in the home or in the same town. They have an opportunity to use the positive communication strategies. They also have more contact with their child.

CRAFT can also help with a young adult child who lives far away. There will not be as much opportunity for interaction.

If you feel that you are losing contact with your young adult child, here are 4 ways to reconnect:

1. Positive Phone Calls.

It is tempting to want to help your child change their substance use habits. It’s going to prove more challenging if you don’t have regular contact with them. Your first task is to find ways to reconnect with your adult child in a positive way.

Nagging, arguing, or lecturing is not going to get your child interested in talking with you. The goal at this point is to find ways to reconnect so your child. It will help if you both experience a positive, supportive call.

It is understandable that you want to address the substance use issue. You can’t do that unless you are having conversations where both parties are engaged.

A starting point is having a more positive conversation with your child. You will have a greater chance of rekindling your relationship.

If you are finding that your child doesn’t respond to your calls, don’t bombard them with phone messages. Call them once or twice a week at the most. If they don’t pick up, you can choose to leave a message or not.

My experience has been that it can be helpful not to leave a message unless of course, it is an emergency. Your child’s curiosity may prompt him or her to call you back. But don’t expect it to happen immediately.

2. Send a Text message.

Another approach is to send one positive text message a week. Don’t expect a response. These days, it seems that some young adults prefer texting over talking on the phone.

Make your texts positive and brief, such as,

“I’m thinking about you. Hope you are having a good day. Love, Mom”

“Thought I would reach out. I love you, son. Dad.”

Again, depending on your child’s situation, don’t expect an immediate response. You are trying to let your child know you are there for them when they are ready.

As time goes on, if your child begins to trust that you only want to offer positive support, they may be more willing to reconnect with you.

Again, don’t bombard your child with texts. Don’t send a negative text if they don’t respond. It is understandable that the silence is upsetting. Staying positive will give you a better chance that your child will be willing to text you back.

3. Schedule a visit.

Being able to see your child for yourself so you know what kind of shape they are in, is always a good idea. You may not know where their child lives. Yet, if it is possible, a visit can sometimes be the turning point for your child.

I remember flying back to Colorado because I was so concerned about my daughter. We were in contact, but not as often as I would have liked. During the visit, I finally understood what was going on with her drug use. That conversation was the beginning of change for her. She made the decision to take a flight home and address the issue.

Another mom I know flew out to see her son who had been homeless for a couple of years in the Pacific Northwest. The worry and concern were getting to her. She had decided that the tough love approach wasn’t the answer. Because of that trip, she was able to bring her son home. He is continuing his recovery now a couple of years later.

Call or text your child and let them know you would like to come out for a visit. If you have some positive interactions, you will have more of a chance that they will be open to seeing you.

You may be tempted to let your child know how much they have hurt you. That extra burden of knowing they’ve hurt you will not inspire them to want to get help.

Come from a place of compassion and concern for your child’s well-being.

4. Get your own needs met first.

In my interview with Tina Gilbert, author of Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children, she discusses the importance of getting your own needs met.

“If you’re coming from a place of unmet needs, you won’t feel strong and good about yourself. From that place, you can’t deal with any relationship problem effectively.

Every harsh word, every unreturned phone call or email, will activate more self-criticism, shame, and misery.

If estrangement becomes entrenched, you’re going to need inner resources to stay calm and centered for the long haul. Rewards may be few and far between for a long while.

Trying to survive this without having your emotional needs met is like trying to cross the desert without water. Not a good idea.”

If your adult child is struggling with drugs or alcohol, and your communication with them is limited, use the time to work on yourself.

The good news is that most parent-child estrangement is usually temporary. Most people do recover from their substance use. But your young adult’s drug use is not something you want to take lightly. It is easy to get sucked into the negative cycle of the situation. It is more helpful to stay positive and optimistic.

Find productive ways to communicate with your adult child. It will you a better chance of reestablishing your connection with your child. That may motivate them to live a healthier lifestyle.

What has been your experience with an estranged child?

Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week!

Explore some strategies with me to help you bridge the gap between where you are with your struggling child and where you want to be in a Breakthrough Session.
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Do you have hope?

I know that hope has kept me going in the darkest of times.

We hear “Don’t give up hope,” or “There is always hope.”

These are the words that can give you the incentive to hang on a little longer when you are feeling stuck.

Hope gives you the strength to keep moving forward.

The definition of hope is:

  • a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen
  • a person or thing that may help or save someone
  • grounds for believing that something good may happen

You cannot control every aspect of the future. Yet, hope gives you room to believe things will get better.

Recovery

When you enter addiction world, one of the words you hear most often is recovery.

It’s where we all want our kids to end up.

For some recovery can feel just out of reach.

For other others, recovery is progress, yet it still feels rocky.

Millions have found their way into recovery. Unfortunately, we don’t hear from them as often as we’d like because of the stigma and shame.

Yet, they are there, leading the way.

Here are 17 awe-inspiring quotes to help you move forward with hope and grace.  I hope they inspire you!

“When the world says, ‘Give up,’ Hope whispers, ‘Try it one more time.’ “~ Author Unknown

1.”Every day I make the choice not to drink, the choice to be present in every moment, even the difficult ones. And every night I thank God for another day of sobriety. I do not take it for granted. Not now, when I have seen how quickly everything good about my life can dissolve in a glass of wine, never to be recovered. I am responsible for my own sobriety, and my own happiness. I cannot expect other people to fix my problems, or blame them when things go wrong. Learning that lesson has helped me take ownership of my own life again. It’s not perfect, it’s something really hard. But it’s mine, and it’s up to me to make the most of it, and there is so much to be so thankful for. ~ Elizabeth Vargas, author of Between Breaths

2. “Continue to support each other, listen to each other, care about each other. Keep fighting the fight for everyone’s children.” ~ Anita Devlin, author of S.O.B.E.R.

3. “Our conclusion, based on the research I have described as well as other studies conducted over the past years, is that CRAFT truly represents a new, effective means of helping people just like you improve the quality of their lives–by developing  meaningful self-care and seeing their loved ones get the help they need to live more fully.” ~ Robert Meyers, Ph.D., author of Get Your Loved One Sober

4. “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.” ~ Anne Lamott

5. “At the end of the day, our recovery must be based not on shame or perfectionism or the need to impress others, but on our willingness to be kind to ourselves.” ~ Erica Spiegelman, author of Rewired.

6. “Internally, I have also experienced a tremendous transformation, which took many years and included some seemingly sudden shifts–from resistance and fear to openness and presence. And, the greatest paradox is, once I released the expectation that I needed my outer life to look a certain way in order to be OK. my outer life started to manifest with a greater abundance than ever before. Once I surrendered my egoic structure (the old beliefs that kept me feeling stuck and limited) and became clear on my inner purpose, my outer circumstances aligned with my inner knowing. Life seems to work that way. My experience has shown me that when we do our inner work of awakening when we learn to flow with life instead of resisting it, we can enter into a life filled with love, gratitude, and joy.” ~ TJ Woodward, author of Conscious Being

7. “God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us – in the dreariest and most dreaded moments – can see a possibility of hope.” ~ Maya Angelou

8. “When I first got sober I thought that life was over and that I was going to be restricted to the rooms of A.A. forever. I was convinced that sobriety was a prison and I was to serve a life sentence. I was wrong about that and I was wrong about A.A. Recovery has been absolutely and completely expansive, every day bigger, better, and brighter. I have been granted a life beyond my wildest expectations.”  ~ Kristina Wandzilak, author of The Lost Years

9. “It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.”  ~ Richard Evans

10. “Finally, I realized as long as I held on to all of that hurt pain and anger I was not going to move forward, even though he was moving forward. When I was sure I wanted to get better I told my son I was proud of him, I believed in him and I wanted the past to be in the past. That’s how I was able to let go. I had to face my fear (my son) man to man.”  ~ Ron Grover of An Addict in Our Son’s Bedroom

11. “Walk on with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone”  ~ Shah Rukh Khan

12. “Contentment happens when we feel valued, connected, and loved. This is what makes life worth living; this is what drives us to thrive as infants, children, adolescents, and as adults. we want these feelings for our children and ourselves.” ~  Brad M. Reedy, Ph.D., author of The Journey of the Heroic Parent

13. “A whole stack of memories never equal one little hope.” ~ Charles M. Schultz

14. “Hopeful thinking can get  you out of your fear zone and into your appreciation zone.” ~ Martha Beck

15. “You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” ~ Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

16. “I was once a hopeless addict whose life has been interrupted by a Higher Power.  My life was transformed by surrendering to the principles of The 12-Steps, which has led to a life that is devoted to the practice of meditation and service to others.”  ~ Tom Catton, author of The Mindful Addict

17. “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’…”  ~ Alfred Tennyson

18. “Working with people who are in the throws of their disease keeps me in touch with how far I’ve gone and how much I don’t want to go back. I now know much more about the risks and about what I’d be doing to myself were I to take them. I don’t want to kill additional neurons, and I sure as hell don’t want to go through 2 more years of hell trying to put my life in order. I’ve never tried speed again since the day I quit in 2002 because I can’t say that I’m sure of what would happen next, and I don’t want to find out in case it’s bad… This is why I believe that education is one of our best weapons in the battle against addiction.”   ~ Dr. Adi Jaffe of All About Addiction

19. “No matter how dark the moment, love and hope are always possible.” ~ George Chakiris

20. “As crazy as this may sound, I would say to almost anyone: Consider that relapse might happen, and then plan what to do if or when it does. After a relapse, the person should call a friend who is also in recovery and get right back to doing what is needed to avoid it in the future. Learn from it.” ~ Joe Herzanek, author of Why Don’t They Just Quit?

21. “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sing the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.” ~ Emily Dickinson

22.”After three years of sobriety, my son’s growth is evident. He laughs more easily, he watches more calmly and he protects himself better. He knows where he hurts and he pays attention to what is coming. He’s more reflective, thoughtful, less impulsive and more honest. He has good friends. Part of my son died with the addiction, but the son I know is still here. Suffice it to say that he is becoming a strong and caring man. He is finding his way back to himself. ” ~ Libby Cataldi, author of Stay Close: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction

23. “All it takes is one bloom of hope to make a spiritual garden.” ~Terri Guillemets

24. “What’s truly amazing is that I enjoy this life today, and when I was still using, I hated the idea of sobriety. I could not picture myself having fun or being content with this life that I am now living. But somehow I transformed and it did happen.”  ~ Patrick Meninga creator of Spiritual River

25. “Beliefs create reality” ~ Melody Beattie

26. “Why does it help to read others’ stories? It’s not only that misery loves company, because (I learned) misery is too self-absorbed to want much company. Others’ experiences did help with my emotional struggle; reading, I felt a little less crazy. And, like the stories I heard at Al-Anon meetings, others’ writing served as guides in uncharted waters. Thomas Lynch showed me that it is possible to love a child who is lost, possibly forever. ”  ~ David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction

27. “All around me, people are carrying unseen, unbearable, unimaginable burdens. So every day, I look outward, reach outward, with my heart. And I count my lucky stars, of which I still have many.” ~ Sandy Swenson, author of Tending Dandelions

28. “What is broken can be mended. What hurts can be healed. And no matter how hard it gets, the sun will rise again.” ~ Unknown

29. “Just because you can’t see it clearly now, that doesn’t mean things won’t work out for you. Keep going and trust in yourself. This may or may not pan out as you hoped it would, but it’s worth the risk. And no matter what happens, you can handle it, and you will be just fine.” ~ Lori Deschene    

Over to you.

What has helped you or your loved one find their way to recovery? What message sets the tone for their continued recovery?

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Please introduce yourself to those that don’t know you. What made you decide to work in the addiction field? 

Thank you, Cathy. I am in recovery myself. I ended up getting sober pretty young, 54 days before my 21st birthday ironically. That took me on a path of my awakening, my journey toward reconnecting with myself.

I’ve been working in the addiction treatment field for a decade, offering spiritual care. For me, it is a perfect blending of the spiritual path that I’ve experienced. I also use those principles and methods to help people break their addictive cycle. The answer is at some point I knew it was my calling to help other people because of my transformation.

I love your line, “For me, drugs and alcohol were a brilliant strategy that worked well–until they stopped serving me.” Can you share what drove you to use drugs and alcohol and what motivated you to seek recovery?

You’re touching on the fundamental part of conscious recovery. That is I look at drug or alcohol use not as a problem, but as a solution or a strategy to something that feels broken within. In my own life that was what I was experiencing so much disconnection.

I remember when I was a young child and being so open-hearted, so in awe of the world, so connected with myself and others. Then around the age of seven, I remember a sense of closing off, shutting down, like I was building a wall around my heart.

I walked around that way from seven until 13 or 14 when I discovered drugs and alcohol. It helped me at the time. It helped bring some relief that helped allow me to feel kind of comfortable in my own skin.

The issue, of course, is that it’s not a long-term solution. It was a very short-term solution. Then it started causing problems in my life. So that’s the reason that I view addiction through the lens of a solution.

For one thing, it’s much more empowering if someone can get to the place where they recognize, wow, alcohol or drugs is something that did work for a period of time, but now it isn’t serving me so well. That is more empowering. We can start to ask the question if it’s not working so well, what are some of our other options?

You state in Conscious Recovery, “You want to shift your addictive behavior, but you don’t believe you are powerless over it; you don’t want to call yourself an addict, and you don’t understand the need to.” Please explain your philosophy on how a spiritual approach can help a person to break free from addictive behavior. How can people find recovery through other options?

There’s a lot of focus in the addiction treatment and the recovery world on looking for what’s broken. I come in with a slightly different approach. That is the spiritual approach. Rather than looking at what’s broken, can we find that spiritual wholeness that’s underneath?

A lot of times what’s driving addictive behavior is unresolved trauma. There is a sense of spiritual disconnection, and shame. Some of the modalities of treatment end up adding more shame because we’re looking at the person as broken in some way.

I don’t intend conscious recovery to be a stand on its own method. It is something that can help people add to whatever they’re already doing. I recognize there is a physical aspect of addiction and recovery, as well as a mental and emotional.

I’m offering this other possibility here. The reason that I wrote that in the book is because I have worked with so many people, especially younger people that don’t want to identify. They don’t want to label themselves as an addict and alcoholic. They feel labeling themselves brings more shame. We can look at it more through the lens of, it was a strategy that’s no longer working.

This allows the person to have more power. It’s a different approach of not viewing ourselves as power-less. What happens when we start to embrace our power? What happens when we look at the addiction as kind of a low-level search for connection or love?

We can recognize that alcohol and drugs are not serving the person. If they can get to that for themselves, then we can start to look at what it would take to break free from looking outside of ourselves for a solution.

Can you explain how trauma and the fight or flight response play a role in addiction? What message do you have for those using substances to help them cope with trauma in a better way?

Absolutely. It helps to look at a broader definition of trauma. We tend to think of it as something like the loss of a parent or being in a car accident or physical or sexual abuse. And that, of course, that is trauma.

There’s also a broader definition. Do we come into this world as what I call a spiritual being? Young, young children are still very in touch with their emotions. They’re very present. They still can feel very deeply and allow that to pass through them.

We get taught things that are counter to our spiritual wholeness.  This could include competition, scarcity, or not feeling good enough. Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book, The Four Agreements called those events the domestication of the human. I love that because when we domesticate a horse, we call it breaking them or breaking their spirit.

What we know about trauma is that it gets locked in the body. For young people especially, they don’t always have the tools or the support to be able to have an authentic place to share how their experience impacted them. What ends up happening, is there’s a fight or flight response. There’s also a freeze response.

I find that one actually to be so common, especially in younger people, not knowing what to do with the trauma. It ends up getting buried and internalized. As a young person, they end up taking on an identity that there must be something wrong with them.

Often a young person will blame themselves for the trauma. We hear over and over again that there are children and young people who believe it’s their fault their parents got divorced. They might then bring about a sense of brokenness or shame.

Those who are walking around with that kind of shame, that kind of disconnection, ultimately are going to try to find something to bring relief. As we work through the trauma, we create a safe space for authentic sharing. We can begin to dislodge that and then not need some external experience to bring relief.

If a parent walked up to ask for your advice to help their child and you only had a few minutes to give them your best tip, what would it be?

What happens so often is what’s driving the addictive behavior is the disconnection, the trauma, and the shame. What we know about shame is that it thrives in silence and secrecy. A lot of times parents may not want to re-experience those feelings themselves. There’s an idea, well, you know, she seems better.

He seems like he’s worked through it. Why would I bring it up? Why would I re-traumatize? The number one thing is a safe container, a place for your child to be able to be authentic. If it’s a counselor, if it’s a support group, ultimately the way we work with shame is we create a safe space to begin to talk about what the person who has an addiction is experiencing.

That may or may not be the parent. Sometimes it’s about recognizing that as a parent. Maybe you’re not the person that’s going to be able to reach your young person at this point.

Bring in support. Bring in a counselor that the young person can trust. I remember in my own life; when I was in my addiction from age 13 to 20, I wasn’t very open to talking with my parents.

I did have some people in my life that I trusted. I was able to open up to them. One helpful tip would be to bring in some support for the young person. Bring in someone they can relate to. The key here is for them to have a safe place to open up and be able to process what’s happened.

TJ Woodward is a revolutionary recovery specialist, bestselling author, inspirational speaker, and awakening coach who has helped countless people through his simple, yet powerful teachings. He has offered spiritual care at top-tier, high-end treatment programs for over a decade and has created full-scale spiritual care programs at several treatment facilities. 

TJ is the creator of The Conscious Recovery MethodTM, which is a groundbreaking and effective approach to viewing and treating addiction. He also serves as the senior minister and spiritual director of Agape Bay Area in Oakland, which is the first satellite community of The Agape International Spiritual Center in LA.  

TJ published his first book, Conscious BEING: Awakening to Your True Nature in 2015, and his second book, Conscious Recovery: A Fresh Perspective on Addiction was released in December of 2017. Additionally, he is the creator and host of the Awakened Living TV and Awakened Living Radio shows. Learn more about TJ at www.tjwoodward.com.

Image by John Westrock

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Remember, start with your feelings, show understanding and love, and be clear about the circumstances under which you would be open to being together or discussing the problem. ~ Robert J. Meyers, Ph.D.

Robert Meyers, Ph.D. is the author of Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening.

He developed the Community Reinforcement and Family Training or CRAFT approach. He sharing his evidence-based approach that helps families get their loved one into treatment.

I had the honor of attending one of his trainings in Boise a few years back. 

It is clear there are powerful reasons for families to get help for themselves.

Often substance users report that the family influenced their decision to enter treatment. You can, as a parent, influence your child to live a healthier lifestyle. You can motivate your child to let go of or lessen their use of drugs or alcohol.

CRAFT views families as a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to treatment and recovery.

Those of us who have experienced substance use with our kids know that families need help.

Parents are stressed, anxious, and filled with fear.

CRAFT can help families communicate better, learn new ways to behave and solve problems. One of the key factors is that timing is crucial when approaching your child to discuss their substance use issues.

Here are ten basic messages for families:

  1. Family members can help their children or loved one. Research has shown that family members can learn techniques to engage their substance-abusing loved one into treatment or to living a healthier life.
  2. You are not alone. You may feel isolated at the moment with this often overwhelming problem. Unfortunately, many other families also suffer from substance use. The success of these families solving their substance use issues can give you hope for your child.
  3. You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. It is understandable that you feel negative emotions because of your child drug/alcohol use. Yet, it is easier to get your child to listen to you when you talk in a positive manner. Remember what you do love about them. Focus on the positive changes you are interested in seeing.
  4. You can take as many tries as you need to work with your child to help them make better choices. Positive communication improves your relationship and thus helps your child. People can be helped at any time.
  5. Take care of yourself. You can live a happier life when you engage in self-care. It is important whether your child engages in more positive behavior or not. 
  6. When you help yourself, you help your family. You become a positive role model for the rest of your family. Develop your resilience and work on having an upbeat healthy attitude towards life.
  7. Problems have solutions. As a parent or family member, you can be strong and courageous through this process. You did not cause your child’s substance use. Your child did not intend to become a continual abuser of drugs or alcohol.
  8. Every situation is different. Your child may be more interested in changing their behavior if they are presented with more than one option.
  9. Let go of labels. They are not helpful. Using the words addict and/or alcoholic can prevent your child from being willing to seek help.
  10. You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain from getting involved. In fact, you may find that by your conscience involvement and by using the CRAFT approach, you can help your child before they hit rock bottom.

According to Bob Meyers, every person has a choice. It starts with The Three Thing Rule:

Parents so often want to know those words or actions that they can do that will fix the problem. It is important to remember that getting help for your child is not a sprint. It is a marathon. Every small step in a positive direction makes a difference.

When our kids act out because of their use we often respond with hurt, anger, and frustration. It can be exhausting as time goes on.

When you communicate in a more positive way, the conversations can change. They become less exhausting and more fruitful.

It is so important to ask for help when you are struggling with your child’s substance use. When you work together, you feel less alone and you have more options for solutions.

Have patience. Every small step makes a difference. Your child will not change overnight. Remind yourself that change takes time. Keep trying and you will begin to see changes in a positive direction.

The three major goals of CRAFT are to:

  • reduces a person’s harmful substance use.
  • engage the user to be interested in treatment.
  • improve the family emotional and physical health as well as improve their relationships.

There are a number of studies that demonstrated the value of CRAFT. One example is the CRAFT Randomize Drug Study, Meyers, Miller, Smith & Tonigan (2002). This study showed that after only six sessions, the treatment engagement was 59% for those in a CRAFT approach, 77% for those with a CRAFT approach + aftercare [combined 67%] and Al-Nar/FT was a 29%.

53% of the concerned significant others were parents. CRAFT by far was the leader in getting a person into treatment.

On a side note, Al-Anon’s goal is not to get a loved one into treatment. It can be a helpful program for family members who want support.

An unmotivated, resistant problem drinker or drug user can become engaged in treatment with the help of a CRAFT trained parent.

One example is a mom, Debbie, who was very concerned about her child’s marijuana use. Her feelings were very negative to the point of her wanting to kick her son out of the house. After learning more about CRAFT, Debbie remembered some of her son’s positive qualities. He was willing to do chores, help around the house and was kind to his little brother or sister.

Debbie built on her son’s positive qualities using reinforcement. She also used some of the other CRAFT communication skills. She became much more supportive in her approach to her son. Debbie started to see encouraging changes. She had better conversations with her son, spending time listening, as well as giving information.

There is no quick fix when it comes to substance use. You do need to be willing to work with the CRAFT techniques. You may not get it right the first time. Yet, it is worth it to keep trying.

Look for those windows of opportunity. You will feel better and see a positive difference in your loved one. 

CRAFT gives parents and families tools that they can use themselves. It helps communication within the family and makes for a better future for all involved. 

It will help you as a parent feel more calm and happier because now you have tools that you can use.

If you are interested in learning more about CRAFT check out:

Over to you. Do you think CRAFT would be an approach that would help your family? What support do you need as a parent? Let us know in comments.

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Naloxone can be a life-saving drug for someone in an overdose situation from opiates.

Pat Aussem has helped families in New Jersey by creating a much-needed naloxone training.

I’m delighted to share Pat’s interview! She provides information about naloxone as well as the CRAFT approach.

Please welcome Pat Aussem!

For people who don’t know you, could you briefly tell a little bit about yourself and how you became involved with families who have substance abuse issues?

Sure, about 15 years ago or so, my son was struggling with depression. He was diagnosed with ADHD, and was having some difficulties with school. My husband and I realized that he was very depressed, so we started taking him to therapy.

It wasn’t long after that before I realized he was also smoking pot. His use escalated. So did our treatment protocol. We went from individual therapy to an outpatient program. He then attended a residential treatment program where he spent almost four months.

When he was discharged, we realized that we had to help him change so many aspects of his life to sustain his recovery. We worked hard at finding a different school, different friends for him to socialize with, and different activities. For a 16-year-old that is  hard to do.

There was the prom, the weekend parties, the football games. They would have been toxic for him. I didn’t know anything about addiction at the time, or what recovery entails. I spent a lot of time getting educated about it.

As families learned about our experiences they began to call me, much like they call you Cathy, asking, “What did you do? How did you do it? Where did you go for treatment? How did you know what to look for in a treatment program?” and all those sorts of questions.

I started trying to answer them but felt like I didn’t have the training and the knowledge that I needed to do that effectively, or to the degree that I wanted to.

So in 2007, I went back to school and got a Masters in Counseling Psychology. After graduating, I spent the next four years or so working at a psychiatric hospital here in New Jersey. I worked in the detox, rehab, co-occurring disorders, and adolescent units.

I spent my time learning more about substance use and other mental health disorders. I had the intent of trying to help families in particular. That is my passion–helping families. There is so much stigma associated with substance use disorders. Families need support figuring out what to do to get the best treatment available.

I ran into families that could not afford treatment without taking out second mortgages on their homes. Or they were taking money from 401K plans to pay for treatment. If a child had cancer everybody would be doing bake sales. You say “substance abuse” and others give you the cold shoulder.

This has to be different. We have to reduce the stigma and get more funding for research and better treatment. That is why I got into the field.

It is amazing that you have put together a naloxone training for your county which has now spread to other counties in New Jersey. Can you explain what is involved with the training?

It started off as a county program. It has blossomed to five different counties at this point in the state of New Jersey.

It came about because I had been to a county-wide task force meeting dealing with the opiate epidemic. The meeting was all about the actions our county had taken to address the crisis. Our county is actually pretty progressive. They had passed the Good Samaritan Law and the Overdose Prevention Act. Our first responders, our police, and our EMTs would be able to carry naloxone.

I left that meeting thinking “this is great news! The first responders are going to be equipped.” Later, I found out that half of the police departments weren’t carrying it. Of the 63 emergency rescue squads, six of them had it on board, and seven of them were planning on it. The rest weren’t going to for a variety of reasons.

They were concerned about keeping the medication temperature controlled. There was the worry that if someone had overdosed, and if they were revived with naloxone, they would be combative; just all different kinds of reasons. I didn’t think most of them were particularly great.

In any event, it occurred to me that this meant there were a lot of families who were going to be out of luck if their child overdosed.

The family is often the first one there anyway. A friend of mine, Denise Mariano and I set about to create an overdose prevention program with the funding we received from a woman who lost her child to an overdose and the support of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

The program included many different elements. Included were an understanding of addiction, what happens in an overdose, how to recognize the signs, how to administer naloxone, what to do after someone is revived and how a family can help get their loved one into treatment. We also provided families with information on resources including treatment options, funding, and support groups.

How can people become more involved with naloxone training in their state? What are the benefits? Are there any negative outcomes to be aware of when administering naloxone?

There are a couple of different ways to get it. In many states where there is a CVS or Walgreens, you can actually go in and ask for naloxone and get a kit without a prescription. It is over the counter. 

Some of them do training, however, it is kind of spotty. My recommendation for families is to go to a site called Get Naloxone Now.  They have a wonderful animated training program on how to recognize the differences between an overdose and someone who is high and all the steps that are involved in administering Narcan (the brand name) or naloxone. 

It takes you through rescue breathing, what the rescue position is, when to call 911, how to put the nasal spray together, how to use the nasal spray, and the importance of getting emergency help, because there is a possibility that the Narcan can wear off and the person can go back into an overdose state.

There is another website called Hope and Recovery. They have a zip code locator for finding naloxone training. Many organizations around the country have put their information into that website so that you can search on it and find something close by. 

Failing that, I would either call a substance abuse treatment center in the local area or the county mental health administration to ask them if they are aware of any training in the area.  Often there are licensed addiction counselors as well who might be aware of training. The important thing is to get the training. It is very straightforward, and anybody can learn how to do it.

In fact, there are some newer products on the market where that you don’t even have to put the nasal spray together; it comes in an all-in-one piece by Adapt Pharma. 

There is also the auto-injector called Evzio. It is like an EpiPen version of naloxone. There are lots of advancements going on in this field with respect to overdose reversals, but again the most important part is having naloxone and making sure you know how to administer it, and checking the expiration date, as the medication expires after a period of time. 

I want to underscore how important it is to get the training for anyone who is dealing with opiates so that you have accurate information as to what naloxone can and cannot do. In some of the training sessions that I ran, there were people who thought that naloxone was only for heroin. It is important to realize it can help in an overdose of OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet – all opioids, but it will not help if the overdose was caused by another drug.

Since naloxone brings people out of the overdose quickly, is there anything parents need to be aware of? 

The first thing I would say is if I gave you a dose of naloxone right now, all you would have is a wet runny nose, and need a tissue.  So even if you saw someone who was not doing well, and you gave them naloxone, but say they had passed out from alcohol, it is not going to hurt them. This is a very benign drug and there are no apparent side effects in that regard.

In determining that your loved one is overdosing, you want to look for blue lips and fingertips. You want to check for a really depressed breathing rate like less than one breath every five seconds, or a death gargle, and you can’t arouse them. 

If you try to give them a sternum rub with your knuckles on the breastbone or under the nose and they are not responding, you know you have a problem on your hands. An overdose can take a couple of hours to happen, so you may check on somebody and think they are fine, but as time goes by something more dangerous happens. 

The biggest issue in my mind is that naloxone only lasts for 30-90 minutes, so that is the reason a family has to call 911. There is the possibility the person could go back into respiratory arrest. They may need to be hospitalized and need more treatment, so that is something to think about. 

Another consideration is that sometimes a person may need more than one dose. With the naloxone nasal sprays that were provided in our community, families were instructed to give one dose and then wait two to four minutes. If the person was not revived, a second dose was given. 

My understanding is that with fentanyl that is hitting the market, there are instances where you need even more than two doses, so fentanyl can be kind of tricky in terms of how potent it is as a drug. 

Families should know that when a person is revived using Narcan or naloxone, he or she is immediately in withdrawal. They are going to cramp. They are going to feel like they’ve got the flu. They are going to feel like someone hit them over the head with a hammer.  They are going to feel miserable, and sometimes they will say “I’ve got more heroin or pills over there, get them for me.” You don’t want to do that obviously. 

I would encourage every family to have Narcan on hand regardless of whether opiates are being used as prescribed or abused in their household. There are parts of the country where people get a naloxone kit even if their doctor just prescribed Percocet for back pain or something like that, just to make sure if there is a problem, overdose treatment is readily available.

Once someone has been revived, my concern shifts to thinking about how to help that person get into treatment, because we know if someone overdoses once, their risk level for a second overdose seems to go up tremendously. Getting them to treatment is really important.

That brings me to my next question. I know you are an advocate of the CRAFT approach. How does CRAFT benefit teens or young adults and their families in the short and long-term? How can it help them get their child into treatment?

Many families that I have come across sort of dismiss early substance use as typical teen experimentation, although what we are learning about the teenage brain is that it is so critical not to introduce toxic substances until the brain is fully developed, which really doesn’t happen until someone is in their mid-20s. 

I think parents often try to discipline their way out of the problem and when that doesn’t work, they get lots of advice. The advice goes along the lines of letting them hit bottom. “Why don’t you just detach from them and let them figure it out?” “They have to want it.” and “Why are you wasting your time?”

Even when I didn’t know much about this topic, “detach and let them hit bottom” did not resonate with me. I was watching my son struggle tremendously and I felt there had to be a better way. Through my work at The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and The Center for Motivation and Change, I learned about CRAFT – Community Reinforcement and Family Training. 

Not only is it an evidence-based approach, it gives parents the sort of tools that they can use to influence their child in a positive way. It helps with engagement in positive behaviors, so instead of just letting your child fall apart in front of your eyes, and then try to pick up the pieces, it advocates intervening and using the influence that you do have in a strategic way.

Using positive reinforcement to try to engage your child in behaviors that you want to see more of is an example of one of the CRAFT tools. I know in so many households, parents that I talk to are focused on everything negative that the kid is doing. They didn’t show up and do their chores. They were late to work. They were smoking last night.  They were disrespectful.

They don’t focus in any way on what the child is doing right. 

It becomes this kind of nagging, pleading and lecturing situation, hoping you can give them one piece, or nugget of information, so they might stop using, and it doesn’t work. 

The beauty of CRAFT is that there are tools that can help you figure out how to get your child engaged in activities that compete with their drug use. It helps in ways to figure out how to collaborate with your partner if you are not on the same page. It allows other people to be the teacher of life lessons to your child instead of you, meaning letting natural consequences play out.  If they get a ticket from the police, you are not trying to minimize that ticket by saying, “Well, I’ll pay for it this time, but don’t do it again.” Instead ,you let them learn from that lesson. Let them feel the pain of paying the ticket.

All of it is surrounded by what I refer to as “background music,” which are the communication strategies that you can use. The first strategy is really being open to listening to what the benefits of drug use are, which probably sounds strange.

What is your child getting out of using? Is it helping with their boredom, anxiety, or desire to fit in socially? Maybe it gives them a thrill or some sort of excitement. 

It is trying to understand why a child is using drugs and alcohol, and the only way to get at that is to really listen to what your child has to say, instead of nagging and lecturing them. 

Just using different ways to present information, and to recognize and validate how they are feeling, can change the whole dynamic in the family. It increases family cohesion, and in most cases, there is either a reduction of drug use or the person gets into treatment.

The underpinning of all of it is the family’s own self-care, and recognizing that if you don’t take care of yourself, it is really hard to engage in this. Sometimes this journey lasts decades, and you need those resiliency muscles to be really strong to do this and it helps to appreciate your own life and other people in your life instead of solely focusing on your child’s problems. 

CRAFT is a blessing. I’ve met Bob Myers who created it. I know you have too, and I think it’s just a remarkable way to approach someone you love and care about to address a disease, as opposed to thinking this is a moral failing on your loved one’s part. 

In many treatment centers, families are told that they are enabling, they are codependent, and they are contributing to their child’s problem. They are not really letting parents know what else they could be doing other than perhaps going to a support group. On the other hand, CRAFT is a very clear way to use the influence that you have as a parent to address your child’s substance use.

It is interesting because some parents think, “Well you know, now that they are a teenager, or especially if they are over the age of 18, I don’t have any influence.”

But they do.

It needs to be used in a strategic way so that you recognize and reinforce the things that the child is doing right, let natural consequences play out, use problem solving and collaboration, and make requests in a positive way — all of these tools and more are part of the CRAFT package.

It makes a tremendous difference. 

It is really quite remarkable to see the changes in the family and in the individual parents. As you probably know, or have encountered, there are so many parents who say, “I don’t  see my friends anymore because I am sitting at home waiting for the next shoe to drop,” and that is just a horrible place to be.  You feel so isolated and you wonder what you could have done differently.  “I must be a terrible parent. I can’t figure this out.”

I just think CRAFT is a great way to give parents something that is concrete and constructive and actually gets results instead of feeling shame and isolating. 

Finally, what advice do you have for parents who are struggling with their child’s substance abuse?

A couple of things. One is really doing your homework on what your child is using, what the signs of use are, what the side effects are, and things like that so you really know what this particular drug is doing to affect your child. That is really important. 

It is interesting to me that in many cases for parents if their child had a cancer diagnosis, they would be learning everything there is to know about cancer, but with substance misuse or abuse often there is a sort of apathy, or a lack of really digging in and learning about what this does to the brain. What is it doing to their body on a physical level and on an emotional level?

Understand why your child is using and get a sense of why it is important to them. Intervene early and as often as you can because in many cases, it is so much easier for someone to build on a life where they have friends, a job, they are in school, or they have their house rather than waiting for all of that to dissipate and then saying, “We are just going to start from scratch.”

Looking for ways to engage your child in activities that will compete with their drug use is important.

Also getting help from people with addiction credentials is important. I know in my early attempts at trying to help my son I didn’t realize that substance use was part of the picture so when we were turning to therapists and psychiatrists I wasn’t looking for someone that had an addictions background. I now know that this is critical. 

If they are using opiates, definitely get overdose prevention training. Also, I would suggest learning about medication-assisted treatment like the use of Vivitrol, which is a once-monthly injection; and Suboxone; which you can take on a daily basis to help with cravings and to help with preventing overdoses.

The last thing I would say is to really work on your own self-care and social supports as well as finding support groups like yours, because I think you learn so much from your peers who are struggling with this as well. You can get a lot of useful information and feel like you are not alone in this.

No parent should be left behind when it comes to a child struggling with drugs and alcohol, because there is help out there if you just ask.

Patricia Aussem, LPC, MAC, provides counseling services to treat substance use and other mental health disorders based on the CRAFT model. As a consultant to thePartnership for Drug Free Kids, she provides clinical oversight, workshops and training materials for the Parent Support Network, a peer-to-peer coaching service for families negatively impacted by a loved one using substances. For more resources, contact the Partnership or the helpline: 1-855-DRUGFREE.

What are your thoughts about naloxone? How can we train more families to be the first responders? Would the CRAFT approach help your family? Let us know in comments.

If you liked this interview, please share on social media! Thanks.

If you have questions or want more information please reach out, I love to hear from my readers!

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Mother’s Day is this Sunday.

For some moms, it can be a day of joy. For others, it brings up the pain of their child’s loss or struggles.

Twelve years ago, I sat in the reception area of a charming cottage-like home filling out registration information.

My mom was at my side.

“This is such a beautiful house,” she said as she looked around.

On that day, I felt relieved that my mom had no clue where she was. You see, my mom had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Her disease had progressed to the point where she needed constant care.

As bad as I have felt that my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, on that particular day, it was a blessing. My mom did not need to know that I was signing my daughter into a treatment center in southern California.

Also, this would be my daughter’s second rehab. This time she was going to a woman’s program that was made up of two homes next door to each other. The adjoining yards in the backyards flowed into each other. The young women could then easily gather for their group sessions.

I was nervous and uneasy that Mother’s Day. My daughter was staying with my mom and me for a few days before she started her next treatment program. She had come from five weeks of a wilderness program in Utah. She was loving the comforts of a shower and a roof over her head. At the time my mom lived about 15 minutes away from the treatment center.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s Disease, like addiction, is devastating.

It robs a person of their life in every way. My mom lived until age 93. Towards the end she was not able to walk, nor say anything that was coherent.

Spanish was her first language. For several years she spoke a combination of both languages as her mind deteriorated. In the end, she rarely spoke at all.

People often ask me if she recognized me. It was hard to know. I believe she knew I was someone who was connected to her in some way. It is painful to know your mom doesn’t recognize you any longer.

During that time, I felt the effects of being the sandwich generation more than I can describe. I never expected mental health to be an issue with my family. Yet, I was feeling the effects with both my mom and my daughter.

On Mother’s Day that year, I was “sandwiched” between two diseases, addiction and Alzheimer’s.

My daughter has since found recovery. She lives a much happier life today.

My mom passed away from her disease several years ago.

She seemed comfortable and out of pain towards the end. She got through her days with help for her every need. Life continued on for her for about a decade dealing with Alzheimer’s.

I used to stop by and see her sitting in her chair so peaceful and often asleep. I felt as if we had lost her twice.

My mom was spared the news that my daughter needed to go to rehab. That was a blessing which I am grateful for. It would have broken her heart. She wouldn’t have understood why her granddaughter had gotten caught up in drug use.

She would have asked many questions. I would not have had the answers. She would have felt the stigma and the shame.

It sounds selfish, but I was spared the stress of trying to explain my daughter’s substance use to my mom.

My mother… she is beautiful, softened at the edges and tempered with a spine of steel. I want to grow old and be like her.  ~ Jodi Picoult

What I’ve Learned

My mom’s disease, as well as the experience of my daughter’s addiction, reminds me that:

  • Life is short. Enjoy the moments. As the years go by, the moments rush by often before we’ve had a chance to fully appreciate them. 
  • Know that the Alzheimer’s, addiction or any disease can change your life at a moment’s notice. You never know what is in store for you. Appreciate and be grateful for each day of health that you do have.
  • Be ready for the detours. You plan. You expect. Yet, you never really know what life will throw our way. Allow your strength to see you through.
  • If this is a bittersweet Mother’s Day for you, know that there is hope. Life can get better. You can feel happier.
  • Appreciate your parents, mother, father or whoever had a hand in raising you. Most do the best they can. Love them for what they gave you. Appreciate their efforts.
  • Spend some time this Sunday, giving a thank you to that woman who gave birth to you. Where would you be without the love of your mom?

I received this poem one Mother’s Day from my son.

Kites

by Erma Bombeck

I see children as kites.

You spend a lifetime trying to get them off the ground. 

You run with them until you’re both breathless…they crash…

they hit the rooftop…you patch and comfort, adjust and teach.

You watch them lifted by the wind and assure them that someday they’ll fly. 

Finally, they are airborne, they need more string and you keep letting it out. 

But with each twist of the ball of twine, there is a sadness that goes with the joy.

The kite becomes more distant, and you know it won’t be long before that beautiful

creature will snap the lifeline that binds you together and will soar as it is meant to soar, free and alone. 

Only then do you know that your job is done.

More than anything, you want to know that your children are soaring.

You want them to be happy, healthy, and productive.

When your child who is suffering from substance use disorder seeks recovery, you can celebrate.

If you are still in the midst of watching your children use alcohol and drugs to numb his or her pain, Mother’s Day can bring back hopeless feelings.

For those moms who have suffered the devastation of losing their children to addiction, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of what could have been.

Hope is always there, available for all who seek it. Hope gives us the chance to see the possibilities. It is like a hand reaching down that we can hold on to.

Allow happiness in to fill your life. You deserve it.

Here’s to our mothers. Here’s to all of us moms.

Live your life doing what brings you joy. Fill your life with love. Know that you are not alone.

What do you appreciate about your mom? How is Mother’s Day affecting you this year? Let us know in comments.

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