Help For the Family

Unfortunately, you can’t force a loved one to get the help they need. But there are many things you can do to help yourself… and often that can result in needed support for the addicted family member. Here are a few suggestions:

Ask Questions    •     Al Anon   •     Nar Anon   •     Families Anonymous

Celebrate Recovery   •     Parent Support Groups   •     Prayer Groups

Counseling   •     Educate Yourself   •     Attend Open 12-Step Meetings

Nothing changes if nothing changes.  Sometimes when we change what we’re doing, how we’re handling things, others respond differently. In my experience, what we were doing during those years Ted was using wasn’t working — for Ted or for us. I was starved for information and resources.  When I finally found some — the Titanic began to turn. Things got worse before they got better but we had choices.

Why not take advantage of those who have made helping others in alcohol and drug abuse situations their life work?  Why not move alongside those who have walked this path ahead of you?  As I see it, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain.

We tend to isolate isolation

If you are like I was, you want to be alone with this great weight and you hate being alone with this great weight. I felt like I tapped out my friends and didn’t want to go into there with strangers — tried that, sharing inappropriately with people who couldn’t help me. What I didn’t know was that on nearly every corner were people like me who were struggling with ALL the issues I was. They can say, “me too,” and “it can get better,” and “I discovered choices I didn’t know I had.”  Isolation makes us crazy, distorts reality, and compounds the sadness. I highly don’t recommend it.

Ask questions

I like this short Q and A with Dr. Joseph Lee who I heard speak at a Hazelden seminar. He is gentle with those of us who are still in shock that our child — OUR child — is making choices that oppose everything we’ve tried to teach him or her.


Al Anon

When Ted was in treatment, his counselor suggested I go to Al Anon.  I had no idea what it was but I went.  Six years later I keep coming back.  Why? Because Al Anon is a program for the friends and families of those who love alcoholics and drug addicts.  We are often as damaged  as they are.  We go because of the addict, not for the addict.  This is recovery for you.  It’s been a long time since anything was about you hasn’t it?

There are no musts, no shoulds, no have-tos in Al Anon.  In Al Anon I found healing from growing up with an alcoholic father besides the toll Ted’s use took on me.  Al Anon is the gift that keeps on giving.  Try six meetings — not just one.  If you’re in Wisconsin, here are the local meetings. Remember that this is an anonymous fellowship.  If you see someone you know, you’ll keep that to yourself just as they do about seeing you there. I have the greatest friends in the world, but to be in a room with people who knew exactly what it was like to be me was one big exhale.

I can’t legally reprint a great article from an Al Anon pamphlet called, “Three Views of Al-Anon–Alcoholics Speak to the Family”  but you can order it.  “An Open Letter from an Alcoholic.” took me aback when I read it. Al Anon has many truthful pamphlets and other literature that have often been exactly what I needed to hear.  SE Wisconsin has an Al Anon Information Service Center where you can buy literature in person.

Nar Anon

Nar Anon is generally the narcotics version of Al Anon. It is a group for friends and families of addicts. Although you will find many in Al Anon whose family members are not or were not active alcoholics but drug addicts, the principles for recovery are the same. Some feel more comfortable in this context. Here is how it’s described on their website:

The Nar-Anon Family Groups is primarily for those who know or have known a feeling of desperation concerning the addiction problem of someone very near to you. We have traveled that unhappy road too, and found the answer with serenity and peace of mind.

… We hope to give you the assurance that no situation is too difficult and no unhappiness is too great to be overcome.

Here’s how to find a meeting. If you’re a Milwaukeean, a friend of mine likes her group at Martin Luther Church on 92nd and Bluemound.

Families Anonymous


“The I of illness is isolation and the crucial letters in wellness are we.”

An interventionist friend of mine refers many families to Families Anonymous. They describe themselves this way:

Families Anonymous celebrated our 40th Anniversary in 2011.  We were formed in 1971 by a group of concerned parents in California who were seeking ways of dealing with the problem of substance abuse and addiction in their children.  Our members include parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses, significant others, other family members and friends of those with a current, suspected or former drug problem.  We have been one of the best kept secrets in the recovery community, even though we have groups throughout the world.

Here’s where you could find a meeting.

Celebrate Recovery

Started over 20 years ago by Rick Warren at Saddleback Church, CA, (the author of The Purpose-Driven Life), Celebrate Recovery welcomes those with “Hurts, Habits and Hang-ups,” ie: alcoholism, drug addiction, pornography addiction, anger, work, co-dependency, and eating disorders. It’s basically a Christ-centered 12-step program. Here’s the link to a Monday night meeting at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, WI.

There’s a break-out group in Celebrate Recovery for those of us who feel stuck in co-dependency from the effects of another’s addiction.  What is co-dependency? Here’s a good explanation.

Parent support groups

I have been to the CJ Lomas Foundation Parent Support Group in the Milwaukee area.  An addiction counselor and several young adults in recovery from substance addiction join hosts Patti and Charlie Lomas with other parents to find support, exchange information, and gain perspective. Locally in Waukesha County, The Addiction Resource Council has a family support group. Check your local county or city health service website or call to find a similar resource. Red Oak Counseling has a co-dependency group, with a fee. Many of us parents need some help with co-dependency with a struggling child, especially those of us who grew up in alcoholism. Short co-dependency definition; excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction.

Praying parents

“When we work, we work. When we pray – God works.” David Kasali

Throughout my kids’ school years and into college I was a part of a praying moms group. It was sweet and strong. We saw so much happen, so much not happen and so much stop happening those years and we attributed that goodness to prayer.  We spent the hour reminded that when we don’t have power, God does. Ask God to show you a group and then go out and hunt for it.

Counseling for the family

Our oldest son would admit that he didn’t think counseling worked.  Of course he had never tried it, but to him it sounded useless.   Part of Ted’s treatment was family counseling, which we did.  After only a few sessions John said, “Every family should do that.”  Some things came out that had nothing to do with Ted’s addiction and we changed it up.  It was good for all of us.

It really is true that a family member in crisis is a whole family in crisis, including siblings.  Ted said that of all our Impact Letters to him in treatment — about how his addiction had affected us —  his brother John’s was the one that made him break down and sob.  He had no idea the depth his using had on his beloved brother.  Everyone needs help — or at least a safe place to talk and be heard.

If you’re local to SE Wisconsin, see some choices below or ask someone you trust. Best if that counselor has experience or specializes in substance abuse counseling. Ask someone who would know to direct you to a good counselor experienced in your area of concern.

Personal counseling

mom sad
I didn’t know Ted was becoming addicted to drugs but I knew that I needed help.  His behavior was derailing me and books on parenting teens weren’t cutting it.  Our experience with him was much more intense than a teenage phase.  I got some counseling on how to talk to him, set some boundaries and recognize my self-worth.  While I was there I got some tools for dealing with my mother. It helped.

Often and possibly most times, counselors who specialize with youth in substance abuse matters will also counsel parents and families. Local to Milwaukee, the folks at Red Oak Counseling in Elm Grove do this. Cornerstone Counseling does the same as does Alliance Counseling. In Madison, WI Connections Counseling does AODA exclusively.

    educate yourselfEducate yourself

Travel over to On My Bookshelf on this site for some top picks that helped me understand — or should I say more accurately — know more what in the world was happening to our child and  family.

There are many excellent informational websites.  My favorites are The Partnership for Drug       Free Kids, Educating Voices Inc. and Your Choice to Live.  Sign up on all three sites for their newsletters and updates.

For more broad base drug information, research and science, along with help resources, see The National Institute on Drug Abuse, The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence and The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA).

Attend open meetings

Also helpful was to attend open AA and Al Anon speaker meetings so I could hear others share their experience, strength and hope.  I still attend these open meetings (which are different than a regular AA meeting which is reserved for those in or seeking recovery) to better grasp what it is like to be an Alcoholics Anonymous member who was in the throws of addiction and now shares hope in their recovery stories. I can usually identify with  Al Anon speakers with whom I share common feelings and actions. Check the local website for open AA meetings.  Al Anon meetings are always open to anyone who is affected by someone else’s drinking or using.

You can also hear and share life stories of mountain valleys and peaks at Celebrate Recovery.  Check the site for one near you.

If you’re in the Milwaukee area, there’s a solid parent support group at the home of the Lomas family.  They try to always have young people in recovery attend so you can hear their perspective.  Go to The CJ Lomas Foundation for details.