PDT Staff Writer
There is a sign on the wall at the administrative offices of The Counseling Center that reads - “We believe in Miracles.”
Robin Looney, program director and counselor with the Loved Ones’ Group believes they are seeing those miracles one person and one family at a time.The Loved Ones’ Group is especially designed for those concerned about someone’s alcohol or drug abuse. It is a series for family, friends and others who are concerned about a loved one’s alcohol or drug abuse, focusing on educating loved ones to identify addiction and develop approaches to effectively help the person with an alcohol or drug use problem.
Looney said The Counseling Center has a history of creating opportunities for an individual to experience physical, emotional and spiritual recovery through education, counseling and participation in 12-step recovery programs, but it was not that many years ago that they discovered the need for programs that served families of those who are addicted.
“About 1999-2000 we started experiencing the opiate epidemic, the explosion of prescription drug abuse, and all the problems we were starting to see around drug overdose deaths,” The Counseling Center Executive Director Ed Hughes said. “The people who had been experiencing this before we had in the rest of the community were families. So we had a number of people who were making contact with the agency one way or another - either to counselors or talking to staff or calling and asking questions. They were dealing with an addicted loved one, usually someone who was a young adult - a lot of families that had not dealt with addiction. They were contacting us and asking a lot of questions.”
That was a red flag to The Counseling Center staff that the problem was a lot bigger than previously believed and that there were families going through a crisis without the knowledge that there were many other families going through the same problems.
“One of the things family members were getting drawn into was trying to rescue their addicted loved one from the consequences of their addiction,” Hughes said. “That was absolutely the wrong thing to do, but a very natural thing to do, because their young loved ones were getting in either legal trouble, money problems, or family problems, and they were doing what families do - trying to solve those. And all that ended up doing, of course, was feeding the problem. The kind of help the families were trying to give was probably counter-productive.”
Hughes said some parents had been dealing with their addicted children for several years and some had almost gone bankrupt because of the cost of opiates on the street and the process of getting them out of legal problems.
The Counseling Center set up a seven-session program that is free to the public and repeats in a cycle. Hughes said those operating the program also do not ask for names.
“When the families started talking to us we began to hear this on a different level,” Hughes said. “They had so many questions. One of the problems was that it was striking a lot of young people. So we were having 18-year-olds, 25-year-olds, that were experiencing this addiction and it progressed so rapidly. They would start their use and maybe within months they were in a lot of trouble. They were sick. They were getting into legal problems, and the family didn’t know what they were dealing with. Our decision was to start a program that would be free to the public, and that would allow family members just to come in and get some basic information about what is drug addiction, how is it affecting their family? What can they do about it.”
“Each session focuses on a component, and we have an opportunity for discussion and questions that those attending might have. For example, allowing the addicted person to experience consequences and avoid enabling. One session might focus entirely on that. And those attending have an opportunity to consider what is it that I’m doing that is not helpful to my family member?” Looney said. “And what are some steps that I can possibly now begin to take to address this differently?”
Looney says guidance, information and support is crucial to the success of the program, because they have found that family members have not been able to do it on their own.
“It’s too difficult. It’s too emotionally painful,” Looney said. “But if they’ve got others going through the same experience supporting them they are more ready to take that next step.”
“Currently our Loved Ones’ Group takes place on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at 1634 11th St. in Portsmouth,” Looney said. “We’re always listening to the people who attend and considering alternative plans and times, but it has been going on on Wednesday evening for several years now.”
Hughes said the counselors involved in the program have learned from the families and been able to use that information to adjust the components.
“All families have so much in common - addiction is addiction - we see the signs, the symptoms, the progression,” Looney said. “Each family is a little bit different. They all bring something unique to the table.”
Looney said that while they mostly deal with families with loved ones suffering from drug addiction, they also deal with families of those suffering from alcoholism.
“I think people who have spouses suffering from alcoholism can definitely benefit from this program,” Looney said. “I just want people not to think this is just a program for families of opiate users.”
Now, because of the wide ranging effects of the program, Loved Ones’ Groups have been formed all across the Tri-State area including Huntington and Point Pleasant, West Virginia; Hillsboro, Ohio and Wurtland, Kentucky.
“They run them but we try to support them with information and how to stay true to the basic principles of the Loved Ones’ Group, which is, again, a very gentle approach to providing this information to family members,” Hughes said. “We also will meet with family members one-on-one, and again, that is free of charge.”
Hughes laid out the ultimate goal of the Loved Ones’ Group.
“It is not just to help the family,” Hughes said. “We believe firmly that if the family will make some of these changes, in terms of how they are approaching their addicted loved one, that it increases the likelihood that their loved one will get help sooner than they would have if this thing takes its natural course.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org