According to the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8.3 million children live with at least one parent who abused or was dependent on alcohol or an illicit drug during the past year. Use of drugs by children living with parents addicted to substance abuse is correlated: if a child has a parent who has done drugs, they are at a greater risk of trying them. Depression, anxiety symptoms and a high risk for elevated rates of psychiatric and psychosocial dysfunction, as well as for alcoholism also follow individuals who live with addicted family members, the website HopeNetworks says.
To help support those who have dealt with a parent or family member who has a substance abuse problem, Millersville University’s Human and Counseling Center provides a Family Dynamic Support Group that offers help. Anyone whose family has been touched by addiction to alcohol and other drugs and the attendant abandonment, abuse, and shame should consider joining these meetings, said certified addictions counselor at MU, John Baltzer.
Every meeting begins with the group sharing how their week has been. Often times the group discussion stems from this checking in time, where students are able to process and discuss an issue they are dealing with.
“Groups are very powerful. The primary dysfunctional rule in chemically dependent families is the ‘No Talk’ rule. As a result, few of us have really expressed the sadness, anger, fear, loneliness and shame we attempt to hold back. We feel isolated and alone, and do the best we can, believing we are the only ones who are struggling and don’t get it. Sitting with, listening to, supporting and crying with someone who not only understands but has a similar story is a very powerful and healing experience. A lot of it is grief work, letting go of the losses we experience living with and loving an alcoholic or addict,” said Baltzer.
At these sessions, students are introduced to concepts like boundaries with others, their own risk of AOD problems and self-nurturing and healthy relationships, said Baltzer. These sessions help students heal and encourage them to realize all that they are capable of being.
“As a result, we begin to find our authentic selves, not the family roles of hero, scapegoat, lost child, and family mascot that was played out in the chemically dependent family. We see ourselves as the valuable, loveable, capable, beautiful, and powerful adults that we are,” said Baltzer.
At each meeting there are two group leaders, Baltzer and MU Psychologist Dr. Kelsey Backels. At the meeting, group leaders try to maintain an emotionally safe environment and provide guidelines for group discussion and teach the group about the dynamics of chemically dependent families, Backels said.
“I think student group members have gained support from other members and the group leaders, as well as increased knowledge of the dynamics of chemically dependent families. Group members feel safe in our group, and are given the opportunity to discuss thoughts and feelings that they have kept to themselves, due to the “no talk” rule prevalent in chemically dependent families. We started this group in spring 2013 with the intent of ending it at the end of that semester, but the group members asked us to keep it going, so with their help, we did. We plan to run the group every semester,” Backels said.
The Family Dynamic Support Group meets every Wednesday from 5-6:30 p.m. at the Counseling Center. Another resource that is always available for students is the Counseling Center on the third floor of Lyle Hall. Make an appointment at 872-3122 to receive free, professional and confidential counseling.