By Mark Powell
Addiction is a Family Disease
Home, they say, is where the heart is. That’s also true for addiction because when it hits home, it breaks a family’s heart.
But rather than let that hurt linger, a Dayton mother chose to fight back.
Lori Erion is no stranger to addiction. She’s been in recovery herself for 13 years now from alcohol use disorder. But everything changed nine years ago when she rushed her daughter April to an urgent care facility. “I saw needle marks on her arm and asked, ‘What’s that?’” She remembers April’s answer: “You know what that is.”
Lori suddenly faced a choice. “I wasn’t going to say, ‘You’re a heroin addict, there’s the door’,” she says. Instead, she chose to help her daughter. But that proved easier said than done. Finding treatment was difficult because April would walk away from it. On top of that, Lori’s jewelry was missing one day. It was a painful time for everyone.
Then Lori turned the tables on herself, and that changed everything. “We started talking and I listened. April educated me about her addiction. She shared what was going on in her mind during her active addiction as well as when she was in treatment and showed me what things were broken in the system.”
In late 2013, Lori began putting the things she was learning to work. She impulsively decided to hold a support group at a local community college for families with members battling addiction. She tacked up a few fliers, advertised in the local newspaper, and posted about it online. “We didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, we had no curriculum, we were just winging it,” she admits. “I didn’t expect anyone to show up.”
But six people did show up. And that’s how Families of Addicts was born.
More than six years later, the group has now served a total of over 20,000 people. Meetings are held each week in four Ohio counties. Anyone whose life has been impacted by addiction is welcome to attend. Together, participants shake off the sting of stigma and educate, empower, and embrace anyone who walks into the room. “Discussions are open-ended and wide-ranging, Lori says. “For example, it could be something like, ‘My son is finishing treatment and he’s coming back home. How do I set up boundaries?’ They hear from other families and learn from them.” Guest speakers also talk about topics ranging from getting a job to sober living.
Families of Addicts holds a big “Rally 4 Recovery” every year to celebrate success and to acknowledge all pathways of recovery. Some 3,000 people participated in last year’s event, where 64 resources were made available to families. Its highlight is always the release of multicolored balloons with white standing for loss, red representing those who’re still struggling, yellow for success, and green symbolizing mental health awareness.
Families of Addicts encompasses all aspects of addiction and celebrates successes while also mourning loss. “People come to us broken,” Lori says. “They don’t want people to know what they’re going through. But they find a welcoming community that accepts them, they are connected to resources and have renewed hope that people can and do recover. This is what healing looks like.”
Lori’s quest for healing in her own family remains a work in progress, as daughter April is in a community correctional facility learning more about herself and gaining new tools for success. “Just because I do this, it doesn’t mean I have all the answers,” Lori quickly notes. But because she is doing it, countless Ohio families are finding the hope they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Families of Addicts was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.