The Opioid Pandemic - Part 3
By John Athanasatos, PharmD, MDiv.
Support for Family and Friends
In this article I will address the second category of those affected by the Opioid Pandemic, the family and friends of current and recovering addicts.
Family and friends of current and recovering opioid addicts share similar experiences with families and friends of alcoholics, gamblers, etc. That is why the support systems are structured very similarly. For the family and friends of alcoholics, the program is known as Al-Anon and Al-Ateen, for gamblers it is Gam-Anon and Gam-Ateen and for opioid addicts it is Nar Anon. Nar-Anon, like the others is a 12 Step Program founded by Alma B in Studio City, California back in 1968. Since 2006 Nar-Anon has tremendously grown and is known worldwide.
The 12 Steps of Nar-Anon are nearly identical to those of Al-Anon and Gam-Anon and similar to those of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. The main similarities are the first three steps: 1) admitting that you are powerless over the situation, 2) a higher Power greater than you will restore you, and 3) surrendering your will to that higher Power. For us as Orthodox Christians, that higher Power is indeed our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and in these steps the transition from pride to humility occurs. Recently, on the Sunday after the Elevation of the Holy Cross, we heard in the gospel of Mark (8:34): If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me. It is the decision to seek help and join a program that becomes one’s cross. It will be an arduous journey but will lead not only to relief but salvation. The greatest expression of humility is Christ on the Cross, which is why He tells us if we want to go after Him, we must do likewise and pick up our own cross. In the season that we celebrate the Exaltation of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross, let us look to the Cross in Its vision and victory for hope and salvation. As we hear at the Small Entrance in the Divine Liturgy on the Feast: Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His Footstool for it is Holy. Save us, O Son of God, who was crucified in the flesh. This is precisely the transformation from pride to humility, from despair to hope and from death to life.
The programs mentioned above have similarities with each other and so do the people they benefit. Addicts, both current and recovering, have similarities with the friends and family that surround them. All have had to go through that transition from pride to humility which is seeking help and applying those first three aforementioned steps. As much as one might think it is hard for an addict to realize he or she has a problem, it is just as hard if not harder for a friend or family member of that same person to do the same. This is especially true for parents of addicts. Not my kid or he is fine, he is okay. These expressions we hear quite often as clichés. Admitting to a problem of your own child can be a lot harder than to admit to one for yourself. It is not an easy thing and certainly a tragic and painful ordeal to be involved with. They feel they have failed as a parent and blame themselves for the condition of their child, burdened with an overwhelming measure of guilt. There are many circumstances on how loved ones of addicts could be affected emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually.
Nar-Anon is available for those who need to access it. However, it is specific for family and friends of addicts who are powerless over their situation and of which the addiction of their loved one has had a major impact on their lives to the point that it is unbearable. Opioid addicts need the 12 step program but not all friends and family members of addicts necessarily need Nar-Anon. However, if someone has a loved one who is an addict, it is strongly recommended that they do not handle the problem alone. Whether it is talking to a social worker or mental health professional or your spiritual father, it is imperative to seek out help. Even if the situation seems manageable at first, it could quickly exacerbate into a powerless situation. Whoever you seek to help you may even recommend Nar-Anon. The benefit of Nar-Anon is that everyone in the group is in the same boat as you. They struggle just like you do, they have had similar experiences and all want the same thing you do: relief. It provides fellowship and Nar-Anon can be held at community centers, schools and churches. The purpose of the 12 step programs is not to become spiritual or religious but that does happen inadvertently.
The Nar-Anon program is an option that our Orthodox Communities can offer. The goal is for every local parish to have one but we need to start with at least one. Every Orthodox parish throughout the United States unfortunately will have parishioners affected by this crisis. It is crucial that there is an awareness of this crisis and that we can identify those who are affected at every level. We as the Orthodox faithful should make every effort to provide the resources for relief. Nar-Anon is definitely one vital option available to us and should be considered.