Support for teens with addicted loved ones

Jay considers teens living in these conditions to be true heroes.

Drugs [illustrative] (photo credit: REUTERS)
Drugs [illustrative]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Nar-Anon is a 12-step program for friends and family members who are affected by someone else’s addiction, primarily drug addiction. Jerusalem’s first Nar-Anon group for teenagers is now being formed and is slated to begin in the fall.
The group will provide support and hope to young people whose lives have been affected by a relative’s or a friend’s addiction. The meeting will be facilitated by experienced Nar-Anon members. Facilitators share their own experience in practicing the 12 steps and help give the group stability and continuity. The session is focused on meeting the needs of teenagers who are coping with the addiction problem of a family member or friend. Through group meetings, young people learn from each other, while gaining peace of mind and hope for a better way to live. Members help one another by sharing their experience, strength and hope.
Jay is one of the Jerusalem Nar-Anon members who are helping to develop the group. (In accordance with Nar-Anon’s tradition of anonymity, members’ real names are not used in this article.) While participating in the 12-step program in the US, he helped organize many groups for children and teenagers. Jay, along with other members, decided that it was time to set up this important kind of support group in Jerusalem. They hope to spread the word that support is on hand for teens looking for help with the challenging situations in homes where addiction exists.
Jay considers teens living in these conditions to be true heroes.
“These teens receive little support from family, peers or professionals,” he says. “For teens to admit that they themselves are affected by someone else’s addiction and to actually search for help outside their family and friends – it’s a big stretch. Sharing their thoughts and feelings about their family’s condition can be frightening. Yet the young people who do decide to come to meetings show tremendous insight and willingness to join in the process of helping each other.”
It often takes attending one of these group support meetings to even understand how these teens are affected by the disease of addiction in their home and how difficult it is for them to see how they have been affected by the addiction of another family member. Often the teen feels responsible for “saving” the family member at risk or actually believes that he or she might have been the cause in some way. Over the years, Jay has seen that teens are particularly committed to working the 12-step program.
He says “They possess the insight and dedication to succeed in following the steps – often more than us adult members.”
Jay shares the following story of one teen who attended a Nar-Anon group in the US.
“She was physically handicapped – unable to walk. But she insisted on climbing the three long flights stairs to the room where the meeting took place. She inspired the whole group. She spoke about her experience with the 12 steps with more eloquence than anyone else I had ever heard in a meeting. We learned a lot from her. I learned a lot from her,” he recounts.
In one of the groups, a woman brought her six-year-old granddaughter. During her first few meetings, the girl’s face was buried in her grandmother’s arms.
“A year later, the same girl was dancing around the room, singing and greeting others. We later heard from her teachers that her participation in the group had completely transformed her,” Jay says.
Another story about a young teen: “His stepfather dropped him off on a day when no one else had come to the meeting. So we went to sit at a coffee shop. I decided to share my own story – my problems and how I found help. But after I talked for about 15 minutes, I stopped and apologized: ‘I’m sorry – maybe all this is boring to you.’ The boy looked straight back at me and said, ‘No, not at all. Now I know I’m not the only one.’ I learned from this that even one meeting with one other person can make a real connection. Especially for teenagers – even those who can only come to one or two meetings – that can be important,” Jay observes.
The meetings are facilitated by two adult members of Nar-Anon. Nevertheless, while sitting in a circle, the teenagers learn to organize the meeting and take it over as their own. They choose a topic and start the discussion. They begin with a moment of silence, introduce a topic, read from Nar-Anon literature and share with each other. As with the other 12-step programs, they begin with the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Most of the meeting time is used for members to talk about their difficulties and how they found help. The benefits are derived from truly listening to each other’s stories, experiences, strengths and hopes. Participants learn to listen without judgment. The opportunity to share without being interrupted provides the teen with the satisfaction of understanding that what he or she has to say is valuable and doesn’t always require a response.
Jay adds, “These groups deal with serious problems, but people learn to laugh together.”
People can attend a meeting at any time without obligation. There are no dues or required payments. Attendance is confidential and anonymous.
As much as we would love to give our teens the support they need to cope with an addicted loved one, hearing the shares of the other young group members and the inspiration of the Nar-Anon facilitators, in addition to reading the literature containing more stories of experience, strength, and hope, is irreplaceable in their struggle to heal and deal with their painful experiences.
For more information about the upcoming group, contact DenverCommerce@ Inquiries from family, friends, therapists, schools and others are always welcome.
The writer is a teen and young adult counselor specializing in addictions and working with youth and their parents for more than 26 years.;