Bel Air parish offers support to families affected by substance abuse


By Elizabeth Lowe

Twitter: @ReviewLowe

The only 12-step program in northern Maryland for the family members and friends of people addicted to drugs or alcohol is offered at St. Margaret, Bel Air. 

A Families Anonymous group was formed at the Harford County parish in April 2010, said Larry, a St. Margaret parishioner who helped found the group and whose last name was withheld for his privacy. Meetings are Monday evenings and anyone may attend.  

Families Anonymous is an international organization.

“When people come the first time, they’re distraught,” said Larry, whose adult daughter abuses oxycodone and cocaine. “Substance abuse is a scourge. The disease is not a poor or black or Baltimore disease. The disease affects all of us.”

Families affected by substance abuse aren’t alone.  

“You didn’t cause it, can’t cure it by yourself,” said Larry, who is part of the core group of about a dozen families who meet weekly. “We help you help yourself. We’re there to help you help the loved ones of somebody experiencing the bad behavior of addiction.”

Families Anonymous has calmed Larry’s emotions.  

“If you’re not better, how can you help your loved one?” Larry asked. “I look forward to the day we have no new members. We’re a blessing for the people who need it. It’s a curse we need it.”

Pat, a parishioner of St. Margaret whose last name was withheld for her privacy, has an adult son who has abused oxycodone for 10 years. He has been clean for about six months.

Prior to Families Anonymous, Pat felt “out of control.”

“You will put your life on the line to help your kid and what you find out is your kid’s got to help himself,” said Pat, who has been a part of the group since summer 2011. “It’s not your fault. It’s places like Families Anonymous that make you whole again.”

Families Anonymous is about continual support, she said, because addiction is “like a cancer,” one that “might go into remission.”

Pat said the support group provides many opportunities for sharing among the participants.

“You go for yourself initially,” she said, “then you go for everybody else.”

Joseph Ryan, manager of the Harford County Office of Drug Control Policy and a St. Margaret parishioner who is a member of the parish’s substance abuse ministry group, said drug addiction in the county is “all behind closed doors.”

“It’s not as public,” he explained. “That’s what we’re trying to deal with – the needs of the community.”

Statistics show that Harford County is above the state average in nearly all substance abuse areas, Ryan said. In 2011, 40 Harford County residents died from overdoses. In the first six months of 2012, 23 Harford County residents died from overdoses. 

“Families Anonymous gives those family members the hope that they’re looking for and the strength they need to get through this family crisis,” Ryan said.

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Copyright (c) Dec. 29, 2012 

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.