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Bridge to Hope: A Bright Light for the Forgotten Families of Addiction
By Nancy Kennedy

Dennis C. Daley, Ph.D., Senior Clinical DirectorPittsburgh is known for its bridges. Nearly 500 of them span the rivers and valleys that intersect our region, making connections and enabling journeys that would otherwise be impossible. Some of our bridges are beloved, many are well known, and some of them are invisible. Those are the bridges that connect people to each other. One such invisible bridge is Bridge to Hope (B2H), a support group for families that have been impacted by the addiction of a loved one. Addiction is epidemic in America, with terrible and often tragic consequences, not only for the person who is addicted, but for the entire family and society. B2H offers support, education and recovery skills for family members.

"Families are often forgotten in all the media coverage of addiction, but the negative impact on the family is tremendous," says Dennis C. Daley, Ph.D., Senior Clinical Director, Substance Use Services, UPMC Health Plan, and Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "Recently, there has been a lot of attention given to the opioid crisis, but the focus is on the drugs used, the prescription practices of physicians, and the impact on the addicted person, with little focus on the family. We have to change this, and raise awareness of the impact of addiction on the family. Addiction creates havoc for families, with higher rates of divorce, family discord, child abuse or neglect and school related problems."

Dr. Daley was a speaker for two recent Bridge to Hope events for families: an Overdose Prevention Class, offering training in the use of Narcan, the opioid reversal drug, where he talked about "self-care" for families; and the organization's 11th annual Vigil of Hope, a remembrance ceremony for family and friends to honor those who have lost their lives to addiction and a celebration of those in recovery, where he spoke about forgiveness and recovery for family members. Dr. Daley has a depth of experience as a clinician, educator and researcher and is the author of numerous journal articles, recovery guides and books about addiction, recovery and loss, including A Family Guide to Addiction and Recovery. Knowledgeable and compassionate, he is a leading regional expert on addiction and recovery and has gained national recognition as an author, speaker and teacher. He serves as a resource to the B2H support group.

"A mutual support group like B2H is extraordinarily helpful – you cannot put a value on it or even describe the impact it may have on a family member," he says. "I've attended many meetings and heard stories of heartache and heartbreak, but also of resilience and recovery. Families help each other. It gives families hope, educates them, provides a support system and offers them a chance to focus on their own recovery needs. Parents and families need hope not only for their loved one who is addicted, but also for themselves. B2H provides support that a professional counselor may not be able to give you, and they can validate the things you are feeling and experiencing. They are just a phone call away."

Dr. Daley is especially concerned about the impact of parental addiction on children. "These children are often forgotten, and they have a need to understand addiction, share their experiences and get support from adults. They simply are not getting the attention they need, and that they would normally get if so much energy was not going to the parent with the addiction. Often these children live on the sidelines – unseen, unacknowledged – until they themselves develop problems. Research shows that children in a family affected by addiction are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, other mental health problems, substance use and academic problems."

Despite the tremendous adverse effects of addiction on families, there is always hope – that is the primary message of Bridge to Hope, and the core of Dr. Daley's message as well. "When I speak to families, I focus on resilience, hope and positivity. There are mutual support and professional resources available. Families deserve and need these resources, and Bridge to Hope is one wonderful resource. The program is second to none."

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