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Project Recovery: How addiction affects the entire family

Boyd Llewelyn (right), Casey Scott (center), and Dr. Matt Woolley discuss how addiction harms families. (Photo: Matthew Brooks / KSL NewsRadio)

Experts say when one person battles addiction, they are not the only one who suffers. Frequently, they say, family members and friends also bear a burden — both while the addict is struggling with addiction and even afterward, when they are in recovery.

Dr. Matt Woolley, a clinical psychologist and co-host of Project Recovery, says it’s important that family members not give up on a loved one in recovery.

The signs weren’t there

Boyd Llewelyn knows all too well what Dr. Woolley is talking about. A Utah resident who works in finance, his daughter, a competitive dancer, battled addiction for fifteen years. She abused pain pills, then became addicted heroin at just 14 years old.

Her parents weren’t sure what to do to best to help her. Taking away privileges like a cell phone or the car didn’t make her stop.

“When she didn’t want to do something, she didn’t do it,” Llewelyn said.

She didn’t want to quit. Even a lung surgery didn’t compel her to seek help.

Spotting the problem was even a problem in itself, Llewelyn said. He didn’t observe the obvious signs or telltale marks of a child who uses drugs. His daughter’s grades remained excellent as always.

Her behavior changed, but not too terribly, Llewelyn says.

But her friends changed.

“Her change was very subtle,” Llewelyn says.

“What did I do wrong?”

After his daughter graduated from high school, and right after a confrontation with Llewelyn, she moved out of the home.

Her parents had been trying to help her with what they saw as a chronic problem.

It was devastating, Llewelyn said, for him to see his child struggling and to see her leave.

Llewelyn asked himself, “What did I do wrong with this child?”

He says he needed to go into counseling to help him understand and cope with an ever-present and increasingly complex situation.

Through therapy, he realized what he did as a parent didn’t cause the problem. The problem just happened, he says.

Addiction puts families under pressure

Their daughter’s addiction put strains on his marriage, Llewelyn says.

“I think we were on the same page that we wanted to help her, but I don’t know that there was always agreement on how to help her,” he recalled.

His wife didn’t grow up around addiction, as Llewelyn did. It was hard for his wife to understand what addiction meant, Llewelyn says.

“We are all a product of our upbringing, to some degree,” Woolley says. “And if you grow up without exposure to something we tend to have misconceptions about it. … Addiction is a tremendous example of that.”

Llewelyn says as the addiction spiraled out of control, there was some resentment in the family. His children resented how much more time their parents gave to their daughter in her addiction.

Beyond the resentment, his three other children saw more damage to their relationship with their sister. They didn’t want her around.

Addiction drove a wedge into the family, Llewelyn says.

“No problem is too big”

“No problem is too big that we should ever give up,” Woolley told Llewelyn on Project Recovery.

Co-host Casey Scott says he knows personally that a supportive circle can help an addict find strength and continue going strong through recovery.

“When bad things happen, it’s not what you do when they happen, it’s what you do after they happen,” Scott says.

Boyd Llewelyn describes how his daughter’s addiction changed his life – PART ONE

Boyd Llewelyn describes how his daughter’s addiction changed his life – PART TWO

Resources for those suffering from addiction

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