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How addiction affects individuals and communities - Fox Baltimore

Addiction can be all-consuming for the person dealing with it, and those effects radiate out to the people around them.

"Family members and loved ones are often forgotten collateral damage in this process," says Keith James, behavioral health programs manager at Therapeutic Wellness Services. "We spend a lot of time and energy working with individuals in recovery and seem to forget about all those who are affected by it residually."

While addictions vary in type and intensity, there are common threads — one being that recovery is for everyone. That includes the help that goes to a spouse, parents, children, and other family members.

"There is a lot of pain, trauma, lifestyle adjustments, and general difficulty, and even trying to understand what's going on with someone you love who is going through this addiction process and trying to come through the recovery process to get themselves back in order," James says. "The impact is beyond explanation because it is felt in so many areas."

Family members need to be reminded that the addiction is not their fault and that the trauma or hardships caused by the addiction have nothing to do with them. They, too, need to find a healthy place.

"I think what's important is education," James says. "The same way we put time and energy into research and sharing different tools to bring an individual who's going through recovery and who's been through addiction back into a sense of wellness the people around that person need to come back to a place of wellness as well."

Addiction is complicated by the way a substance changes brain function — it may not be enough to simply want to quit. That can be frustrating for family members who don't understand why willpower isn't enough.

"Here at TWS, we're training our clinicians in the field of smart recovery for friends and family so they can administer and provide services to their loved ones," James says. "Then we need to educate them and understand what that person is going through with an addiction and what is required of them to come back to wellness and stability so the family can be fully functional again.

Beyond family members, addiction can affect the community, as well.

"One person's actions could affect their mood and other aspects of their day, which could affect other people's day too," James says. "People with addiction often get a stigma, which can also be connected to others who are similar to that addicted individual. Then the community starts to adopt that stigma and treat addicted individuals the same way."

To break the cycle, it's helpful to educate everyone about addiction, not just the people going through it and not just their loved ones.

"There are so many behavioral health and substance abuse programs that help an addict to return to some sense of normalcy," James says. "There needs to be more energy into spreading information to communities so that people realize addiction is a disease. It's not who a person is, it's something a person struggles with. We need to focus on compassion to help addicted individuals' recovery."

For those who need help, Therapeutic Wellness Services aims to meet them where they are.

"Individuals are provided with skills and support to embrace their mental wellness, to enhance the quality of their life and to pursue personally valued roles in their living, learning, work and social environments," the organization says on its website.

For more information on addiction and how to get help, visit