Monday Medical: Dealing with chemical dependency |

Monday Medical: Dealing with chemical dependency

Helping families cope with feelings during and after addiction

If you go

Yampa Valley Medical Center will host a free Taking Care of Me program on “Finding Solutions for Families Dealing with Chemical Dependency.” Debby Zuniga from the Center for Dependency, Addiction & Rehabilitation will speak at noon Sept. 21 in Conference Room 1.

If you go

Yampa Valley Medical Center will host a free Taking Care of Me program on “Finding Solutions for Families Dealing with Chemical Dependency.” Debby Zuniga from the Center for Dependency, Addiction & Rehabilitation will speak at noon Sept. 21 in Conference Room 1.

Chemical dependency and addiction have been around for as long as mind-altering substances have been available.

The biggest difference between the early days of Alcoholic Anonymous — founded in 1935 — and today is that science and the medical field now have evidence-based research proving that chemical dependency is in fact a chronic and sometimes fatal disease.

Unlike people who have other chronic diseases, people with chemical dependency/addiction can and do live productive and healthy lives as long as they stay abstinent from alcohol, drugs and other substances.

However, abstinence alone can rarely sustain sobriety until the “addictive behavior” that develops throughout the years of one’s drinking or drug use is addressed. This behavior is hurtful, harmful and destructive to the person and his or her family.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

Family systems affected by chemical dependency are governed by a nonverbal rule of “don’t talk, don’t trust and don’t feel.”

When a chemical-dependent person gets clean and sober, the impact on the family system can be just as great as when the disease was active, causing family roles to change. This leaves family members feeling anxious, confused, detached and unsure about the future.

Their lives have been traumatized by many things that their “newly sober” loved one may or may not do to sustain his or her recovery path.

Addiction leaves imprints on every person involved with the chemically dependent person. The family healing process begins when the family members come to believe and accept that chemical dependency/addiction is a chronic disease. A key element to healing is to build open and honest communication skills between family members and their loved one.

An important concept of the communication process is active listening. It is letting the person you are listening to know that you are in fact listening. It sounds so basic, yet even families without this disease struggle in this area.

In a family system dealing with alcohol addiction or drug dependency, sometimes the only one being heard is the chemical-dependent person. Many times, messages are interrupted with a sense of shame, hurt and despair. In the recovery process, these are the messages that need to be dismantled.

Successful recovery relies on the commitment and involvement of the whole family system. Resources to help with this healing process include family counseling, psychotherapy, 12-step groups such as Alcoholic Anonymous, Al-Anon and Narcotics Anonymous as well as “Celebrate Recovery” groups that typically are sponsored by church organizations.

As the family case manager for the Center for Dependency, Addiction & Rehabilitation Family Program, my responsibilities are to educate and help facilitate change in the family systems of our patients.

My own life experience was tremendously affected by alcohol and drugs; I hit my bottom in 1987. Becoming clean and sober changed my life, my family and generations of learned chemical-dependent behavior.

Addiction robs family members of their true identity, creates havoc and destroys relationships. Learning how to support recovery or detach with love is a skill that requires education, support and motivation.

There is more than just hope for families — there is a solution.

Debby Zuniga, BS, CAC III, is the family case manager for the CeDAR Family Program at the University of Colorado Hospital. CeDAR, the Center for Dependency, Addiction & Rehabilitation, is located on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. Information about the family program and other resources are available at 877-999-0538 or on the website at

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