Written by Alicia Cook
“On the outside — in the “real world” — there are 12-step meetings at nearly every hour of every day in every city. Across the globe, there are support groups, church groups, book clubs, coffee groups, in-patient, out-patient, therapists, psychiatrists, doctors,” reads the introductory page on AddictionUnscripted’s website. “On the outside, there is support everywhere you look. But online, there isn’t much. Until now.”
Support groups for those impacted by the disease of addiction are not mandated to just physical spaces anymore. With access to the internet and social media, you no longer need to leave your house to find help and comfort; there are now virtual support groups specific to those directly touched by addiction.
One, in particular, is the Affected by Addiction Support Group, a private Facebook group formed by the same founder of AddictionUnscripted.com. The relatively new, private Facebook group is arguably the best online community for those who are struggling with addiction as well as their family members. Affected by Addiction started in December with 250 members, and in just four months, has grown to a staggering 45,000 members.
“The genesis of this group began when I started reading comments from grieving mothers who had either lost their child to addiction or were dealing with a child in active addiction,” said Matt Mendoza, founder of AddictionUnscripted and a person in recovery. “Their comments on AddictionUnscripted overwhelmed me, and I knew I needed to create a group in which they could connect more directly, and privately.”
Much like inside “the rooms,” Affected by Addiction is a safe space, where anyone can post without the rest of their Facebook friends seeing. All posts are closely monitored and require admin approval before appearing on the site. This extra step helps avoid any offensive comments or potential triggers. Prospective group members must request access, then are reviewed and subsequently approved or denied membership to the group. Additionally, the moderators pay close attention to any reported posts, blocking any abusive or disruptive members.
One important component of this group that sets it apart from many others is that it is open to anyone who has been touched by addiction, be it someone who is still using a substance, someone just entering recovery, someone who is in long-term recovery, or a family member or friend. Everyone affected takes one step toward recovery, hand-in-hand.
Some of the recent posts include:
“My name is ***** I recently started doing heroin. About a month now, $10 a day. I am prescribed Adderall but have no health insurance. I have a disability hearing coming up and I'm nervous to go into treatment and admit to heroin because I'm afraid I will be denied the disability. Also I have no transportation. Anyway is it possible that I am having withdrawals I feel like if I don't have that I feel horrible already anyway that was my question about the disability.”
“My son is 26 and has been addicted to heroin for three years - he has also been in rehab three times but just goes back to it after a few months. He has a degree in computer science so when he gets out he always gets a job but ends up going back on regardless of the horrible outcomes - he has been arrested for selling subs [Suboxone] that I bought him and ended up in Rikers Island. When he got out, he went back to rehab and they were going to give him the Vivitrol shot but he left before he got it and went back to living on the streets of NYC - now he is living with his girlfriend because I let him live with me and he stole everything from me so I told him he needed to leave. Because I was just enabling his addiction - now he has no insurance so he is waiting to get into a Medicaid rehab . This is heartbreaking to me. All I can do is pray because when I help him I only enable him - this is a mother’s nightmare. I feel so guilty but I don't want to enable him when he is in active addiction but even when he's not addicted, I can't have him live with me because he may relapse and steal everything again - any words you can share with me? Help.”
Response to above: “I am suffering right along with you. I so wish I had the answers for you, me, and all of us suffering parents, but I don’t. I can tell you that there are rehabs that are affordable if you research them. You can pm [private message] me if you like and I can tell you of a few I know. Prayers that our sons will find their way out of the darkness and that we parents will be able to love them in a healthy way with peace.”
“Together we are stronger. I am so thankful for this group. I have learned a lot from all sides. Trying to help each other makes things better when we can actually understand and respect each other’s personal struggle and differences. I understand now and respect my family for loving me from a distance because of the pain I caused them. It’s my consequences for being an addict. If not for the support from this group, I would be unsupported and lost. I am grateful.”
When reading the posts, one sees that testimonies of those in active addiction and recovery are woven together, not segmented. Speckled between these posts, family members and friends connect and share their stories as well. Supportive emojis cover the screen, much like technology-generated hugs.
The admins work around the clock, keeping a very close eye on the testimonies shared by those in active addiction, fully aware that every second counts.
The admins include Mendoza, as well as Jeff Clark and Brandon Carol, who are both substance use counselors and in recovery themselves.
“We screen all posts and assess if an actual interaction or engagement is required from us, but the majority of the time, the community itself is able to provide the healing or advice that’s needed,” explained Jeff Clark.
This delicate intervening takes place daily, to the tune of approximately 20-30 times per day.
Support comes in many forms, but the most impactful way most people in the group first experience it is by sharing how addiction is currently affecting their life, and within minutes, the comments start flooding in. It is not rare for someone to make an initial post and get over 1,000 responses within a matter of hours.
Simultaneously admins and other group members alike are reaching out to families of those battling addiction.
One of the biggest “perks” of having direct lines of communication to the group admins is that they can provide a tremendous amount of “coaching” to parents and other family members of those in the grips of addiction.
“To speak with parents who at one point were dealing with a child who had recently overdosed, or was threatening to commit suicide, or had recently been released from jail, or was so disruptive to the family they had to remove them from their home…then to reengage with that family member who now celebrates their child is in recovery, and that we were able to guide them through the treatment process, makes this group as real and integral as any physical group,” said Clark.
“Jeff and I use our background as substance abuse counselors to assist the families and loved ones of those who are actively struggling,” added Brandon Carol. “We are posed with questions like ‘how do I get my loved one to get help?’ or ‘what should I do if I am suspicious they are using again?’ I know how overwhelming the process was for my own family prior to me getting help to get better.”
What Affected by Addiction tries to do is guide the families and empower them to know they are not alone. Often times they feel they are on an island because of the fear and shame that comes about when a loved one is struggling with an addiction. The admins are able to use their education and life/professional experience in hopes of providing some peace during this chaotic, heartbreaking time in a family’s life.
“My experience as an admin has been overwhelming at times, but I feel blessed to be a part of this movement,” expressed Carol. “Watching thousands of people offer support to strangers when discussing such a grim topic is refreshing. Getting to see people progress in their recovery journey and witnessing the community being built around the group members is a remarkable thing to watch. I feel like we get to take part in thousands of people’s lives in hopes of assisting them in attaining the gift of sobriety, or at the very least, some well-deserved peace.”
And, as it turns out, Facebook took notice.
Facebook reached out to Mendoza, in hopes to include the group in a national commercial to demonstrate the true power of a digital community on their platform.
“They looked through tens of thousands of groups, and reached out to me when they noticed our group had grown from 250 people to 35,000 people in three months,” recalled Mendoza. “A Facebook executive asked me for access to the group since it's a "closed" group, and asked if I’d be interested in letting them feature it for a promo video and commercial.”
Mendoza would only agree to the terms if Facebook guaranteed it would not break anyone's anonymity, and as long as it would further the group’s cause to “cultivate a safe space for people affected by addiction, to break their silence, and gain support."
Facebook agreed, choosing Affected by Addiction amongst millions of other Facebook groups. Facebook sent a production crew of about a dozen people, in addition to several Facebook executives, for a 14-hour shoot. The commercial should air in the coming weeks.
Mendoza and his team hope this commercial helps others in need find the Affected by Addiction group.
“I have no doubt that this group has saved dozens of lives, helped restore hundreds of families, and has given purpose to parents and others who have lost loved ones to the current drug epidemic,” stated Mendoza.
If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction, which is likely, considering that one in three families are now directly affected by substance use disorder, you can request to join the Affected by Addiction Support Group