How addicts and their loved ones find ‘strength’ in online community
Those with family members struggling with addiction or who have lost loved ones to an overdose have formed a judgment-free haven online where they can openly discuss their issues, creating a vitally important community of support in the midst of a raging national crisis.
"When my active heroin-addicted son finally admitted he had a problem, I didn’t know where to turn, where to educate myself," Dawn Campbell told ABC News. "So I turned to Facebook."
Campbell is one of the over 60,000 members — including addicts and their loved ones — in a private Facebook support group called "Affected By Addiction."
"I found a strength in numbers," member Tracey Mae said of the group, which she described as "a kinship, a fellowship."
Member Kelly Wicklund added that when it comes to addiction, "it's not just the addict" but "the whole family" that is impacted.
At a time when nearly half of Americans report having a family member or close friend who has suffered from addiction, according to a Pew Research Center survey released late last year, the online community has become a vital gathering place for both addicts and their loved ones to find support.
"We can come together get ideas, find out information, vent if we need to, and nobody is going to judge us," member Amy Valandingham said.
Jennifer Dulski, the head of community and groups at Facebook, added that many may feel more comfortable openly discussing addiction online because of how it still carries a stigma.
"Addiction is really somewhat a taboo topic that people don’t talk about much," Dulski said. "So being able to find that community online allows people to open up."
One member, Jackie, who wished to only be identified by her first name, told ABC News that she turned to the community as her daughter, Kaitlyn, struggled with addiction.
Jackie described Kaitlyn as "the person that everybody wanted to be friends with, until she got mixed up with the wrong ones."
At 13, Kaitlyn started drinking and using drugs, and at 18, she moved out of the family home, Jackie said.
Kaitlyn told ABC News she began using "Xanax, Percocets and molly," adding, "and then, you know, went to heroin."
"I was living with the person that was giving me the heroin," Kaitlyn said. "I was getting high, I was using … living life as I pleased."
After finding a friend dead from an overdose, Kaitlyn said she knew she had to turn her life around.
At 20, she is now 15 months clean and sober but said she has spent almost a third of her young life dealing with addiction and recovery.
"I've been through a lot, especially for my age," Kaitlyn said. "I should be dead."
Jackie said the Facebook group has supported her and Kaitlyn through their entire journey, celebrating each milestone of Kaitlyn's recovery as a group.
Matt Mendoza, administrator of the Facebook group, told ABC News that they have also "had hundreds, if not thousands, get placed into rehab from people in the group." The Facebook group grew out of a website, AddictionUnscripted.com, also run by Mendoza.
Jackie said she now checks in on the group several times a day to support other mothers and members impacted by a loved one's addiction.
"I tell other addicts who are struggling or new to recovery to keep fighting the fight and stay strong," she said. "Even if it's just for one day, one hour, one minute, one second at a time, just for today."
Member Wendy Werbiskis told ABC News that she lost her son, Daniel, to an overdose and now is active in the Facebook group to make sure no other mother has to suffer the same loss.
"I don’t want to see any more families have to live with losing their child to addiction," Werbiskis said. "This is my main reason for staying in this group, if I can reach even one."