Aspen lecture series offers help to families coping with addiction

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

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What: “Through A Child’s Eyes” lecture, helping build resiliency in families and communities dealing with addiction

When: Sept. 25, 5:30 p.m.

Where: Hotel Jerome Ballroom


In the nearly two years Elizabeth Means has been the executive director of A Way Out, she’s seen too many kids in the Roaring Fork Valley die from overdoses and depression.

“Too often kids don’t know how or where to reach out for help,” Means said. “There’s a feeling that having an addiction or being depressed makes them a bad person. I’m trying to break that stigma so people feel they can reach out for help.”

In January 2013, Means and four therapists started A Way Out, a nonprofit group dedicated to supporting adolescents, youth, adults and families in drug and alcohol crisis.

On Thursday, A Way Out is putting on the second lecture in a series called “Issues of Substance,” where substance abuse and mental health are looked at with direction provided to thrive during recovery.

The theme of the lecture is “Through a Child’s Eyes,” and the event offers help for young people in families and communities dealing with addiction. The lecture begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Hotel Jerome Ballroom.

“In this valley, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of young adults that are struggling with opiate addiction and alcoholism,” Means said. “People with severe substance-abuse issues or depression are sick people and deserve to get well.”

Means arranged to have Jerry Moe, the national director of the children’s program at the Betty Ford Center in California, attend and speak at the lecture series Thursday. Moe is an author, trainer and lecturer on issues for children and families hurt by addiction and offers solutions that help kids thrive while dealing with substance abuse and addiction issues.

“I’ll be addressing specifically about kids who are growing up in families where addiction has been a problem,” Moe said. “We’ll look at the family dynamics with addiction where there can be an incredible amount of denial, like it’s really not there. When it comes to young children, often no one talks to them about what’s going on. There’s a belief that kids ages 7 to 10 are too young to understand the issues with addiction and that maybe if it isn’t talked about, it will go away. Embarrassment, stigma, fear are all issues. There’s an incredible amount of stigma that goes with alcohol and drug problems.”

Moe will address the influences parents have, how addiction is a selfish disease and some solutions and tools to help families cope with addiction.

“There are signs that parents should watch for that might signal a drug or alcohol problem,” Moe said. “Sudden changes in behavior or a change in friends might be an indicator. A lack of interest in things they used to be passionate about, a change in mood, appearance or their grades could all be signs. I believe it’s critical to keep an open dialogue with kids, or it’s easy to miss some of these signs.”

Means said the lecture would have useful information for everyone from schoolteachers and counselors to parents and their kids, as it raises awareness about addiction issues.

The lecture series is also a way for Means to get the message out to the community that there is help locally for individuals and families dealing with substance abuse and depression.

Through A Way Out, Means raises money and applies for grants to fund individual treatment plans that often include accessing inpatient treatment centers.

“I refer my clients to treatment centers that match their needs,” Means said. “These clinics are all over the nation, and we do what we can to help assist people financially.”

Many victims go into sober living, and some return to the valley. Means said she’ll follow those people for a year and offer support when needed.

“Alcohol and drug addiction is similar to being a diabetic,” Means said. “A diabetic needs medicine to stay alive. In that way, a recovering addict needs support every day to stay away from using.”