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Culture and Family History Matter

Culture and Family History Matter

Through a cooperative effort with NACoA (National Association for Children of Alcoholics) and the Wellbriety Movement, a new program has emerged and is designed to spread family healing and recovery across Indian Country. The Wellbriety Movement is a national American Indian recovery and generational healing movement that addresses both addiction in the present and the generational trauma suffered at the hands of the government and the boarding schools of the past. This trauma has continued to pass through subsequent generations and fuels hopelessness, mental health problems, and addiction.  


In addressing this generational pain and loss for American Indian individuals and families, the Wellbriety Movement and NACoA have established a partnership to strengthen the powerful recovery movement that is spreading through American Indian tribes across America, but has lacked the family healing needed to attain and sustain what Dr. Tian Dayton has called “emotional sobriety.” The Wellbriety Movement has recognized that while it is critical to use evidence-based programs to make and sustain healthy change, it is also critical that culture be blended with such programs in an age-appropriate ways that can provide the path to healing and wellness so essential to recovery. This insight brought the Wellbriety Movement to NACoA.


Called Wellbriety Celebrating Families!, the program uses Celebrating Families!, the NACoA evidence-based, sixteen-week, whole family recovery program that has already demonstrated great success in populations being served by drug courts and dependency courts as well as posttreatment family aftercare and in programs treating and supporting young mothers and their children. White Bison, Inc. and the Wellbriety Movement developed a comprehensive cultural enhancement for each module of the program. Group leader trainings are a three-day commitment with attendees agreeing to facilitate the program for four years, thus building program sustainability from the beginning at all locations. The enhanced facilitator implementation manual and training videos provide a framework of Wellbriety teachings that support the Celebrating Families! curriculum and provide insights into how the curriculum blends with American Indian cultural and family values. Throughout each lesson, this enhancement is bringing together culture and family—the two most important components to support recovery and healing for addicted individuals and impacted families—hurt often over generations by addiction in the family. 


Celebrating Families! is a cognitive behavioral support model written for families in which one or both parents has a serious substance use disorder and in which there is often a high risk for domestic violence, child abuse or neglect. It is listed on the National Registry of Effective Programs and Practices (NREPP) of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and works with every member of the family to strengthen recovery from alcohol or drug use problems, break the cycle of addiction, and increase the rate of reunification in families torn apart by the ravages of addiction. A 0–3 component is currently being developed and will be added to the full program in the next few months.
Wellbriety Celebrating Families! is designed to foster the development of safe, healthy, fulfilled, and addiction‐free individuals and families by increasing resiliency factors and decreasing risk factors while incorporating addiction recovery concepts with healthy family living skills reflective of the American Indian culture.


Applying evidence-based prevention and recovery support services that has blended in restorative culture brings great hope for a population that has suffered long enough. NACoA is extremely proud to be able to partner with the Wellbriety Movement to strengthen the heroic efforts of so many American Indian communities already inching toward healthy family recovery. We anticipate that the movement will grow exponentially as the importance of helping parents, grandparents, and young children to benefit from their own healing and recovery becomes apparent to all.


Why NACoA?


Because COAs are still one in four.


Thirty-two years ago, there was a gathering in California of young clinicians—psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, physicians, and teachers—brought together on the Kroc ranch in southern California at the invitation of Joan Kroc. Most had not met before, but all were working on their own, creating programs and trying to find solutions and provide therapy for children of alcoholic parents, both young and adult children. Of this extraordinary group, many remain top leaders in the fields of family therapy, addiction treatment, and children of alcoholic and drug abusing parents.  


In 1983, what these fresh, young, and new leaders in the addiction field had concluded was that the observations and shared knowledge from their collective anecdotal reports and from their practices made it clear that one in four children appeared to be living in households with one or more alcoholic persons and they were suffering from that experience. Too many children were suffering abuse, neglect, emotional and physical scarring, and a lack of supportive adults in their fragile lives. They decided that something needed to be done collectively for maximum impact, so they created the National Association for Children of Alcoholics and began a lifelong commitment to bringing awareness to those who could intervene and help these vulnerable children.  


Twenty years ago, Lewis Eigen, EdD, and David W. Rowden, PhD, recognized that there was a sizeable number of children who were suffering in silence and being ignored in our public health policies and prevention programs. They did a comprehensive analysis of the number of children of alcoholics (COAs) in the country, breaking them into categories of when in their lifetimes they were exposed to alcoholism in their families. In each category the number of COAs still averaged one in four. In 2000, this analysis was republished in NACoA’s publication, Children of Alcoholics Selected Readings


Fifteen years ago, the American Journal of Public Health published a definitive report of a large epidemiology study by Bridget F. Grant, PhD, entitled “Estimates of the US Children Exposed to Alcohol Abuse and Dependence in the Family.” The study sought to provide direct estimates of the number of US children younger than eighteen years who are exposed to alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence in the family. The findings were one in four. The first sentence in the report was, “Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence are the two most prevalent and deleterious psychiatric disorders not only in the United States but in the world” (2000). The report ends with, 


Children exposed through no fault of their own to alcohol abuse and dependence during their critical developmental years are thrust into families and environments that pose extraordinary risks to their immediate and future well-being . . . the potential cost to human services, health, education, social services, and correctional systems will quickly become overwhelming (Grant, 2000). 


Ten years ago, the CDC and Kaiser Permanente began to publish the results of their joint Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, and one of NACoA’s founders, Dr. Charles Whitfield, a psychiatrist, sent one of the earliest published reports with a note written across the top.  “Look at this!” it read. “They finally proved what we told them twenty years ago!”



Yes, it is difficult to address such close-to-home issues as the pain, fear, confusion, and desperation millions of our children are feeling every day. None of us want to rock the boat, “interfere” or believe that since children remain silent, there is no opportunity to help. We can fool ourselves that they are somehow okay. Sometimes, we do not want to think about the children of our clients and how they must be suffering; the client is difficult enough and no one pays for the children to get the help they need so they are not, one day, the client of a next generation counselor. And that is “Why NACoA?”—to continually remind those who could do something or say something to actually do it. Readers of this esteemed magazine have great power to make a difference in the life of a hurting child. These children cannot wait another decade and they should not have to wait at all.  





Grant, B. F. (2000). Estimates of US children exposed to alcohol abuse and dependence in the family. American Journal of Public Health, 90(1), 112–5.