Editor’s note: PGDF’s Advisory Council (AC) is comprised of experts from across the field of addiction. In this new series, we invite AC members to share their expertise and experience with PGDF constituents.

Our newest member, Dr. Carrie Wilkens, PhD, is the Co-Founder and Clinical Director of the Center for Motivation and Change in NYC and in the Berkshires. She co-authored an award-winning book, Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change with Drs. Jeff Foote and Nicole Kosanke. Together they also contributed to a user-friendly workbook for parents: The 20 Minute Guide: A Guide for Parents about How to Help their Child Change their Substance Use. In collaboration with the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, Dr. Wilkens and the CMC team are developing a national parent training program (the Parent Support Network) to provide parent coaches to families in need of support through a free hotline.


The opioid crisis is cited as the worst public health crisis in American history, but opioids are not the only addictive substance that destroys lives in this nation. The reality is that there are twice as many alcohol deaths each day as there are opioid deaths, and approximately 10 times the number of people abusing alcohol than opioids.

Regardless of the substance being misused, addiction extracts a terrible toll emotionally and physically on the substance user and their family.  And while substance users are at times not motivated to change (for a variety of complicated reasons), family members are incredibly motivated and desperately want things to change. Unfortunately, the predominate message they receive is to “step away and detach.” They are also given ineffective guidance such as “do an intervention” and one-size-fits-all platitudes such as “let them hit rock bottom,” or “give them some tough love.” So, added to the injury of a loved one dealing with often terrifying substance use, families deal with the burden of shame, isolation and silence in this struggle. This is a tragic disempowerment of our biggest untapped resource for fighting the rising toll of addiction in this country: the family.

CMC: Foundation For Change capitalizes on the power of families by taking the tools that research and clinical trials have shown us work powerfully for our clients and sharing them with parents, families and communities around the country desperate for help.

In posing the following questions, we hope to inspire you to help us spread hope to families across the country.

Why Help Families?  

  • The numbers are enormous, as is the suffering.  One in four families has someone that is struggling with a substance use problem.
  • Families are in a uniquely powerful position to help.  Research shows the most frequently cited reason for seeking treatment is family influence.
  • Family members are a force like no other, with a combination of sheer numbers (for every substance user, 5 people around them are suffering emotional, physical and financial difficulties), and motivation (the commitment to helping a loved one get better is unquenchable).  That translates to over 100,000,000 people in this country!
  • The treatment system is and will always be woefully outnumbered by the size of the problem and the number of people needing help.  And given stigma and cultural norms, many families hesitate to seek help even if it is available.

How Do We Propose To Help?  

From working with families, we have heard over and over: parents want to talk to other parents who have been there and walked this path before them. They want to talk to parents whose children have faced hospitalizations, arrests, treatment centers and jails.  They want to talk with someone who has endured the impact of stigma and shame and hear from parents who have lost a child to this struggle. They long to feel less alone and share their pain with someone who understands and is non-judgmental.

With this in mind, we joined the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids five years ago to develop a training model.  In this work, we train parent volunteers who have had a child who struggled with addiction to effectively coach other parents using evidence-based strategies.  These parents staff a free 1-800 hotline for the Partnership that provides help and hope to hundreds of parents who call in looking for support. To date, we have conducted 20 trainings and have trained approximately 200 parent volunteers to be parent coaches. Our coaches come from 25 states (and counting!), and have themselves suffered the most brutal effects of addiction in their family, including approximately a quarter of them having lost a child to overdose. In spite of it all, they’ve stepped up to learn new ideas and help other parents.

And because we care about results, we collect data on the callers our volunteer parents have coached.  The parents who have received coaching report being able to communicate better and argue less with their child, have improved self-care and confidence in being able to deal with the problem they face, and quite dramatic improvements in a sense of hopefulness about their child’s future.  These are wonderful outcomes!

The success of this program inspired us to create a new non-profit organization, CMC: Foundation for Change. The mission of the CMC: Foundation is to send trainers and clinicians directly to community groups, parent groups and other treatment programs to hand over strategies that research has shown to be effective in helping substance users. Our hope is not to help fix the treatment system, but to empower parents, families and communities to help themselves, with all the passion and commitment unique to those who are struggling in the trenches day to day in their own families.

We are thrilled to have created CMC: Foundation for Change and we hope you will consider joining us. Families need help, professionals need help, and our culture needs help. Through our focus on getting science-based tools and understanding into the mainstream, we hope to change the conversation around addiction. We can help families thrive and care for their loved ones in ways that instigate real and lasting change. We can reduce the profound and painful impact that substance use problems are currently having on our communities. And we can change the culture from one of judgment and misunderstanding to one of compassion and knowledge based in science.

We hope that you will join us. Visit to learn more.