Peace in the Face of Addiction

My mom’s addiction was my fault, and I just hated myself.

Kylie, age 10

The family secret of hidden addiction is more common than you think. Children in one out of four households are living with addicted grownups!

Oklahoma now has a successful intervention program, proven to break the cycle and help children deal with their emotions— without adding to the guilt that parents already feel. The nonprofit, called Peaceful Family Oklahoma, is eager to help children.

My grandmother found Peaceful Family OK. When I walked through the doors, I didn’t think it was okay to feel angry with my mom. It was a bad emotion. But I learned to safely release those emotions.

Kylie, now 18

The initial Peaceful Family Oklahoma process occurs at a three-day camp where children learn to understand addiction and coping strategies to help them face future struggles within their family.

“We teach them healthy, age-appropriate ways to deal with emotions that they might not even have words for,” said Lisa Reed, director of Peaceful Family Oklahoma. “It’s not kids sitting with therapists, but kids walking into a room with other kids who’ve lived with the same secrets. They bond almost instantly.”

In a moment, I realized these other kids felt the same way I did. I wasn’t alone, and I didn’t have to keep secrets anymore.


“Developmentally, these children believe if they make their bed every day or get better grades, their grownup will stop drinking or using substances. The big “aha” they walk away with after a Peaceful Family Oklahoma camp is the realization that they can’t change it or control it—but they aren’t alone,” Reed said.

As part of the program, children learn the science of addiction. By understanding the disease model, kids learn why they have a greater risk factor of addiction themselves––making it more important that they never experiment or start using substances. Studies show that without intervention, these children are eight times more likely to follow in their parents’ footsteps because of environmental and genetic factors.

“They also identify their ‘safe person’ who can assist them when their parent is unable to care for them,” Reed said. “It might be a non-addicted parent, a foster family or a guardian. It’s often a relative who is helping raise the child.”

After the foundational training, more traditional therapies may follow. Peaceful Family Oklahoma also offers caregiver sessions and play dates. “Families in this situation often miss out on the fun, playful experiences that connect families and help them trust each other.” Reed said.

Peaceful Family Oklahoma recently added a teen-specific session, their fastest-growing program. The staff are surprised by how quickly the teens open up to each other. “They aren’t reluctant to talk, they are hungry to face their feelings. They are interested in soul searching and finding ways to heal.”

Reed stressed the importance of maintaining a judgment-free zone at Peaceful Family Oklahoma, so that children can still love their parents, but understand the brain disease they are facing. The organization was founded by Mark Barcum, based on principles he learned from the Betty Ford Foundation when he had custody of his own grandchildren because of addiction. When Reed came on as director in 2020, she expected to strengthen the program, but found that the Peaceful Family process was “near perfection,” and she just needed to get it into the hands of Oklahoma families.

“Addiction doesn’t have boundaries,” Reed said. “No matter what your education level, religion, ethnicity, or bank account might be––addiction doesn’t care. It takes amazing strength for these parents to acknowledge their children’s experiences because of their disease, so we try to be as welcoming as possible. That’s why Peaceful Family OK is 100% free to families.”

As I reflect back on my childhood, I realize that I have a better relationship with my family because of Peaceful Family. It was really important for me to learn that addiction was not my fault.


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