When one family member suffers from a drug or alcohol addiction, it can completely upheave a family dynamic and become a struggle for everyone. Although this is extremely difficult, families also offer a vital avenue for support in short and long term recovery and improve your chances of successful sobriety. We’ll explain how in this blog.
Addiction – The Family Disease
It has become something of an adage among addiction professionals that addiction is a family disease. Substance use disorders (SUDs) don’t just flip the lives of sufferers upside-down – ripples are felt by the whole family. Simply scratching the surface of the effects this disease has on loved ones will uncover:
- Chronic stress
- Emotional or physical abuse
These can turn into the family members’ own harmful adaptive behaviors with time. One of the most obvious examples of this is how living with a parent suffering from substance use disorder can be uniquely traumatizing for children. So, when family members are involved in treatment together, opportunities to communicate and heal together arise as part of the natural process.
Beyond individual behavior, addiction can also lead the family to act in certain toxic ways as a unit. Living with and frequently caring for a loved one engaged in something as destructive as long-term substance abuse warps our relationships in confusing and uncontrollable ways. Some ways this can manifest include various family members:
- attempts to control or cure the addicted family member.
- failure to hold the sufferer accountable or say no.
- ongoing incursions on boundaries.
- empty investment in the addicted family member’s lifestyle (money, time, energy, and trust).
- enabling and codependent patterns in caretaking.
These dynamics are more like survival techniques than active choices, and escaping them can be difficult, especially alone. Each is complicated by the individual’s world of emotions about the addiction, expectations, bonds, and practical role to others in the family unit. They’re complicated, insidious, and persistent – often lasting or mutating after their loved one returns home. It’s not an easy environment for anyone. When these behaviors continue to run unchecked, it is harder for the loved one to maintain sobriety.
Talking Solutions: Family Involvement
Whether you’re in recovery and want to get your loved ones engaged with your journey, or you’re a family member curious about ways you can avoid the above problems, active involvement can be very effective.
Education continues to be the key to most things. It almost goes without saying that public perceptions of addiction are warped by a combination of historical and societal feelings and points of view. Families of individuals in recovery are not immune to this, especially with their complicated firsthand experience of substance abuse. As addiction professionals, we can offer the clearest, evidence-based information we have about this disease as part of an involved family education program.
Education around the what and why of addiction helps family members support their loved one in recovery. The information presented is based on the same logic and evidence as treatment, and it will help demystify what is going on. You may learn about how cravings, triggers, relapse, and relapse prevention, all work. Education will help you think about the environment and relationships you build at home, empowering the family unit together for recovery.
More and more rehab centers are beginning to advertise the benefits of a good family counseling program, and rightly so. This form of therapy allows the family to work together to get to the bottom of communication issues, solve problems, begin to resolve past hurts and stressors, and evolve as a stronger family unit. There are many different models, including:
- Multisystemic therapy: A comprehensive therapeutic strategy aimed at relating an addicted user’s behavior and attitudes to those of their family, school, and neighborhood.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Investigates and builds coping strategies for mismatches between thoughts and behavior, including familial behavior.
- The family systems model: organizes families into systems with component roles that interact in specific ways in the presence of addiction.
Stressors, false information, and hurt relationships at home can stem from and contribute to cycles of addiction. Family involvement has the potential to alter these cycles and is a powerful way of getting involved in a loved one’s recovery. When it’s done with genuine motivation on all sides, it can change the course of a family’s health.