Many drug and alcohol treatment facilities across the country are learning that one of the most important aspects of sustaining long-term recovery is the family system. Addiction may seem to affect only the drinker or drug user, but the reality is that addiction is a condition that affects everyone surrounding the addict. In a family system, unhealthy dynamics can create resentment and secrecy and can even enable addictive behaviors.
The result is that the addict gets sicker and the family experiences emotional distress. Members of the family can even develop their own unhealthy behaviors to cope with the pain of loving an addict. Examples include enabling the addict by lying about their whereabouts or giving them money to avoid confrontation. In other cases, family members may stop speaking to their addicted loved one, allowing resentment and anger to breed. In some cases, a family member may turn to their own addictive behaviors like compulsive shopping or eating to cover up the emotional pain. For both the overall health of the family and to support recovery, family counseling is a necessary part of addiction treatment.
When an addict enters addiction treatment for their addiction at a reputable and legitimate drug rehab facilities, therapists know that this family component is key to promoting more success and oftentimes motivates patients to work harder on themselves. Addiction therapists may recommend support groups for the family to attend, such as Al-Anon or Families Anonymous. The meetings are all over the country and they offer support, literature and tips for coping with a loved one in addiction as well as ways to heal, whether the addict is successful or not.
In addition to suggesting support groups, therapists may recommend family sessions. These can be conducted in person or over the phone, depending on the individual case. Families are assisted by therapists in developing effective ways to talk to their loved one when a situation arises. They may offer much-needed support in setting boundaries, such as not sending the addict money whenever they ask or hanging up the phone if the patient attempts to emotionally manipulate them. These boundaries often play a huge role in the patient finally making some changes. Addicts are often used to their family members giving in to their demands, which can cause resentment for the family and worsen the addictive behavior. Learning to set these boundaries with the guidance of an addiction treatment counselor can be a huge step in the healing process for everyone.
Family sessions can also promote effective communication. In an addicted family system, communication might look like screaming matches or simply avoiding difficult subjects. Family therapy offers a neutral and safe place to communicate effectively and honesty with guidance from a professional. Learning assertive communication helps the addict to practice honesty and vulnerability and gives their loved ones a chance to express their feelings in a judgment-free zone.
In addition to improving communication and giving everyone a chance to express themselves, family therapy can help the addict and their loved one’s future. Oftentimes one of the biggest decisions a patient and their family will make is aftercare planning. It is vital to have a plan for what will happen when (and if) a patient decides to return home after treatment. This is important for both the addict’s recovery and the family’s healing. Wounds caused by active addiction may still feel fresh at this point. Family therapy can help ease this tension and anxiety by assisting families in creating an effective plan for post-treatment care. In family therapy sessions, patients and their loved ones can process fears and other emotions surrounding this issue and can set reasonable expectations and boundaries together.
In these sessions, patients’ families are encouraged to create, with patient and therapist, a set of boundaries that will not falter as well as consequences if these boundaries are crossed. This conversation should be a cohesive one, with little to no stress, tension or arguments. The point is to make each participant feel prepared and ready with no unresolved issues or unanswered questions. Families want to ensure that the boundaries are not suffocating or too intrusive – as this will more than likely push the addicted loved one away and cause some distress and arguments. Addiction counselors can help ensure that this process is effective and that it promotes healing and a feeling of security for every member of the family, including the recovering addict.
Overall, having a family member involved with an addicted person’s treatment is beneficial in many ways. The loved one in recovery feels supported, better understood, encouraged and loved by their family members when there is a consistent discussion about the family dynamic. It also offers the addict’s family a chance to process the pain caused by their loved one’s addiction and to create a plan to move forward in a positive and loving way, addressing the concerns of every member. Having the support of a professional counselor can help ensure that resentment and fear are replaced with honesty and connection as the addict moves forward in their recovery journey.