Your loved one has finally agreed to get professional help for a substance use disorder or addiction. You are relieved as this is what you have been hoping for because you’ve known for a while that treatment is the next important step. As a concerned family member, you understand why your support is important, and you plan to stand behind your loved one all the way. This is a good thing because family support is important throughout the whole healing process.
Many people may not understand how a family can support the addiction treatment process, but having family members on board who are invested in a person’s recovery is really important to the person getting the help they need.
Recovery from substance abuse takes a lot of time and commitment. No one can do it alone, whether it is the person in addiction treatment or their family members or closed loved ones. Everyone is invested in the success of the person in recovery.
Attending family therapy is one way to demonstrate your commitment to your loved one’s recovery and healing work that you need to do for yourself. There are several reasons to consider participating in it. Many families do not always understand how they are affected by their loved one’s addiction. In many situations, they may not even have the proper tools to address it in a manner that can help them and their loved one. That’s where family therapy comes in.
This form of addiction recovery support is for everyone. It helps families understand the unhealthy patterns they have adopted as they grappled with a loved one’s substance abuse issues.
“Family therapy is based on the idea that a family is a system of different parts. A change in any part of the system will trigger changes in all the other parts. This means that when one member of a family is affected by a behavioral health disorder such as mental illness or addiction, everyone is affected,” explains the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in its “Family Therapy Can Help” guide. “As a result, family dynamics can change in unhealthy ways. Lies and secrets can build up in the family. Some family members may take on too much responsibility, other family members may act out, and some may just shut down,”
All family members who have been affected by a relative’s addiction will have to make changes as the person in addiction recovery makes changes, too. While it sounds like it’s easy to do, the truth is it takes time, patience, and a great deal of work. According to SAMHSA’s guide, family therapy has two main goals. The first is to help everyone in the family give support to the person in recovery that encourages them to grow and stay true to what they are learning in addiction treatment. The second is to help the family improve their emotional health as they reset the boundaries and work to create a new environment that benefits everyone.
Family therapy generally starts after a person in addiction treatment has been in recovery for a while and is making steady progress. It could be a few months or a year or two after treatment starts.
A licensed family therapist, social worker, psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, clergy member, or another kind of professional usually conducts family therapy sessions. Whoever is chosen to lead the meetings should possess certain qualities, such as sensitivity to the family’s situation and qualities. They also must remain respectful and nonjudgmental.
During the meeting, which typically lasts for about an hour, the professional meets with the family in an office setting or at a clinic. Participants may be asked to sign a contract so that everyone understands meeting expectations and rules, such as not interrupting a person who is talking. A consent form also may be signed to ensure that what is said and shared in the meeting stays private and confidential. If there are exceptions, the professional will explain what those are to participants.
The meeting’s leader may ask everyone questions or the leader may let others talk and observe the participants as they have a discussion. “The therapist does this to learn such things as how family members behave and communicate with each other and what the family’s strengths and needs are. The particular techniques used by the therapist will depend on the phase of treatment for the member in treatment and the family’s readiness for change,” SAMHSA writes.
Therapy sessions usually address what’s important to the family, so sessions are unique because it just depends on what the family is facing and how they need to address it. Family members can express their concerns or feelings in this safe space or they may want to address a particular issue and brainstorm ways to solve it. Sessions can cover anything from coping skills and effective communication to making amends and learning to forgive unpleasant things from the past and much more. Families in addiction family therapy may be asked to complete homework or they may be encouraged to do activities together, such as taking a walk in the park or dining out at a favorite restaurant.
Addiction family therapy also can give everyone the tools they need to create and follow a lifestyle change that is needed to support the person who is in the early stages of recovery. Family members may also have to alter certain habits, such as emptying the home of anything that could tempt someone to drink or use drugs. This lifestyle change can serve as the foundation of the new way home affairs are conducted.
Not every family member will be on board with going therapy, so prepare for that possibility. SAMHSA writes that relatives may reject joining sessions because they’re tired of talking about the issue or don’t trust sharing with others with a therapist present. They also may just be skeptical or unwilling to go because the current flow of things in the family works to their advantage, no matter how unhealthy the environment or situation is, so they want to maintain that.
In cases such as these, a therapist can try to talk to reluctant family members to get them to come around. But ultimately, it’s up to each person to decide if they want to join or not. They may be willing to do so after some time has passed. Until then, those who are interested should proceed.
SAMHSA reports that research suggests that health treatment that includes family therapy works better than treatment programs that don’t offer it. Family therapy can help recovering people stick with their addiction treatment and reduce chances that they’ll relapse during the long-term. Others who participate can benefit, too.
“By making positive changes in family dynamics, the therapy can reduce the burden of stress that other family members feel. It can prevent additional family members from moving into drug or alcohol use. Research also shows that family therapy can improve how couples treat each other, how children behave, how the whole family gets along, and how the family connects with its neighbors,” SAMHSA writes.
Help doesn’t start and end with family therapy sessions. The professional who conducts the sessions can lead participants to other resources, such as individual, one-on-one counseling or classes covering topics such as parenting or anger management.
Family education, which is different from family therapy, can help families understand what addiction is. There is a great deal of stigma around addiction and addiction treatment, and these negative perceptions and stereotypes do nothing for the person who needs help. They also don’t help families who have someone who needs treatment for a substance abuse problem.
Unfortunately, adverse views keep many people out of treatment because they don’t want to be labeled or ridiculed. There is also a great deal of debate over whether addiction is a true disease or if it’s a lack of willpower or commitment to staying clean. It can be difficult to understand what people in active addiction face if no effort is made to learn what they experience. Taking some time to do so can help loved ones understand and appreciate the struggle that comes with moving on from substance addiction and starting over again.
There is an abundance of information available online, at the library, and in bookstores that can help families understand what addiction is, what it does, and how it is treated. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) offers helpful resources that explain the science of addiction and why it is hard to stop using and abusing substances once a person starts. Knowing what your loved one is up against as well as your role in helping the person start anew can help everyone stay focused on recovery goals.
Learning about addiction and any stigmas it has is an important first step. But education alone will not help family members understand what their loved ones face with substance abuse. Nor will that knowledge alone help heal relationships and keep people committed for the long haul that addiction recovery is. For people who want to (and need to) take that next step, addiction family therapy is the best way to go.
Treatment isn’t a quick fix or “cure” for addiction, so have realistic expectations going into this. In fact, according to NIDA, there is no cure for addiction, and it recommends that people receiving treatment stay in a program for at least 90 days, or three months to improve their chances of having a successful recovery. Addiction changes the structure and functioning of the brain, and depending on the severity of one’s illness, patience is needed as one relearns everyday tasks and healthy behaviors. There also are lingering consequences of addiction, such as chronic physical health issues, financial difficulties, and broken relationships in need of amending. There’s also the possibility of relapse, so it is important to take recovery one step and one stage at a time.
No matter how big or small a family is, no one can take all of this alone. That’s why there are resources out there that help anyone who feels they need it. Addiction recovery can be stressful and challenging, even for those who are 100 percent committed. Look for groups who meet to share similar experiences and coping tips. Some of these groups include:
If you or a loved one is considering entering an addiction treatment program, you want to get the best care you can to ensure your specific needs are met. Treatment programs at Delphi Behavioral Health Group’s facilities provide unique therapy and counseling methods for certain addictions. Our treatment centers provide an oasis for the community, counseling, and support for our clients in recovery and their families. Give us a call to discuss you or your loved one’s options today at 844-899-5777.
SAMHSA. “Family Therapy Can Help.” (2013). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved June 2018 from https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content//SMA13-4784/SMA13-4784.pdf
NIDA. (July 2014). “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved June 2018 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-abuse-addiction
NIDA. (January, 2018). “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved June 2018 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment