When a person struggles with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, the disease of addiction can affect everyone surrounding that person. Family and friends often change their behaviors around the person, becoming enablers, distancing themselves, or falling into denial about their loved one’s illness. Family is deeply involved in the struggle with addiction, which means it is very important for them to become involved in recovery. This is not just about supporting the individual overcoming the addiction, but about creating a healthy environment for everyone affected by the disease.
Family Plays a Role in Recovery
Families must become involved in their loved one’s recovery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there is a correlation between the amount of social support a person has and their potential for relapse; those with less support are more likely to relapse. Additionally, the family’s involvement in treatment and recovery can help the entire group understand how dynamics contribute to substance abuse triggers and how these need to change. There will be better understanding of the importance of sobriety and how the whole family together can encourage that.
How Can Family Members Help during Treatment?
Involvement of the whole family is an important step in the process of treatment and recovery. Basic steps toward fostering greater family involvement include:
- Learning about the treatment and recovery process with their loved one
- Participating in getting the loved one into a rehabilitation program and treatment planning
- Attending therapy or group sessions as requested
- Finding individual or family therapy as needed
- Encouraging the loved one overcoming their addiction to continue their work without judgment
It is important for substance abuse treatment to include family members. Families should be involved as partners in the process, and according to the Family Mental Health Alliance in Canada, they should be trained to help with:
- Crisis intervention
- Navigating systems and resources
- Advocating on behalf of their loved one
- Monitoring symptoms for potential relapse
- Providing housing and social activities for the early stages after rehabilitation
- Providing doctors and therapists with more information on their loved one’s lifestyle and habits
NIDA states that family participation in recovery offers many benefits for everyone, not just for the individual working to overcome their addiction. Some of these benefits include:
- The individual entering treatment for substance abuse will feel positive pressure to remain in treatment.
- Family members will have many chances to voice questions or concerns during the treatment process.
- The person overcoming addiction can hear the impact substance abuse has had on the family directly, and this can motivate them to change.
- Potential behavioral, substance abuse, or other problems in family members can be identified in therapy and effectively treated.
The Importance of Family Therapy
It is important for the person overcoming addiction to attend therapy sessions, learn about the underlying causes of their addiction, and work to develop better coping mechanisms for stress. A great deal of work goes into overcoming addiction, but the family should also work hard alongside their loved one.
Family therapy is a tool frequently used in treatment programs to help families deal with addiction’s effects on the whole group. According to research reported by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, people struggling with addiction or substance abuse whose families did not participate in family therapy had a 10 percent greater incidence of untimely death; in contrast, people who had family therapy as an integral part of the recovery process had a 2 percent lower incidence of untimely death.
Family therapy as a tool in substance abuse treatment serves two purposes:
- To encourage the family to build on their existing strengths and resources so they can all find ways to live without substance abuse
- To help everyone in the family overcome psychological damage caused by the addiction
People who have a family member who struggles with addiction are more likely to struggle with mental health issues and domestic problems. There is an increased potential for domestic violence, deteriorating interpersonal relationships, conflict between family members and friends, increased stress, and behavioral problems in children. Children of people struggling with addiction often struggle with their own substance abuse problems later in life, and family therapy sessions can help to reduce this potential. Attending family therapy can begin to heal the negative impact of substance abuse on the whole family and rebuild trust.
Financial Assistance for Loved Ones during Treatment
Too often, families end up in financial crisis after a loved one has become addicted to drugs or alcohol. This can be due to stealing, spending too much money on drugs, losing employment or being unable to maintain consistent employment, and legal issues related to substance abuse.
However, one of the ways a family can support their loved one’s treatment is by helping with financial aspects of the recovery process. While this can involve direct donations from various family members to the cost of treatment, it can also mean researching a variety of ways to pay for treatment, assisting the person in finding employment after leaving a rehabilitation program, and helping everyone manage stress related to finances in a healthy manner.
How Families Can Help after Treatment
Relapse is part of the recovery process. Although everyone should work to reduce the potential for relapse, if or when it does occur, it’s important to know that this is a normal aspect of recovery. There are several ways that the family can help their loved one if relapse occurs.
- Offer encouragement: Help the person remember their original treatment plan and encourage them to recommit to their recovery.
- Stand firm: Don’t enable the relapse. Remind the person that they can get back on track with recovery immediately.
- Set an example: Eat healthy foods, get plenty of exercise and rest, and avoid triggering situations. If those around the recovering individual also undergo lifestyle changes to get healthier, it will encourage the recovering person to maintain their recovery, even in the face of relapse.
- Be optimistic: No one wants to relapse, but if it does occur, it is important to stay strong and positive. Relapse isn’t a sign of failure; it’s just a sign that treatment needs to be adjusted in some way.
A social support system is integral to a person’s successful recovery from addiction, and family is a huge part of this support system. Family members can support their loved one in entering treatment for the addiction and then in participating in ongoing therapy while also working to become independent.
Equally important is the process of healing the family. Relationships can be damaged by a person’s actions when that individual struggles with substance abuse or addiction. Attending therapy, both with and without the person in addiction treatment, can help everyone to positively change relationships and behaviors. Ultimately, the family of a person overcoming substance abuse should provide support to their loved one, but they must seek support for themselves as well.