In recent years, people have become more aware of family dynamics, the patterns of how people behave and the roles that family members take on which can define us as living with a “functional” or “dysfunctional” family. The definition of Families has also changed, from the “traditional family” of two parents (a mother, and father), to a myriad of arrangements we now refer to as a “family.” But how has this changed family therapy for families of addicts.
Modern families consist of non-traditional units raising children such as single parents, grandparents, friend, gay couples, unmarried couples, and community involvement. As the family unit has changed, so has the way we view therapy and addiction.
In the beginning of treatment, when working with a client who is addicted to drugs and alcohol, it was common to treat the symptom as removing or abstaining the substance. This way of thinking was found out to have short-term effectiveness and proved to be a “band-aid” instead of getting to the broader issues of addiction that underly the disease. Still today, there are many people, both addicts and non-addicts alike, who cannot understand how addiction is a “real” disease, even though it is listed as Substance Use Disorder in the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health) and has been accepted in the medical field as a legitimate diagnosis.
Part of the complexity of addiction is how it continues to affect the family and friends of the addicted person, and how they can be better educated and more equipped to handle the emotional challenges. Family therapy has proved a useful and essential component to long-lasting recovery of drug and alcohol addiction.
The Family Disease of Addiction
Is addiction a family disease? The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence thinks it is, as do many professionals working directly in the field. That is because the nature of addiction will affect the entire family system and the individual members who are in it. Worry, guilt, denial, anger, frustration, feeling helpless, financial stress, not understanding, placing blame, and internal fighting can affect any of the family members.
Parents of adult children don’t know what to do because their hands are tied if their child is over the age of 18, and they can’t make decisions for them. Children of addicts are very affected if one or more members of their immediate family have abandoned them, or exhibits erratic behavior, or puts them in harm’s way due to neglect or abuse. In turn, it also teaches a child addictive behavior as they will model the adult.
Children of addicts often have challenges in school and are four times more likely to develop an addiction to drugs and alcohol themselves than their peers who don’t come from families with addiction.
How Family Therapy Can Help
By attending family therapy sessions in recovery and treatment centers with or without the addict, family members can benefit in several ways. This includes:
- Identifying and reducing negative emotions — Many individuals feel anger, anxiety, guilt, resentment, and embarrassment towards the addicted family member.
- Developing a safety plan — When families enter into therapy they can create a safety plan for themselves and/or the addicted family member with the help of the therapist. This can help with transitions when the family member leaves the treatment center.
- Addiction Education — Frequently non-addicts do not understand addiction and addictive behaviors. Family therapy is very beneficial with the education of the disease.
- Communication — Most likely there has been unhealthy communication around the issue and even before the family member became diagnosed with substance abuse disorder. Through family therapy, individual members will learn the rules of communication so that everyone is speaking the same language. It can also be used to address people’s feelings and underlying emotions towards the issues at hand.
- Boundaries — Family therapy is beneficial for setting up healthy boundaries on when to help and when to not help the addict. Boundaries can be written in a “family contract” that everyone signs, so that it is upfront as what the rules are when it comes to addiction and behavior around it.
- Creating interdependency — Family therapy can help create an interdependent system, which is where each person can change roles within the unit if a crisis occurs, and have it function at a healthy level, rather than be codependent and enabling, or independent and isolating.
Most recovery centers offer family therapy and understand the value for individual in treatment and their loved ones. Here at Carus Recovery, we are no exception to facilitating informative family therapy sessions. If you would like to learn more about the specific types of family therapy interventions we use, or to talk about yourself or a loved one who needs help, contact us online at 877-225-7724.
This article is for informational purposes only and not to be substituted for professional medical advice regarding your situation.