Family Therapy for Addiction Treatment
Addiction has been called a family disease. If one person in the family has an addiction, the whole family is affected by it. Like tossing a pebble into a pond, the ripples from addiction spread out through the family and cause miscommunication, trauma, and strained relationships.
The Family Structure
Families form structures that are more than the individuals that make them up. Every family is organized and the members evolve into ways of acting and reacting with each other and with others outside the family structure. The methods of interaction between family members give every family a delicate balance and style concerning areas such as:
Expectations (spoken or not)
How feelings are expressed (or not expressed)
Conflict management (or avoidance)
How family issues are communicated in the outside world
The assignment of roles and responsibilities (consciously and unconsciously)
These factors help form the personality and behaviors of each family member. If any part of the family structure is changed, it leads to changes in all parts of the system. Each part is connected to the other parts and if one piece is moved, they all move.
What is Family Therapy?
The idea behind family therapy is that problems exist between people, not within them. Family therapy is a type of counseling that helps members improve communication and resolve conflicts. Typically, family therapy is a short-term therapy. It may include all members of the family or just the ones who want to take part.
While individual therapy focuses on the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions of one person, family therapy explores the relationships within the family and the purpose is to understand the experiences of all the family members. The ultimate goal is to bring clarity to all the relationships in the family and foster repair and closeness if the members choose.
Using the framework of addiction, a family therapist will examine with the family how substance use is rooted in the interactions among family members. Through family addiction counseling, the therapist can help with building new skills and coach the members in practicing them.
The Four Important Parts of Family Therapy
- Family Engagement: Family engagement interventions typically happen during the first stage of treatment and strengthens the family members’ involvement.
- Relational Reframing: This part is made up of interventions meant to move from individual ways of defining a problem. Instead, it focuses on solutions toward understanding based on relationships.
- Family Behavior Change: The goal of this element is to switch the behavior of the family members by teaching new skills and encouraging individual changes in behavior.
- Family Restructuring: This goal is to change the way the family system is governed, to shift basic beliefs and family rules.
Why is Family Therapy for Substance Abuse Important?
Research has shown that treatment programs for individuals who have a substance use disorder (SUD) have better outcomes if the person’s family or closest friends are involved in the process. If the family chooses not to get involved in educating themselves about substance use and the effect it has on the family dynamics, it could actually hinder the individual’s recovery. Especially if the family members continue any enabling or dysfunctional behaviors of their own.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has reported that “Family therapy can help families become aware of their own needs and aid in the goal of keeping substance abuse from moving from one generation to another. In addition, family therapy helps improve relationships between partners, children, and other family members. During therapy, members might want to discuss marital and financial problems, issues between parents and children, and t
How Does Addiction Affect a Family?
In the case of families, this connection of members can work in a variety of ways. For example: if one family member–perhaps a parent–is overly responsible and controlling, it will influence the attitudes and behaviors of the other members of the family. After some time, children and adult partners will usually respond by becoming less responsible.
Similarly, when a family member is suffering from active addiction, they usually behave irresponsibly. This also influences the behavior of the other family members who typically become overly responsible and more controlling.
When a family member is struggling with any ongoing chronic condition, everyone in the family is affected. The structure of the family system shifts as each person adjusts to the situation. These changes occur slowly, subtly, and unconsciously.
Characteristics of Family Interaction When Addiction is Present
These features are likely to be present in a family where parent(s) or child(ren) are abusing illegal drugs or alcohol:
- Negativism: Most communication among the family members is negative. It usually features complaints, criticism, and other expressions of dissatisfaction.
- Parental inconsistency: Rule setting is unpredictable and enforcement is inconsistent. There is not enough structure in the home. Children become confused because they can’t figure out the difference between right and wrong.
- Parental denial: Although there are warning signs, parents deny the presence of a problem.
- Failed expressions of anger: Children or parents who resent their emotionally needy home are afraid to express their feelings. They then turn to drug or alcohol abuse to manage their anger.
- Self-medication: Either a parent or child will use drugs or alcohol to deal with severe anxiety or depression.
- Unrealistic expectations of parents: When expectations are unrealistic, children excuse themselves from all expectations in the future. Their thinking is “You can’t expect anything from me. I’m just an addict.” On the other hand, they may turn to obsessive overachieving, feeling that no matter what they do, it is never good enough. Children tend to conform their behavior to their parents’ predictions if the expectations are low and they are told they will fail.
In all of these cases, restructuring of the whole family is needed. This means the relationships between the parents and between the parents and the children. Unfortunately, like any other chronic disorder, no family is safe and immune from addiction. Addiction to drugs and alcohol affects people regardless of age, income, race, ethnicity, and religion. Anyone can become addicted and anyone can become affected by another person’s addiction.
Effects of Addiction on Children
When there is substance abuse in the family, it can lead to inappropriate role-taking by children. For instance: In a family where the mother is addicted, a young daughter might be expected to take on the role of the mother. When a child takes on the role of the parent, and the parent takes on the role of the child, the necessary boundaries for family functioning are blurred. Thus robbing the child of her childhood unless there is help from other supportive adults.
A spouse of a person with a substance disorder is likely to safeguard and shield the children by taking over the parenting duties that are not being fulfilled by the addicted partner. In a case where both parents are abusing substances, the effect on the children is even worse. Care for the children might have to be provided by extended family members as well as providing financial and psychological support. This role is frequently assumed by grandparents.
Are You Codependent?
Although you didn’t cause your loved one’s addiction and you have found that you can’t control it, there are ways that family members may be contributing to it. And you probably don’t even realize it. When one person has a substance use dependence and the others don’t, the issue of codependency comes up.
Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) defines codependency as “being overly concerned with the problems of another to the detriment of tending to one’s own wants and needs.” The term “codependent” was initially meant to describe spouses of those with alcohol abuse disorder, but has since come to refer to any relative of a person with any type of behavior of a psychological nature. Codependent people have several models of behavior such as:
- They are overly controlling because they believe the addict is not able to take care of themself.
- They usually have low self-esteem and tend to deny their feelings.
- They are overly submissive and will compromise their values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger from the addict.
- They often react in an overly sensitive way and are overly watchful for disruption, troubles, or disappointments.
- They stay loyal to people who don’t deserve their loyalty.
Recovery for Family Members
There is a process for the recovery of family members and significant others of addicts to promote their health and well-being. The process includes becoming consciously aware of the ways that addiction affects families and relationships. Family members learn a new set of skills that need to be continually practiced.
A problem that family members and significant others face in getting help for themselves is that they believe that the problem is with the addicted member, and not them. As long as they believe that, the problem only continues to get worse.
Family members of someone with a substance use disorder need to develop conscious awareness and non-judgmental acceptance that everyone is responsible for their own behavior in any given situation. Therefore, the only part of the problem that you have any ability to change is your own. All you can change is yourself and that is the core of the recovery process.
Tips for Coping With an Addicted Family Member
Hand of a professional family psychotherapist writing notes in front of a couple with a child in a blurred background during a consultation[/caption]Learning how to deal with reality is a good first step in surviving when you love someone who has a substance use disorder (SUD). The situation won’t get better just because you wish it would.
Learn how to love and remain healthy
Learn how to set and maintain boundaries. Explore the reasons why you may have a problem doing that. Learn assertive techniques that will help you say “no” when you mean no and “yes” when you mean yes. Take care of your own life.
Stop trying to “fix” the other person. You can’t do it.
The only person you can control is yourself. You have no control over the addicted person in your life.
Stop blaming the addicted person
Of course, it’s tempting to blame the addict in your life for your difficulties. . However it is more valuable to look at what you may be doing to contribute to the circumstances since that is the only thing you can do anything about.
Learn the difference between helping and enabling
You may be worried that if you don’t help your addicted loved one, they will end up in a worse situation. If you try to help by giving them money, driving them around, or allowing them to stay in your home, you are not helping. That is enabling and when you stop enabling behaviors, you can start helping.
Don’t bend to manipulation
Addicts hate the word “no” and therefore become master manipulators. The fear of stopping their substance use is so great that they will do anything to avoid being honest with themselves and everyone else.
Answer the “Magic Question”
You might be as addicted to your enabling behavior as the addict is to their manipulation. The enabling behavior might be helping you to keep busy and full your life so you don’t realize how lonely you really are.
Self-care is not selfish
Self-care means that you have enough respect for yourself to take care of your physical, mental, and emotional needs.
Build your own life
The most productive way to end your own addictive behaviors such as people-pleasing and enabling is to focus on rebuilding your own life.
Don’t wait for things to get better
When people who love an addict finally reach out for help, they have usually been struggling with the situation for a long time. Don’t wait to see if things will get better without professional help. Because it won’t.
Help is Available Now
Miracles Recovery Center is experienced in helping people with substance use disorders. In fact, it’s all we do. Our therapists are experienced in helping people like you and your family. Drug and alcohol abuse problems do not go away on their own. You and your family are suffering, and we know it. You can take the first step to stop the torment by contacting us now.