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Did you know persons with substance abuse problems have a better chance for successful post-treatment recovery when their family members and loved ones participate in treatment themselves? At Enterhealth, family therapy for addiction brings loved ones into patients’ treatment and recovery programs, which can be critical to a successful recovery drugs or alcohol .

But we take it one step further than most treatment providers, offering a “family-only” support program designed to help family and loved ones with their own healing and recovery needs and to better understand and support their addicted loved ones who are in recovery.

An Overview of Family therapy for Addiction

In the past, it was common for someone in recovery for drugs or alcohol to receive treatment individually, often removed from their home, community, and family. However, more recent research findings have shifted our approach towards a more integrated treatment that not only focuses on the individual but their family environment as well.

The general term “family therapy” refers to a group of treatment styles which target the familial group (or that of any close social supports) rather than just the individual addict. All of the various treatment styles assume that families are connected, and that by modifying even just one part of the whole you can beneficially affect the other parts. What this concept means is that the mental condition of a family can play a big role in a successful recovery. 

To properly treat drug and alcohol addiction, it’s important to realize that the effects of addiction are rarely limited to the addict themselves. All types of support systems, including friends, work, school, even family can contribute to, perpetuate and exacerbate a person’s addiction. Yet just as importantly, when any or all of these groups participate in a treatment program for a patient, they will dramatically increase the chances of successful long-term sobriety. Examples of issues which may be addressed in a family therapy session include parenting skills, abuse, depression, family conflict/communication styles and employment issues.

The use of family group therapy delivers high benefits with low costs of care, and therefore organizations including the National Institute on Drug Abuse and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services strongly recommend family therapy for addiction be incorporated into any substance abuse treatment program.

Why Family Group Therapy Matters for a Successful Recovery

It’s important to understand that in most cases, the person with the addiction isn’t the only one who needs help. Patients who are addicted to drugs or alcohol often suffer from a wide range of psychiatric disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, psychosis and more. Even if the addict doesn’t have an actual psychiatric disorder, their behavior often mimics a variety of disorders, and the unpredictable nature of these behaviors can put a lot of stress on family members.

In fact, after years of living with someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol (which is a serious brain injury) the stress can cause changes in the brain chemistry of other family members. This stress can in turn lead to a host of conditions including depression, anxiety, and even turning to substance abuse themselves. In situations like this, family members often develop unhealthy coping skills which must be unlearned if they are trying to begin healing and return to a normal life.

Treating the addict is only the first step in the overall healing process. Everyone in an addicted family system needs to participate in the treatment process, as well. Most treatment programs only teach the family how to deal with their addicted loved one, not how to heal themselves. Family members must learn new ways to cope with stress and address their individual issues or needs in order to heal as a unit with their recovering loved one. When the family is left untreated, the addict in inpatient rehab or outpatient rehab will return to the same stressful, unhealthy, dysfunctional environment, making their future relapse more likely.

Benefits of Family Therapy for Addiction

Some benefits gained by patients in treatment and their families from family therapy for addiction are:

  • A better understanding of their addiction and how it affects their behavior – this is accomplished through education. Families may be evaluated as well to discover any opportunities for self-assessment and insight.
  • Awareness of family dynamics – Families often adopt negative coping and communication patterns and behaviors which can contribute to perpetuating substance abuse. Every member of the family should be treated to affect the most successful outcomes.
  • Improving communication – Families who come in for treatment are often in a situation where there has been little to no communication or emotional involvement, so improving communication skills is a necessity.
  • Regaining trust – Deception is an unfortunately common component of substance abuse, and many family members find it hard to trust their loved ones after repeated lies. Our goal is to improve communication so that families can have honest interaction and see positive change.
  • Sharing feelings – This goes back to deception and manipulation being big parts of addiction. Family members are often angry but unable to express it, or they may be excited at the possibility of reconciliation and healing. Everyone should feel safe in order to voice their feelings and opinions without fear of resentment or retribution.
  • Setting boundaries – Setting clear and fair boundaries isn’t always easy, but it is a necessary step for a family to make a heathy recovery.
  • Learning self-care – In addiction treatment, the focus is on the person with the addiction. During family therapy, a parent or spouse may learn that they need help, too. They may be advised to attend groups such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon or other family support groups in addition to finding an individual therapist.

Enterhealth Improves Outcomes with Family Therapy

At Enterhealth, our goal is to restore the family to a healthy state so that they can heal as quickly as possible. Among the many skills we teach are healthy stress management techniques, helpful and clear communication strategies, ways to reconnect with outside support systems, as well as how to relate to family members with clear and loving boundaries.

On the bright side, recovery can be habit forming in a positive way. Families that go through group therapy through Enterhealth report enhanced self-esteem, a renewed energy for life, increased emotional literacy and intelligence, increased life balance and an ability to make healthier life choices. Through engagement and by embracing recovery, family members can give themselves a new lease on life, and dramatically increase the chances the addict will sustain long-term sobriety.

If you or a loved one is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, we are here to help. To learn more about any of the therapies offered by Enterhealth, call (800) 388-4601 or visit our contact page for more information.

Written by Harold C. Urschel III, MD, MMA, Enterhealth Chief Medical Strategist