By Michelle Hook, RN, MSN, Enterhealth Ranch Executive Director
Addiction is a complex and progressive brain disease that slowly strips people of their physical, emotional and psychological well-being, and while the negative effects of substance abuse on users are fairly easy to understand, this understanding only highlights half the problem.
We also need to recognize that the actions and behaviors of a loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol greatly impacts their family and can cause severe dysfunction in the ways they cope with the person addicted, as well as how the family members interact with one another.
Often, when families try to cope with a loved one who is struggling with addiction, they experience an internal tug-of-war that can strain the strongest bonds. Unfortunately, when families try to wrestle with these opposing emotions, the whole family usually ends up suffering psychological and emotional damage that may never heal without the help of professional counseling and therapy.
At Enterhealth, we know this to be true. We’ve worked with families of those addicted to alcohol and drugs for over a decade, and we’ve seen the kinds of success stories that only come from getting the whole family involved in treatment.
A Brain Disease, A Family Problem
Addiction in one family member affects everyone in that family. This is because drug and alcohol dependence impacts not only that person’s physical and mental well-being, it also affects things such as finances, work and/or scholastic responsibilities, and general family dynamics (to name a few).
It’s important to remember that just like no two people are alike, no two families are the same either. For some families, addiction can actually have a genetic component. Studies on the subject of genetics and addiction have shown that at least half of a person's susceptibility to drug addiction can be linked to genetic factors, and children whose parents were addicted to drugs or alcohol are 8 times more likely to develop an addiction.
It’s for these reasons that the physicians and psychologists at Enterhealth take the time to get to know each patient and their family members during treatment. We’ve found that different issues emerge during treatment, often based on the age and role of the addict, family history of addiction, and whether small children or adolescents are in the picture.
The effects of substance abuse frequently extend beyond the immediate family as well. Extended family members may experience feelings of abandonment, anxiety, fear, anger, concern, embarrassment, or guilt, and they may wish to ignore or cut ties with the addicted person.
Thus, we regularly find that substance abusers are likely to become isolated from their families – often as a consequence of their behavior as well as by choice. The majority of alcohol and drug users prefer associating with others who abuse substances, often supporting and reinforcing each other’s negative behavior.
Family Group Therapy Can Be The Key to a Successful Recovery
It’s important to keep in mind that in most cases, the person with the addiction isn’t the only one who needs help. Most treatment programs only teach the family how to deal with their addicted loved one, not how to heal themselves.
After years of living with someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, 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.
Some of the benefits of family group therapy and counseling include:
- A better understanding of addiction and how it affects behavior. This is accomplished through education. Families may also be evaluated to discover any opportunities for self-assessment and insight.
- Improved awareness of family dynamics. Families often adopt negative coping mechanisms and communication patterns, and these behaviors often perpetuate or enable substance abuse. Every member of the family should be counseled to affect the most successful outcomes.
- Improving communication. Improving communication skills is a necessity, as families coming in for treatment are often in a situation where there is little to no healthy communication or emotional involvement.
- Regaining trust. Sadly, deception often goes hand in hand with substance abuse, and many family members find it hard to trust their loved ones after being lied to repeatedly. Our goal is to improve communication so that families can start having honest interactions and see positive changes.
- Setting boundaries. Learning how to set precise and fair boundaries isn’t always easy, but it is a necessary skill for a family to help their loved one with a successful recovery.
- Learning self-care. In addiction treatment, the focus is on the person with the addiction. During family therapy, a family member may discover that they are also in need of help. They may be advised to attend groups such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon or other family support groups in addition to finding an individual counselor.
Improving Treatment Outcomes Through Family Involvement
At Enterhealth, we offer family group counseling and therapy sessions that help family members 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. Because when the family isn’t involved in the treatment process, the addict in residential or outpatient treatment will simply return to the same stressful, unhealthy, dysfunctional environment, making a future relapse more likely.
There are even more benefits to family therapy. Families that go through group therapy at Enterhealth regularly report enhanced self-esteem, renewed energy for life, increased emotional fluency and perception, as well as the ability to make healthier life choices. By facing addiction struggles and working to embrace recovery together, families are finding a better way to heal and increasing the chances that their loved one will have successful long-term recovery.
If you or a loved one is suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, we are here to help. To learn more about family group therapy or any of the other therapies offered by Enterhealth, call (800) 388-4601 or visit Enterhealth.com for more information.