Treating the patient is only part of the story
Among the most important things to understand about addiction is that the person with the addiction isn’t the only one who needs help. The behavior of a substance abuser often mimics a variety of psychiatric disorders, ranging from manic depression to psychosis. The unpredictable nature of these behaviors puts a huge amount of stress on family members. In fact, after years of living with someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol – someone with a serious brain injury – the daily stress can cause dramatic changes in the brain chemistry of each member of the family, leading to a host of conditions, including depression, anxiety, insomnia and even their own substance abuse. These family members will also have developed many unhealthy coping skills, which all must be unlearned if they are to begin healing and return to a normal life. Compounding the situation are the common beliefs that the one with the addiction is the sole problem, and that their treatment will cure them quickly, making everything better. In addition, the changes outlined above build up so slowly – over years as the addiction develops – the family doesn’t even realize anything has changed.
The path of self-destruction
Having someone in the family with an alcohol or drug addiction places loved ones on a roller coaster of anger, guilt, shame, love, hate, hopelessness, despair and the relentless, innate desire to help. These feelings lead family members to slowly adapt their behavior towards the addict, and towards each other, resulting in coping mechanisms that are extremely unhealthy and damaging to all. These new dysfunctional family dynamics – and the feelings that accompany them – are themselves surprisingly addictive, and can quickly become the family’s new “normal” way of life.
Here are some common, unhealthy symptoms of family members who are affected by living with an addict:
- Difficulty managing anger
- Isolation or withdrawal from friends and family
- Excess irritability
- Insomnia or excessive sleep
- A constant state of exhaustion
- An increase in health problems
- Depression, anxiety and mood swings
- Lower self-esteem and self-confidence
- Loss of interest in personal hygiene and appearance
- Overuse of substances themselves
- Not taking care of their own needs
The Enterhealth difference
Effectively treating the substance abuser is only the first step in the overall healing process. Everyone in an addicted family system needs to participate in the treatment process. 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 stress management techniques for achieving healthy interactions – and address their individual issues or needs – in order to heal as a unit, along with their recovering loved one. When the family is left untreated, the addict in residential treatment will return to the same stressful, unhealthy, dysfunctional environment, making their future relapse more likely.
At Enterhealth Ranch, our residential treatment center, we engage the entire family at the same time as we’re treating their loved one, helping everyone understand the dramatic ways they have been affected by living with someone who has a serious – but treatable – brain injury caused by addiction.
Our goal is to reboot the family in a healthy way and help them heal as quickly as possible. Among the many skills we teach are healthy stress management techniques, how to have helpful and clear conversations, how to reconnect with outside support systems and how to relate to the loved one with clear and loving boundaries. While in residence at Enterhealth Ranch, the following family treatment – averaging five hours per week – is included (additional therapy is available at Enterhealth Outpatient of Excellence in Dallas for an additional charge):
- Individual family member therapy with a PhD or Masters Level therapist – in person, or remotely via telehealth
- Family therapy with the patient
- Multi-family group therapy
While a family dealing with addiction adopts many negative behaviors, recovery can be habit forming as well – in a very positive way. The symptoms of healing we have seen in our families include 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 embracing recovery, family members can give themselves a new lease on life, and dramatically increase the chances the addict will sustain long-term sobriety.