The Importance of Family Support in Addiction Treatment
By Michael Rass
Addiction is a disease that not only affects individuals but often stresses their families to the breaking point. While people suffering from a severe substance use disorder urgently need help to recover, their families have to overcome a crisis situation as well, while learning how to help an alcoholic or someone suffering from substance use disorder.
“Family members come to addiction treatment with their own deep hurts and towering anger,” writes Robert DuPont in The Selfish Brain. “Most of all, family members come with their fears.”
They mostly fear for the lives of their loved ones because they know that addiction can kill. The more parents, children, and spouses understand the disease of addiction, the more they can help their loved one achieve recovery.
Participating in a family therapy program will help everybody involved in the recovery process, which takes more than simply promoting the sobriety of an addicted family member.
Parents might have strong feelings of resentment about their child’s drug abuse. A spouse might feel deeply ashamed about the alcoholism of her partner. Children are likely traumatized by the substance misuse of a parent. Family members might feel that the addiction problem of their loved one indicates a failure on their part. They ask themselves, “Why is she doing this to herself?” or “Why did I not see that coming?”
Treatment often comes after years of deceitful and irresponsible behavior of the addicted individual, and feelings of mutual resentment must be addressed in therapy so the whole family can heal.
Lakeview Health offers family addiction support which gives the opportunity to participate in a three-day family workshop. The workshop is a group session with up to eight families. “The first day is primarily didactic. Family members receive a lot of information about the nature of addiction as a disease,” explains Lakeview family therapist Ken Wynn. “We talk about abstinence-based recovery and communication patterns. We discuss family systems in general, the different roles people fall into, and setting boundaries and codependency,” says Wynn.
Participants in the workshop get to share their experience. Family members have a chance to let the patient in recovery know what the substance misuse has done to them, and patients, too, have an opportunity to share their feelings openly. Both sides work on rebuilding trust and learning to avoid behaviors detrimental to recovery.
Patients and their families also learn about continued support and guidance for the time after the patient’s discharge from treatment. For that, they can rely on the Lakeview staff and a wide range of support groups. In his comprehensive report on the addiction crisis in America, the Surgeon General emphasized the importance of such groups:
“Mutual aid groups and newly emerging recovery support programs and organizations are a key part of the system of continuing care for substance use disorders in the United States. A range of recovery support services have sprung up all over the United States, including in schools, health care systems, housing, and community settings.”
Examples are the traditional Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, which emerged from 12-Step programs and were developed to help family and friends of addicts recover from the effects of living with an addicted relative or friend. Twelve-Step Fellowships have been very important to many people struggling with substance use disorders and can be just as helpful for their friends and relatives. The groups are easy to join with regular meetings all over the United States.
Lakeview works with the Al-Anon and Nar-Anon communities. As part of the family workshop, an Al-Anon and Nar-Anon member comes to host a beginners meeting. “It’s very important for the recovery of their loved ones that family members go to meetings like that after rehab,” says Wynn.
In the age of the Internet and social connectivity, many websites and Facebook groups also offer support. The Addict’s Mom is a group focusing on the mothers of addicted children. According to its website, it has 80,000 members who can share their experiences and comfort each other.
Learn to Cope is a peer-support network designed to offer moral and emotional support, encouragement, and even education and valuable resources to the family members and loved ones of addicts. The group started in 2004 in Massachusetts, where it now has twenty-five chapters. Recently, it added two chapters in Florida and another in Idaho. Parents of Addicted Loved-ones is another group. Started in Arizona in 2006, it has also been expanding, due to increasing demand for support.
Lakeview’s support continues well beyond addiction treatment as well. Discharge from rehab is only the beginning of the long recovery journey, and if the family stays involved the chance of success increases. Lakeview’s aftercare plans include support group meetings for the family, continued therapy, and other aspects of family recovery to facilitate long-term sobriety.