Quick Summary of The Importance of Family Therapy in the Addiction Recovery Process:

  1. Why Is Addiction Referred To As A Family Disease?
  2. What Impact Does Substance Abuse Have On Families?
  3. The Dangers of Codependency and Enabling
  4. What Effects Can Addicts In The Home Have On Children?
  5. How Does Family Therapy Help The Addiction Recovery Process?
  6. What Are The Objectives Of Addiction-Related Family Therapy?
  7. What Can You Expect With Addiction-Related Family Therapy? 
  8. What If The Addict Won’t Participate?
  9. What If They Relapse?

The last 30 years have resulted in a significant change in family dynamics. The way we view roles and behaviors within the traditional family have shifted. For one, there are many non-traditional family units that have become more mainstream. Unmarried cohabitation, LGBTQ relationships, and single-parent homes are more prevalent than ever before. Divorce rates have increased. Employment, household, and childcare duties are often shared or swapped with other family members.

What does this have to do with addiction recovery? Family therapy is incredibly important to the addiction recovery process, no matter what dynamic exists in the home. All research shows that addiction recovery is much more effective when family therapy is involved. And further, when individual treatment is added to the mix, psychiatric symptoms, stress, and relapse rates are reduced.

We know that some family dynamics are hard. But we have enough undeniable proof that when real efforts are made to include family therapy in the addiction recovery process, the overall results are much more positive. Everything mentioned in this article can be avoided, minimized, or reversed by incorporating meaningful family therapy.

1. Why Is Addiction Referred To As A Family Disease?

Because one person’s addiction doesn’t just affect them alone. Family members and friends are also directly affected. An addict’s addiction causes stress for those who care about them. Routines are disrupted. Unsettling experiences take place. This is why the NCADD (National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence) officially refers to addiction as a “family disease”.

What typically happens in the household of an addict? Dysfunction sets in (if not already prevalent in the home). Unhealthy coping strategies are adopted by family members as they try deal with their addicted loved one. Unfortunately, attempts to help the addict are usually not helpful. The more time that passes, the more fragile the family becomes. 

With an addict in the home, children are affected the most. Data shows kids are at a higher risk for emotional, mental, and physical health issues when living with an addict. The disruptive behavior in the home negatively affects their development. When the parent is the addict, kids are more likely to do poorly in school and develop a learning disability. What’s worse, kids in these homes are almost 5 times more likely to eventually become addicts themselves.

This is why family therapy is so important to the addiction recovery process. With the right tools, your family can avoid becoming part of these statistics and come out on top. Better than before.

2. What Impact Does Substance Abuse Have On Families?

The impact is significant, and it’s usually negative. Negative emotions tend to become the norm. Emotions like embarrassment, guilt, anxiety, resentment, and anger are common. There’s usually at least one person in the family in denial about the situation. Sometimes one or more members will isolate themselves emotionally or physically, and sometimes, both. Safety can also become an issue. Family members often feel unsafe around an addict, even scared; some members will present the addict in the family as the “scapegoat” to where all the family dysfunction stems from. Needless to say, relationships become strained under circumstances like these.

The presence of an addict in the home usually requires young people to take on responsibilities beyond their years, or simply too many responsibilities. We find this usually results in resentment, anxiousness, and feeling overwhelmed. Also, family communication takes a hit when living with an addict. Home-based interactions with addicts are almost never positive. Plus, the addict tends to be the focal point of discussion. This causes other family members to feel ignored and create self-esteem conflict within these individuals.

3. The Dangers of Codependency and Enabling

Because of the far-reaching effects addicts have on those close to them, unhealthy behaviors find their way to the surface. We find that this usually stems from prolonged “elephant in the room” environments. It can also spring from perpetual arguments revolving around the addict. But eventually, codependency and enabling take up residence. These are problematic behaviors for both the addict and the family. They need to be understood in order to be avoided. Let’s start with codependency

Codependency

This is when you completely neglect your needs and replace them with the perceived needs of someone else. Your concern with that person becomes obsessive and your “happiness” is paralleled, and dependent on, the “happiness” of another. This state of mind is reached over time and is common when family dysfunction is prevalent in the home.

Codependent people are constantly worrying about this specific individual. They often lie about the person’s addiction and FOR the person’s addiction as well as live in denial about it. When asked about the person’s addiction, they usually react defensively or depending on the severity, sometimes eve violently. Low self-esteem and general personal neglect are definite signs of codependency. As is misplaced or projected anger.

Enabling

This is an even more irrational behavior usually contingent on codependency being present in the relationship. Out of either fear or love, the enabler supports the person’s addictive behavior in any way they need to. They do this because they feel that by removing consequences, this will alleviate the pain of the addict.

Enablers usually bottle up feelings. They fear losing their relationship with the addict so they accept and justify the addictive behavior to avoid confrontation. Consequences and responsibility are minimized or ignored completely. Excuses are made. Enablers often go to great lengths to give the appearance that everything is fine. 

4. What Effects Can Addicts In The Home Have On Children?

As we mentioned above, children are particularly susceptible to negative behaviors in the household spurred by addiction. One of the most common behaviors children adopt in these high-stress environments is self-blame. Kids are prone to blaming themselves for the bad behavior of their parents or siblings. This results in perfectionism, isolation, becoming increasingly introverted, untrusting, overachieving, depression, anxiety, etc. all of which are unhealthy perceptions of oneself as a child, especially. 

Some children become the victim of abuse in addition to living in dysfunction. Sexual, emotional, mental and physical abuse make a child’s side effects even worse. Flashbacks, insomnia, nightmares, PTSD, social withdrawal, the development of  perceived “irrational” fears, and anxiety are common among these abused children. 

5. How Does Family Therapy Help The Addiction Recovery Process?

Knowing what addiction can do to a family, how does family therapy help? Strength definitely lies in numbers. We’ve seen this time and time again in addiction recovery. When family members truly come together as a group with a common goal, real progress takes place. Coming together in a therapeutic setting also helps everyone’s mind tune in towards resolution-based thinking. In an addiction recovery center, you receive an education (tools) and hope together to work as a team.

And family therapy doesn’t need a whole group of people to work. It can simply be the addict and one other person; sibling, girlfriend/boyfriend, spouse, mother, father, etc. Anyone with a close relationship and trustworthy bond (that is neither enabling and/or codependent). 

Family Therapy Benefits

All research shows that when family is involved, the addict has a more positive recovery experience. Family and friends provide motivation, nurturing, and crucial support. When you learn about the nature of addiction and treatment, this understanding makes you a more valuable teammate. And that’s exactly what an addict needs. Teammates. Someone who’s on their side ready to help (NOT enable).

Coming together as a group to help an addicted loved one fosters a different kind of “enabling”. It “enables” loved ones to feel comfortable asking questions, and more importantly, asking for help. To talk about their feelings. When this kind of communication opens up, it makes a world of difference for the addict. In many cases, this is the moment they finally feel loved and feel love for themselves. Stress, confusion, anger, depression, and fear start to subside. 

Family therapy increases the rate of skill growth to assist in increasing and improving communication, increasing coping techniques, and utilizing relapse prevention. Skills that the addict and the family members need to execute an effective strategy of decreasing dysfunctionality in the home. After regular family therapy sessions, general communication between the entire family is much better. The addict has a lower potential of relapse and has an improved support system well-equipped with coping skills. Data on these families show a much higher success rate in retaining sobriety.

6. What Are The Objectives Of Addiction-Related Family Therapy?

There are two main goals. (1) Give helpful support to the addict. And (2) Improve family emotional health.

Giving helpful support does three things. It decreases relapses, positively adjusts attitude and behavior, and increases the chance of long-term recovery for the addict. Improving family emotional health promotes forgiveness and trust. Conflicts are resolved, peace is found, and negative emotions (sadness, frustration, anger) fade. Perhaps they don’t away fade completely, but enough to let real progress happen. We also find that family therapy usually eliminates the perpetual sense of crisis that many addict-families feel.

7. What Can You Expect With Addiction-Related Family Therapy? 

Here’s what you can expect during family therapy in the addiction recovery process.

Before family therapy can begin, some progress should have already been made by the addict in the treatment center. This period usually varies anywhere from 2-3 weeks to 2-3 months from the date they were admitted. In order for family therapy to initiate, the addict needs to first, WANT to participate in a family session as well as have at least one person to commit. And remember, it doesn’t have to be a parent or sibling. It can be any person who has a close relationship to the addict that is positively motivated to assist in the recovery process.

During therapy sessions, the counselor will educate everyone on the nature of addiction. They’ll help each family member develop skills that foster healthier interactions with each other. Your behavior should support the addict’s recovery. Not enable it. Family therapy will help you to recognize these behavioral changes that may need to be corrected. The concept of contingency management will also be introduced and enforced in these sessions. This helps the addict remain abstinent from their substance and repair relationships.

If you’ve ever been to any kind of therapy session, you know that setting goals is always an integral part. Addiction recovery is no different. Goals correspond to each person’s role in the family. Certain goals for parents, siblings, grandparents, etc. Typically, each family therapy session includes goal review as well as rewards for achievements.

8. What If The Addict Won’t Participate?

Unfortunately, just because you initiate family therapy doesn’t guarantee that the addict will be on board. Many things can get in their way such as exhaustion of the whole process, skepticism, or fear. In these situations, it’s best to have the counselor meet individually with the person about why family therapy is important. The counselor can also encourage, review benefits, and attempt to persuade them to participate, if it is indeed in the best interest of the client to do so. Though the decision is theirs to participate or not, more often than not, the person ends up being willing to take part. 

In situations where the addict still will not agree to family counseling, there are a couple other things to try. One is psychoeducational workshops. It’s a therapeutic intervention technique with a high success rate commonly used during family therapy. Another thing to try is motivational interviewing. This is another intervention technique that focuses on instilling motivation within the addict to make a beneficial decision. 

But again, the addict must willingly participate in family therapy. Forcing them will accomplish very little, if anything.

9. What If They Relapse?

Preventing relapse is the main goal of family therapy in the addiction recovery process. But please understand that expecting an addict to go cold turkey right away is unrealistic. No matter what their addiction is. Setbacks are completely normal for someone recovering from an addiction. Family members should not give up simply because their loved one had a relapse. Sometimes it’s all about the amount of time between relapses. If the time between relapses grows longer over time, that’s progress. Someone who never relapses after treatment is definitely part of the minority.

When a relapse takes place, it gives an opportunity to the family to use these events to evaluate, regroup, and move forward. Family members who view setbacks as failures to be punished will not be helpful. Recovering addicts need teammates. People who’ll pick them up when they fall and provide positive reinforcement. Even when family therapy is involved in the recovery process, relapses will likely happen. This is okay and should be expected. But family involvement without a doubt increases the chance of success dramatically, and the data shows this.

The Importance of Family Therapy in the Addiction Recovery Process – Conclusion

We can’t stress enough how important family involvement is to someone recovering from an addiction. Family therapy is one of the best things that can happen for an addict. When they know they don’t have to do it alone, they succeed often. Contact us today to learn more about family therapy options. We’re happy to answer any questions you have.