Drug and alcohol addiction hurts the entire family – spouses, partners, parents and children. Family members are often exhausted after many months or years of worrying. The focus of their life may have become keeping the addiction a secret to protect their children or their loved one’s job. They may feel forced to keep track of their loved one’s whereabouts, and have to continually deal with the chaos caused by the questionable behavior fueled by substance abuse.
Anger and resentment are common feelings among family members caring for someone with any serious disease – whether it’s cancer or any other debilitating condition. Because addiction is sometimes seen, incorrectly, as a “disease of choice,” those feelings can be compounded – family members wonder why their loved one just doesn’t stop using drugs or alcohol and hurting themselves and those who love them.
Families Need Treatment and Time to Heal from Addiction’s Toll
Many years of experience and research has taught that there is no instant remedy for addiction. Detox, followed by individual therapy, group therapy, the diagnosis and management of co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and PTSD, and long-term support are all components of effective addiction treatment.
During the recovery process, patients need to develop communication skills and a sober support network to help avoid relapse.
But what about the family? To cope with the addiction, family members may have suffered their own psychological wounds. To hide their loved one’s addiction or because of exhaustion from the stress of living with an addict, they may have grown isolated from their social networks or extended families. They may have lied to friends and family to cover up the drug or alcohol use, damaging yet another layer of relationships. Family dynamics may have been warped by the addiction, causing the abnormal to seem normal. Family members may also neglect their own health, or suffer from stress-related conditions.
By participating in RiverMend Health Centers Addiction Treatment Program for Families, family members can find their own source of treatment and healing.
During family orientation shortly after their loved one has started treatment, families gain insights into addiction and its power over thoughts and behaviors, and connect with other families experiencing similar struggles. They also learn to avoid behaviors that are intended to be helpful, but actually make it easier for their loved one to continue in their addiction and their destructive behavior.
Early recovery is a fragile time for individuals in recovery. Families also receive practical advice on creating a home environment that minimizes triggers, establishing expectations of behavior that provide accountability and structure, identifying signs of relapse and steps to take if relapse is suspected.
Creating a Support Network for Families
Once a week, families and their loved one in recovery also gather for the multi-family group. It’s a chance to express their feelings, discuss challenges and offer support for one another.
We all know that it can be difficult to truly “hear” what those we love the most are saying. Emotional baggage, past hurts and long-standing relationship dynamics sometimes lead us to react defensively when topics are uncomfortable or could be perceived as criticism.
One of the beautiful aspects of family group therapy is the opportunity to process difficult situations, one step removed. This allows families and their loved ones in recovery gain insights into their own behaviors and the impact on others, without feeling compelled to put up emotional walls.
Family therapy provides another important benefit – creating a network of people who understand each others’ struggles and who can offer encouragement and advice.
We have found that for those in recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol, a community of others in recovery is a vital source of support. Families can’t go it alone either – the friendships and bonds they form with other families provide comfort and strength on their journey to healing themselves and their relationships.
Watch RiverMend Health Center of Atlanta Clinical Director, Catherine Baer, discuss why it’s so important for an effective addiction treatment program to involve the whole family on 11 Alive Atlanta & Company.