Drug and alcohol addiction can affect a family unit just as much as the person grappling with substance abuse challenges. Often, the people closest to the person with a substance use disorder suffer the most. Spouses stop trusting each other. Children feel neglected. Friendships fall apart.
Healing this kind of emotional and relationship pain takes time. That’s one of the main reasons why families should be involved in the recovery process. At the same time, individuals recovering from addiction need to know that they’re not alone. Feeling unconditionally loved and supported despite their missteps can help motivate them to change their lives for the better. Ultimately, the healing that needs to take place is two-fold. When families are actively involved in their loved one’s recovery process, true and holistic rehabilitation can take place. Here’s why.
Addiction is a Family Disease
Every family is structured differently. That structure determines how family members act and react with each other and the outside world. Changes to any part of the family structure can therefore change how the family interacts with each other and the people around them.
Typically, addiction can cause feelings of resentment, anger, distrust, depression, and isolation in an addict’s family. As a result, family members living in an environment affected by addiction often struggle with honest communication. Some family members may have a difficult time trying to be supportive without enabling their loved one’s destructive habits. Whether intentional or not, the havoc caused by addiction stresses everyone in the family system.
The home environment quickly becomes unstable. Relationships become muddled and finances can often be compromised. In addition, addiction negatively impacts the entire family’s mental, emotional, and physical health. Therefore, when individuals grappling with addiction begin to seek treatment, the rest of the family needs to be involved as well. Seeking treatment as one unified group can restore the family’s organization, internal structure, and physical, mental, and emotional health.
Benefits of Family Involvement in Addiction Recovery
Just as addiction changes the family dynamic, becoming sober and living a new, healthy lifestyle can also change the way a family operates. Nonetheless, lifestyle changes that take place during recovery can be challenging. Battling feelings of guilt and isolation can be two of the most difficult parts of addiction recovery. Fortunately, being involved in your loved one’s recovery can help them feel supported, loved, encouraged, and motivated.
1. Repair and Strengthen Family Bonds
Isolation is one of the most common characteristics of addiction. This can look different for each family, but usually, the individual battling addiction pushes their family away in favor of using drugs or drinking alcohol. Because of this, they often miss sports games, dance recitals, school events, and family obligations. They may forget birthdays and anniversaries because of their substance use. Missing these kinds of activities and forgetting these monumental dates can damage family bonds. The good news is that being involved in your loved one’s recovery can help your family talk through and move past these issues together.
Participating in family therapy can help your family discuss challenging issues. In fact, the very purpose of family therapy is to help identify and address family problems. Joining your loved one for family therapy can also help:
Improve communication skills
Improve family dynamics and relationships
Address dysfunctional interactions
Improve your family’s problem-solving skills
Dealing with an addicted loved one can be extremely difficult, but being involved in their recovery process can help mend and strengthen your family bonds.
2. Overcome Enabling Behaviors
Addiction can cause your family members to adopt enabling or toxic behaviors. Whether these behaviors are intentional or unintentional, turning a blind eye to a loved one’s substance abuse doesn’t actually help them. Enabling actually allows your loved one to continue their self-destructive patterns of behavior. Some common examples of enabling include:
Providing financial support to the person with substance use challenges
Defending your loved one’s addiction when others express concern
Bailing your family member out of negative situations such as jail
Offering your loved one a place to live or allowing them to use drugs or alcohol in your home
Working with a family therapist can help you stop enabling your loved one. A therapist can also provide you tips on how to actually help support them instead. The more you understand about addiction, the more you can actually help your loved one obtain and maintain long-term recovery.
3. Understand Your Loved One’s Triggers
Almost everyone battling addiction challenges has triggers. You may not realize it, but certain emotions, thoughts, feelings, circumstances, people, and places encourage your loved one’s addiction. Remaining distant from your loved one won’t help you understand these triggers. Getting involved, participating in family therapy, attending peer support meetings, and talking to your loved one can help you understand why they abuse addictive substances which can, in turn, help them avoid relapse.
4. Provide Unconditional Love and Support
Being involved also helps your loved one know how much you love and support them. Detoxing from addictive substances, attending one-on-one counseling, and attending treatment sessions can be a lonely experience. If your loved one feels like they’re alone, they may mistakenly believe that there’s no point in trying to recover. Having family members involved in their recovery process can help combat this feeling and help them realize that the entire family is moving forward together. Additionally, attending group counseling sessions can help you see the progress that other addicts have made which can help you maintain a positive mindset throughout the recovery process. Recovery is one of the most pivotal times your loved one will need to feel your unconditional love and support. Being involved can help them see, feel, and experience your love.
5. Learn How To Effectively Establish Healthy Boundaries
Participating in the recovery process can also help you understand how to appropriately and effectively establish boundaries before your loved one completes treatment. Because relapse most commonly happens within the first 90 days of treatment, all family members need to understand the signs of relapse and come up with boundaries to put in place. Talking with recovery experts, listening to group counseling sessions, and knowing your loved one’s triggers can help you establish healthy, effective boundaries.
Some common boundaries to consider include:
No drugs or alcohol in the home.
No more contact with party friends.
No financial help which can help encourage your loved one to get a job and handle their own money.
These are the most common boundaries that family members need to set for loved ones in early recovery. As your loved one continues their recovery for a longer period of time, you may find that you need to adjust your boundaries to reflect their progress. Remember there is no one-size-fits-all recovery plan, so be flexible and understand that what works for your loved one may not work for everyone else.