Our families play a major role in shaping the person we are. As we grow up, our strengths, weaknesses and personality traits are determined by a combination of genetic, social and environmental factors. Family life has a profound effect on all of these aspects of development. When we become parents ourselves, we inevitably bring the influences of our parents, siblings and more distant relatives into the lives of our children. That’s why family therapy is a crucial component of addiction treatment and recovery, no matter what your stage of life may be.
The mental health community recognizes the importance of family therapy for recovering addicts. Substance abuse is no longer seen as an individual problem, but as a family disease, touching each member of a household. Whether your home environment consists of blood relatives, a blended family or a group of people who simply share strong emotional bonds, these individuals must be brought into the process of rehab in order for your recovery to be complete.
Family Therapy in Addiction Treatment
You don’t have to read the latest research on families and addiction to see how home life affects substance abuse. If you or someone in your household is battling drugs and alcohol, you’ve already felt the painful impact of addiction. But statistics may reassure you that you’re not alone; the National Association for Children of Alcoholics reports that 28 million people in the United States have alcoholic parents.
In addition, alcoholism and drug abuse take a toll on families in the following ways:
- About 79 percent of runaway teens in one survey reported that the adults in their household drank heavily.
- The children of alcoholic parents are 24 percent more likely to require inpatient substance abuse treatment.
- Over half of the children in one study who were hospitalized for mental health disorders had parents who were addicted to drugs and alcohol.
- About 41 percent of parents with substance abuse problems reported in one study that their children had serious academic or behavioral problems in school.
Growing up in a home with addicted parents increases your risk of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and neglect frequently undermine the psychological health of children raised in addicted homes. The adult children of alcoholics often struggle with low self-esteem, and they have higher rates of alcoholism, divorce and domestic violence.
How Does Family Therapy Work?
We’d all like to have the perfect family — a harmonious group of people peacefully sharing a home. But the reality is that having a healthy family takes work, especially if your household has been devastated by the disease of addiction. If one member of the family enters a recovery program, his or her healing depends on the involvement of the rest of the group.
Family therapy focuses on identifying the group dynamics that contribute to addictive behavior, overcoming resistance to change, opening up barriers to communication and helping family members interact in a positive way. Therapists also have an obligation to make sure that the members of a household, especially children and teens, are safe from harm and neglect. The therapists who lead family sessions may be psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) or licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs).
Family sessions can take a variety of forms. Families who are involved in rehab may participate in the following:
- Private family sessions involving a therapist and one or more family members
- Group sessions with other rehab clients and their loved ones
- Intensive family education sessions (family weekends or activities)
- Individual counseling for spouses and children of recovering addicts
- 12-Step meetings for the families of addicts, such as Al-Anon and Alateen
There are several popular treatment models in family addiction treatment. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) identifies some of the most effective, widely used therapeutic strategies:
- Structural or strategic therapy focuses on identifying and transforming the structural dynamics that contribute to addiction in a family group. Structural therapy places a strong emphasis on improving communication and helping family members set boundaries with the addict.
- Multidimensional family therapy is frequently used to help recovering teenagers. Multidimensional therapy works with children and adolescents to build strong, stable identities. Parents are counseled on communication, parent-child relationships and setting limits.
- Behavioral family therapy follows the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Destructive thought patterns and behaviors within the family system are identified, and family members learn how to replace those patterns with positive actions that support sobriety.
No matter which treatment model your therapist follows, your work is likely to be based on the theory that the family functions as a system, creating both positive and negative outcomes through the interactions of individual members. Creating positive, healthy futures for everyone in your home is the ultimate goal of family sessions.
One of the first goals of family treatment is to overcome obstacles to recovery. Family therapy can be an uncomfortable, even painful experience. Your loved ones may feel that they’re being scrutinized, criticized or judged in a counseling session. Sober family members may be reluctant to admit that they’ve played a role in the addict’s behavior by enabling his or her destructive habits.
It may be even harder to admit that addiction can provide certain benefits to the family. Providing drugs to an addicted mother may temporarily prevent violent, abusive behavior. Helping an alcoholic stay drunk may help him function more effectively, so he can continue to provide an income. Enabling a teenager’s addiction may seem to help a parent maintain emotional control. No one wants to admit that addiction is ever a positive thing, but most families can find reasons for unconsciously perpetuating the behavior.
Conscious or unconscious enabling can take place in a number of ways:
- Lying to friends or employers about a family member’s drug use
- Purchasing drugs or alcohol for someone in your home
- Paying bills for a family member who is in financial trouble
- Excusing a family member’s violent or manipulative behavior, even if it has a direct impact on your psychological or physical health
Another critical objective is to restore a healthy group structure. In families that have been devastated by addiction, the structure of the home has often broken down completely. Family life may be chaotic and disorganized. Parents may have lost their authority and may be unable to set limits with addicted teens. Therapy sessions must focus on improving communication and restoring appropriate family roles. Creating a safe, sober home environment is one of the primary objectives of therapy.
Education is one of the most important goals of family treatment. At counseling sessions or intensive family weekends, household members learn to identify the behaviors and thoughts that foster an addictive home environment. They learn new coping strategies and conflict resolution skills to help them deal with the stressful situations that come up daily in every home.
Family therapy can be a deeply rewarding experience for the addict and his or her loved ones.
Families who engage in addiction treatment therapy have the opportunity to explore their strengths as well as their weaknesses. Through intensive group sessions and activities, you can rebuild trust and develop a new sense of empathy for your loved ones.
Continuing Your Recovery
Healing the family doesn’t end when the addict graduates from rehab. Ongoing therapy for spouses, parents and children is a key component of a successful aftercare program. Addiction research shows that keeping your family involved in your recovery can make all the difference in the world in your chances of long-term success.
The results of a 16-year study of recovering alcoholics published in Addiction indicate that family support is one of the determining factors in maintaining sobriety. A group of individuals with alcohol use disorders was followed for 16 years after the individuals initially sought help. Researchers checked in with the study participants at one year, three years, eight years and 16 years to see if they had maintained their recovery. Recovering alcoholics with a supportive network of family and friends were more likely to remain sober at each landmark. Those who lacked close relationships, on the other hand, were more likely to have relapsed.
Not every addict who seeks help has a strong family to rely on. In fact, the presence of addiction is often a sign of damaged relationships at home. Building that strong, supportive family network is one of the most important tasks of addiction treatment, from the time you enter a rehabilitation program to the day you graduate and the years beyond.
Recovery gives you the opportunity to restore broken bonds and rebuild your home life on a more solid, sober foundation. The Oaks at La Paloma’s innovative recovery services include intensive programs for family members, both in an inpatient and an outpatient setting. When you’re ready to reach out, we’re here to help you and your loved ones rebuild your relationships. Call our toll-free number at any time for a confidential discussion of your needs.