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“I don’t want to talk to my family about this stuff” or “I have no idea what to tell my parents” are statements commonly heard by therapists who work in substance abuse treatment. Often times, people seeking substance abuse treatment find themselves in situations where the essential lines of communication within the family unit are broken. In addition, the idea of opening lines of communication and repairing damaged relationships seems like an impossible task. Many people who seek treatment are plagued with guilt and shame and avoid having the difficult conversation with family and/or loved ones about their substance abuse. There may be in a case where family members have no knowledge about the disease of addiction. If you find yourself in any of these situations, it is important to consider the value of having your family involved in your program of recovery.
Family involvement in substance abuse treatment, in many cases, can be highly advantageous tool to help families to break the “cycle of addiction.” Many parents/family members are simply not aware of destructive behaviors such as enabling that have kept their children/loved ones in the cycle of addiction. It is important for family members to be provided with information from a trained professional (s) so they may take a look at their own behaviors and the subsequent role it may have played in their loved one’s addiction. Therapists commonly recommend that families attend either Nar-Anon or Al-Anon to seek support and education about effective methods to help address common issues inherent within substance abuse treatment. Coincidentally, it is not uncommon that when a parent has a child in a formal treatment setting (and removed from the home) they become aware of their own behaviors that could have helped perpetuate the cycle of addiction. Support groups are also highly effective to help family members set healthier boundaries. In particular, support groups can help teach families effective methods to hold the addicted individual accountable for past and future actions. In addition, a support group such as Nar-Anon and Al-Anon can be an invaluable resource to help provide family members support during what is understandably an emotional and trying time.
Family involvement in treatment can provide education about the disease model of addiction. Many clients have often said that their parents/family members have stated, “I don’t know why you just can’t quit using alcohol/drugs!” A trained professional (as well as support groups such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon) can help facilitate an understanding that addiction is a disease. Family involvement and education about the disease model of addiction can also help dispel many unrealistic expectations about substance abuse treatment, such as the “person is cured” after they complete treatment. This can help the family be aware that addiction is a disease that requires continuous care to keep in remission. This awareness can assist family members to be conscious of the needs (such as meetings, sponsorship, self-care) of an addicted individual to have sustained sobriety.
People who enter treatment may come from families where open, healthy communication was never the norm. Or perhaps, the person may be in a situation where healthy communication was the norm, but is now broken due to active addiction. People in treatment report isolating from families while in active addiction and/or having extended periods of time with very little or superficial conversations with family. The value of having a trained professional to help re-engage healthy dialogue is immeasurable. An addicted individual may need the support of their therapist to help facilitate productive conversations with family members. A trained professional can help families learn new, effective methods to communicate as well as point out behaviors that are not conducive to healthy conversations. Family involvement in treatment can also help family members and the addicted individual become aware of and address issues within the family that may have had a role in the individual’s cycle of addiction. Hopefully, the newly gained awareness can facilitate the process of healing and forgiveness within the family. Lastly, family involvement can also help the addicted individual and family members set healthy boundaries and realistic expectations going forward in the future.
In sum, addiction is referred to a “family disease” and people often regrettably do not know where or how to start repairing damaged relationships. Family involvement in treatment can help repair damaged relationships and help families to ascertain the tools to build a foundation for a healthier future.
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