When we think of an individual facing challenges with addiction, it’s possible to neglect the impact on others close to that individual. In this guest post, author Helen Weir shares some helpful insight into just how those closest to the challenge of addiction are affected – and what can help.
A Family Affair
Addiction is one of the most harrowing struggles for a family to face. Parents who feel like they are losing their child to drugs and alcohol, siblings who miss the company of their brother or sister, and friends who can no longer count on the person they knew, can find the pain of addiction as unbearable as the person attempting to recover.
When it comes to treatment, much is said about the importance of therapy – cognitive behavioral therapy is a gold standard in the treatment of addiction, and all top rehabilitation centers offer complementary therapies like yoga, physical activity, meditation, etc.
Although the individual in recovery is undoubtedly the main priority in addiction recovery, it is important, too, for families to take part in therapy, both for their loved one’s benefit and for their own health and wellbeing.
Definition of Family
There is no global definition of ‘family’; definitions are marked by cultural and belief systems and they change over time. Several categories comprise ‘family’, including traditional families (comprising parents –single parents or couples – and children), extended families (including cousins, uncles and aunts) and chosen families (which may include friends and groups one belongs to). Even family members who live far away can take part in therapy if their emotional ties to the person in recovery are significant.
What is Family Therapy?
Family therapy involves many different approaches which share the belief in the value of assessment and intervention.
Each family is a system; therefore, any change of one part of the system can bring about positive or negative changes in the unit as a whole. Family therapy helps to identify any patterns that need changing and to provide all family members with the strategies they need to do so effectively.
Therapy is aimed not only at addressing substance abuse in itself, but also family conflicts, conduct disorders, etc. Often, families find that therapy can help them in areas such as conflict resolution.
Over the years, each member of a family can sometimes get ‘stuck’ in unfruitful reactions to conflict, relying on blaming, shaming, and/or escape. Therapists can teach families to communicate effectively through specific strategies which they can later try at home.
The goals for each family member may be different.
For instance, a sibling who has been enabling another to continue abusing substances or alcohol can learn how to set healthy limits and to stop harmful behaviour; parents who may have trouble reducing intensity in moments of conflict can learn how to communicate more effectively, setting standards without using abusive language or body language.
During family therapy, the goals set for each family member are reviewed, with rewards provided by other family members for achieved goals.
Learning to RefocusFamily therapy is helpful to parents who feel guilty about their child’s addiction. Click To Tweet
In Al-Anon meetings, parents are taught the three Cs fairly early on: they didn’t cause their child’s addiction, they cannot cure it and they cannot control it.
This message is established fairly on in family therapy as well. Thus, parents, siblings, friends (and all other persons considered ‘family members’) are encouraged to take care of themselves.
Often, family members of someone who is addicted to drugs and alcohol may live in a continuous panic mode as they wait for a call confirming their worst fears.
When we subject ourselves to continuous tension, changes take place in the body and mind; stress hormones such as cortisol flood our system and in the long run, this can lead to other illnesses – even those we may not suspect, such as heart disease and Type II diabetes. Therefore, it is vital to take care of our health in order to build the strength to accept what we cannot change, and to change what we can.
In addition to family therapy, other therapies have been proven to help take care of ourselves and battle stress. These include yoga, mindful meditation, Tai Chi, and other holistic methods, proven in many studies to lower levels of cortisol.
Regular exercise is also key to battling stress and promoting a good night’s sleep. Families need to make their physical and mental health a priority, so they can be the very best source of support for a loved one in recovery.