The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence calls addiction a family disease. That’s because addiction affects the entire family and puts all family members under a great deal of stress. Each family member is uniquely affected with a wide range of negative outcomes.
Family members often cope with addiction in unhealthy ways. Codependent and enabling behaviors are common among families living with addiction. These types of behaviors can foster the addiction as well as make recovery very difficult for both the addicted loved one and the family members.
Codependent behaviors are attitudes and behaviors that lead to neglecting your own needs and desires in favor of being obsessively concerned with a loved one’s problems, and include:
• Worrying constantly about your loved one’s drug abuse and the consequences of the addiction.
• Living in denial about the addiction, including lying to others about a loved one’s substance abuse.
• Avoiding contact with others because you don’t want to have to make excuses.
• Having low self-esteem as a result of neglecting your own physical, spiritual and emotional needs as you focus solely on your loved one.
• Aiming misplaced anger at others, such as the children or pets.
• Engaging in your own unhealthy behaviors that help you cope, such as over-eating, excessive shopping or other unhealthy obsessions.
• Basing your mood on that of your loved one.
Enabling behaviors support a loved one’s substance abuse by removing consequences, making it easy for a loved one to keep using. Enabling behaviors are unhealthy for the enabler, the addicted loved one, and the entire family. Enabling behaviors include:
• Using drugs or alcohol with the loved one to help keep trouble at bay.
• Keeping your feelings inside in order to keep the peace.
• Accepting your loved one’s justifications for substance abuse.
• Working to protect your loved one’s image by making excuses for them or taking care of their responsibilities.
• Going out of your way to make everything at home appear normal to others.
Children are particularly affected by addiction and will often develop unhealthy coping skills in response to the chaos and uncertainty. Many children blame themselves for a parent’s substance abuse, and may live with the constant fear of losing their parent to the addiction. Children of an addicted parent have a higher risk for physical, mental and emotional health problems. They are more likely to have difficulties in school, and are more likely to become addicted to alcohol or drugs themselves.
So how can family therapy help?
Family therapy helps the members of a family unit heal and recover as a group. The therapeutic setting provides a safe space for everyone to learn how to adjust to a loved one’s recovery. Family therapy helps family members make specific, positive changes to improve the home environment as well as heal relationships within the family unit. In family therapy, you will learn skills to help you:
• Keep your loved one engaged and motivated during treatment.
• Understand how treatment works and what to expect in recovery.
• Ease feelings of fear, anger, stress and confusion related to the addiction.
• Help your loved one stay on the path to recovery.
• Improve family communication skills.
• Address any mental health issues within the family system, such as depression or anxiety, which can hamper family communication and contribute to relapse.
• Improve household function and family members’ own mental health.
At Valor Recovery Center, our main goal of family therapy is to provide helpful support for the individual in drug treatment, while improving the emotional health of the family as a whole. Therapy helps family members establish trust and encourage forgiveness for past behaviors. It also can provide peace and resolve conflict or feelings of anger, frustration, and sadness, and encourages participants to let go of negative emotions.
Family involvement in treatment and recovery has been shown to help prevent relapse, but relapse is always possible. Knowing the stages of relapse and the signs associated with each stage can help family members recognize an impending setback and help their loved one avoid relapse by intervening and ensuring the loved one gets the support needed to get back on track.
We understand that addiction is a disease that affects the entire family, and we emphasize the importance of treating the entire family, not just the addicted person. Our Family Programming is designed to address the specific issues family members face, and to facilitate the healing process.
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