Addiction is a disease of the mind, body and spirit that can greatly impact a person’s physical and mental health. An effective treatment program addresses each aspect of a person’s well-being by getting to the root of the problem. Someone who’s suffering from this immensely challenging condition is behaving in a dysfunctional manner through no fault of their own. In an attempt to help their struggling loved one, family members often fall into dysfunctional behavior as well, which is why family therapy for substance abuse problems is essential.
No matter how conscientious or kind you were before you developed a substance use disorder, there will be a negative effect on your family. Addiction hijacks the reward and motivation centers in your brain, making your substance of choice your number one priority. Most people find themselves in a cycle of denial and lying to aid them in hiding or pursuing drug use. This can be confusing and harmful to the people who trust and love you.
What Happens During Family Therapy for Drug Addiction?
Family therapy sessions are an essential part of the recovery process because they allow members of the entire family system to learn about the condition from a professional. Loved ones are usually under immense pressure when someone they care about is struggling with drug abuse. Therapy lets them learn how to express their feelings in a way that’s constructive for everyone. It also provides them with the knowledge they need to help them navigate challenging decisions along the recovery journey.
When someone suffers from addiction, their ability to make decisions is impaired. They become disproportionately focused on obtaining drugs and getting high. This tends to have a domino effect on their behavior towards others, how well they look after themselves and their financial stability. These changes have an inevitable and distinct impact on their romantic partner, parents and children.
If a member of a family becomes incapacitated, the rest of the unit finds ways to compensate. Often, this leads to the development of unhealthy boundaries and behavior that ultimately makes the situation worse. Professional counseling guides families by teaching them about the mechanisms at work during addiction, establishing healthy boundaries and communicating effectively. Families also learn about the various defense mechanisms of the addictive personality.
Research has shown that family members fall into five unhealthy roles when someone close to them is struggling with addiction. Don’t panic if you feel you can empathize with one or more of these categories or identify them within your clan; they are not set in stone. Family therapists can help everyone to step into a healthier role.
Taking on a healthy role involves providing family support and encouragement while holding your addicted loved one accountable. Offer praise and reward positive progress, and steer them towards seeking professional advice if they’re displaying worrying behavior. The five roles that family members need to unravel themselves from are:
- The Enabler: The most prominent feature of an enabler is a state of denial. They’ll minimize negative consequences and make excuses for their loved one to protect the family from the harm of the reality of the situation. In fact, not facing up to a challenge is one of the surest ways to make it worse.
- The Hero: This role involves taking on extra responsibilities that have often been abandoned by the person suffering from addiction. This person puts on a brave face and tries to save everyone but is taking on an excessive amount of stress that will build up and eventually cause them harm.
- The Scapegoat: A scapegoat gets blamed for everything that goes wrong or creates an additional drama that detracts attention away from the addict. This person is often outspoken and provides a distraction from the real issues at hand.
- The Mascot: This person provides comic relief, downplaying bad feelings and trying to make sure everyone gets along with each other. Sadly, this type of denial and unwillingness to face negative emotions makes mascots likely to develop substance use disorders themselves.
- The Lost Child: The lost child feels invisible in the face of the problems and actively tries to fade further into the background. They’re often shy, quiet and withdrawn — choosing to self-isolate rather than seek solace in the company of others.
One of the most valuable aspects of family therapy is that it teaches the whole unit exactly how addiction works. While each person has a different experience, there are aspects of the disease that present themselves in everyone.
Where a loved one may have seen your behavior as intentionally hurtful or cruel, they learn that it is a characteristic of the illness. It also gives them the language necessary to express the different stages of the recovery process, which is incredibly valuable. The bonus of family therapy is that when you speak to the people close to you about your experience in treatment, they have an understanding of what you’re going through so they can offer constructive feedback.
The following aspects of the recovery process will be customized to your individual needs and explained in detail to the people who attend family therapy on your behalf:
- Coping skills
- Stress management
- Social skills
- Leisure activities in a sober environment
- Planning for the future
- Daily practice of healthy habits and the importance of routine
- Step work in smart recovery
- Recovery is an ongoing process — relapse prevention and ongoing care are essential
Honesty and Substance Abuse Disorders
One of the subjects you’ll come across most frequently during family therapy is honesty. The role being honest plays during recovery cannot be overstated. Being honest with yourself, your family and your counselor is the only way to overcome addiction for good.
Addiction leads to dishonesty in various forms: denial, projection, minimization, intellectualization, hostility, diversion and rationalization. Someone with an active substance use disorder is likely to call upon these tactics to facilitate their addiction.
It’s perfectly natural for people to jump to conclusions and predict the desired outcome to take place much faster than it can happen. With addiction, this is particularly true. We must fact-check our thoughts and beliefs to ensure we are keeping in touch with reality, as opposed to projecting an illusionary fantasy onto current events. An example of this is as follows:
Illusion: Charles successfully completed an addiction treatment program; rehab has cured his addiction.
Reality: Charles has learned about addiction and how to apply what he’s learned to daily life. Now the work to stay sober begins.
Maintaining a firm grip on reality can prevent families from becoming disproportionately optimistic. This protects them against exaggerated feelings of disappointment in the face of adversity and diminishes the likelihood of complacency.