To overcome addiction, it takes a support network. Often, patients already have a support network waiting in the wings–family. Even family members who want to help won’t necessarily know the best way to address addiction issues and fight relapse. That’s why family therapy is such a helpful tool during the recovery process.
Families Can Learn About the Disease Model of Addiction
It is estimated that one in four families deals with addiction in some way. Even if a family member struggles with an addiction, however, many people don’t really understand what addiction is or how it develops. Some family members, even those that mean well, still think of addiction as a decision or a moral flaw. Through family therapy everyone can explore the disease model of addiction.
The disease model of addiction identifies that addiction is an illness. Specifically, it is a combination of a chemical dependence and changes in the brain. Understanding addiction as a disease, much like cancer or diabetes, helps family members see their loved one in a new light.
During family therapy, participants can also learn a little more about why addiction develops. Often, it is a combination of factors such as mental illness, trauma and genetic predisposition. Often, this information is a surprise to family members. Once again, this new information can help family members be more sympathetic and understanding about the process of recovery.
Loved Ones Can Help Resolve Past Conflict
One of the negative effects of addiction is that it can cause all kinds of conflicts in the family. Family members might be upset that a person abusing drugs or alcohol brought turmoil to their lives. Those struggling with addiction might feel like their family members were to blame in the first place. While it is normal to experience conflict as a result of addiction, it is unhealthy to let it linger.
A big part of recovery is being able to let go of past conflict and move forward. This is true for the person struggling with addiction and the family members who were involved. In family therapy, a third party can help facilitate conversation and resolution. Through therapy and treatment, families will begin to heal from the wounds that addiction can bring.
Family Members Will be Able to Learn Common Relapse Triggers
There are hundreds and even thousands of triggers that can spark a relapse. These are often very personal. One person might be very tempted to use drugs when they see a bar, while others might be tempted when they are on their own and bored. During family therapy, everyone can learn about the patient’s triggers and how best to avoid them.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the patient to learn to resist triggers and develop coping mechanisms. However, family members can still be an important line of defense. The actions of a family member could be the difference between continued recovery and the risk of relapse.
Some patients might be triggered because of overwhelming stress, financial worries or pressure from family members. Others might be triggered by certain locations or by too much alone time. Knowing the specifics can go a long way in helping patients stay on track with their sobriety.
Children, Parents and Spouses Can Discuss Recovery With a Trained Professional
It’s important for close family members to understand what recovery looks like. Family therapy is a great opportunity for a patient’s children, parents or spouse to meet with a trained professional and learn more about the process of true recovery.
To start, family members can get a rough timeline of withdrawal, rehab and aftercare. Recovery isn’t an overnight process, and it may takes weeks or months of ongoing treatment before independent living is possible.
Family members can also learn about the lifelong reality of recovery. Once someone has struggled with addiction, there is no such thing as moderate use. An alcoholic can’t go through recovery and then start drinking socially again. Family members have to know and believe this, because they can be instrumental in stopping loved ones from making a mistake and relapsing.
The Whole Family Can Create a Plan for Lasting Recovery
Addiction can feel very isolating, and so can recovery. Often, patients aren’t actually alone, they just feel that way. Recruiting the whole family can show patients that they have plenty of support, love and care. Family therapy is also a great chance to work out a recovery plan that involves everyone.
Patients will likely rely on their family members substantially in the weeks and months following rehab. Family members, for the most part, are usually eager to help. Both parties will feel better about the arrangement, however, if they know what to expect.
Family therapy is the opportunity to plan for the future. While no one knows exactly what the future holds, having a plan in place can be critical to recovery. Some patients and their family members can collectively decide that advanced education and living at home is the best route for the next year. Making these decisions with the help of a trained counselor can ensure a positive resolution for everyone involved.
Enabling Can be Identified and Avoided
Without family therapy, enabling might be an ongoing problem for patients in recovery. Enabling is defined as ignoring or encouraging negative behavior in any way. Unfortunately, many family members want to show love and end up enabling instead.
In the context of recovery and life after rehab, enabling might include fear of speaking out, unlimited financial support or prioritizing someone else’s needs above your own. For example, helping to pay for detox and rehab is helping. Offering unlimited cash to a person with a history of addiction is almost certainly enabling. In therapy, family members will learn which of their actions are helping and which are ultimately harming their loved one’s recovery.
The recovery process involves the entire family. That’s why family therapy can be such a valuable tool for those in recovery as well as their loved ones.