The pain, suffering and other emotional hardship that accompanies drug and alcohol addiction is not limited to the addict themselves. The emotional fallout from addiction also had significant and deep-reaching impacts on the family as well. The toll of the worry felt towards the family member with the substance abuse problem can be insurmountable. Oftentimes, the family unit bears the brunt of the consequences of a family member’s addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Families of addicts often attempt to help them but the help they give is often the wrong kind of help. Family and friends may enable the addict financially or retool their own living situations in order to accommodate the life of a family member in the grips of addiction. While the family can be a source of further complicating the cycle of addiction with a loved one who is recovering, family can also be an essential and invaluable source of support and strength for the addicted loved one.
Family Therapy and Counseling—An Essential Early Step
There are several things that families of recovering addicts can do in order to promote both constructive and proactive family engagement. Undergoing family recovery or group counseling can be an essential step in helping not only the recovering family member but to also heal the family as a unit. Counseling can be flexible in regards to both group involvement as well as one-on-one sessions. Families can learn about the unhealthy behaviors and other issues of co-dependency that developed during the period of addiction. Families can also understand what addiction is and the unhealthy behaviors associated with addiction.
From structured therapy and counseling, both the addict and their family can learn to interact with each other in healthy ways and family and peer networks start to be established in order to provide the recovering addict with a solid support system.
Outside Treatment and Counseling—What Needs to Be Done?
Attending twelve-step meetings and applying the principles from those meetings are another essential cornerstone for families of recovering addicts. For families, support groups such as Al-Anon (or Alateen) and Nar-Anon are essential in regards to finding support and gaining knowledge of their loved one’s addiction. It is important to realize that in order for the addict themselves to experience quality and authentic recovery, the family must also evolve, grow and learn in order to help accommodate that growth.
Besides attendance of twelve-step meetings and applying those principles, family members themselves must recognize their role in the relationship with the recovering addict and learn to modify their reactions and relationships to foster positive growth. Enabling must also be recognized if it is happening and once it is recognized it needs to be ceased no matter how deep and hurtful the interactions are between the recovering addict and the family. No matter how strong the resolve, enabling can provide the pathway back to using behaviors and enabling can both be explicit and subtle.
Other tips include the assurance that the addict’s home is clean and free from not only the props and paraphernalia associated with their substance abuse but also there is a constant but supportive family presence. Engaging in family activities and engaging the whole family in those activities is also essential. In regards to communication with the recovering addict in regards to the impact their substance abuse had on the family, they should use “I” language and communicate with their loved one how they felt during the period of addiction. Ultimately, the small victories must be recognized regarding any progress that has been made and both the recovering addict and their family must be able to give themselves credit for their hard work and perseverance
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