Helping someone into treatment for addiction is a gift that yields a lifetime of returns for the individual struggling with chemical dependency, but its benefits extend much further than that. Loved ones, typically driven by unselfish motives to help turn the addict’s life around, also stand to benefit in very personal ways:
Living with an addict is traumatic and life-altering in ways only affected loved ones can fully understand. Everyone in direct contact gets swallowed up by the addiction. Once a respite from the outside world, the home becomes a battlefield where trust and honesty are replaced with worry, resentment and a constant state of alert. Rates of domestic violence and mental illness go up. Daily life becomes unworkable.
Treatment improves quality of life not only for the addict, but also for the people who live with and care for them. In a study from the Central Institute of Mental Health (CIMH) in Mannheim, Germany, loved ones reported significant improvements in quality of life scores (from 60.6 to 68 on a 100-point scale) after the addict completed inpatient or outpatient treatment. These changes impacted not only their social relationships and living environment but also their own mental and physical health.
Maintaining a drug or alcohol addiction is expensive. Since many addicts lose their jobs, homes and earning power, the costs of both the illness and the treatment often fall on loved ones.
Although treatment requires a substantial investment of time and money, the burden on the family budget lifts and the benefits continue to accrue over time. In the CIMH study, direct alcohol-related expenses dropped from 20 percent of the family’s total pretax income to just 4 percent one year after starting treatment. Spending on alcohol, cigarettes and other nonmedical expenses went from an average of $868 per month to $186 per month.
When a loved one is struggling with addiction, family members often form a web of protection around them. Sometimes this enables the addiction; sometimes it helps the addict understand the consequences of their actions and accept the need for treatment. In either case, instead of focusing on their own goals and desires, family members rally around the addict – a process that can zap the entire family system of its ability to function normally.
Treatment teaches addicts to take care of themselves, freeing the family to reinvest in their own lives – not just for those few weeks or months of rehab, but also long after the addict leaves treatment. In the CIMH study, time spent caring for and supervising the addict dropped from an average of 32 hours per month to just eight hours per month following treatment.
A number of treatment centers provide counseling for the family members of the addict. Family programs encourage loved ones to explore their own feelings of anger, disappointment and guilt, develop more effective ways to communicate, and establish a support system they can lean on to ensure their own needs are being met. The changes that take place in the addict are mirrored in the family dynamics, resulting in improved relationships and a healthier environment at home, along with personal growth for all.
As addiction is a “family disease,” research shows recovery is greatly enhanced when the family gets involved. While taking further steps to help the addict may seem like too much to ask at a time when frustrations and resentments run high, the decision to get help for the addict is as much for the health and well-being of the family as it is for addicts themselves.
David Sack, M.D., is board certified in addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine. Dr. Sack served as a senior clinical scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) where his research interests included affective disorders, seasonal and circadian rhythms, and neuroendocrinology. He currently serves as CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, a network of addiction treatment centers that includes California drug rehab Promises, The Ranch in Tennessee, The Recovery Place rehab in Florida, and Texas drug rehabs Right Step and Spirit Lodge.
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Addiction Treatment | Benefits | Solutions Recovery (November 16, 2012)
Last reviewed: 15 Nov 2012