What is family’s role in addiction recovery?
It’s different for everyone, but in most cases, family has an important role to play in addiction recovery.
I’m a proponent of whole family recovery. Here’s why.
Understanding family history can help unlock doors to recovery. Sometimes there is an “aha” moment although this can occur more slowly over time: “Oh you mean grandma and Uncle Ben weren’t actually sick in bed, they were drunk.” Or: “The lack of emotional connection to either parent contributed to my need to feel part of a close group of peers, even if that meant doing drugs.”
Knowing family history of addiction, abuse or other issues can be important for recovery.
Genetics also might have a role to play. If diabetes, depression or other physical or mental illnesses are part of a family history, physicians and therapists may be approach the initial evaluation as well as the course of treatment differently. I always recommend to all clients entering treatment to see their primary care physician for a complete physical. Sometimes getting appropriate medical care can be an impetus for a client to take better care of themselves.
If treatment professionals know there is a family history of mental illness, they may be more aggressive in their check for co-occurring disorders (mental illness and addiction). In my experience, most people entering recovery do in fact have co-occurring disorders (though not all), and treatment for someone with mental illness and addiction will need to address both issues, as well as interaction between them.
Involving Family Members
In most cases, family involvement can be extremely helpful to recovery. Engaging in family therapy as part of an addiction treatment plan can help clients and their family work through issues of co-dependence, communication, denial, defense mechanisms, and so on.
Understanding how dysfunction evolved and working together to address it is necessary to promote long-term abstinence and recovery–for the patient and the whole family together. It’s important for each family member to resolve the maladaptive roles they took on to protect status quo of the dysfunctional family.
Family members who are not addicted to substances or behaviors themselves, are also encouraged to join Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, or other 12 Step programs that teach them how to identify codependent issues. They will also learn how not to shield or rescue the client from the consequences of their addiction, which is called enabling. When they stop enabling the client, the entire family dynamic changes and most of all, the client will face the opportunity of dealing with their addiction head-on, maybe for the first time in their lives.
What if there is no family of origin or family of creation (such as spouse and children) able to be involved? Significant others may step in. For example, very good friends or roommates often feel like family, and in fact, they can have a positive role in addiction recovery.
Don’t let yourself or a family member go it alone. Please get involved in their treatment.