Addiction used to be thought of as an individual’s conscious decision to be selfish and irresponsible, or as proof that someone is a bad person. In essence, addiction wasn’t thought of as a disease, but rather a moral deficit. As a result, substance abuse was widely criminalized with addicts frequently receiving lengthy prison sentences in order to force them into abstinence and deter them from the immoral behavior. However, over time we would realize that addiction is a disease much like diabetes or cancer. Although components of one’s lifestyle and behavior tend to be major contributors to the development of addiction, the reality is that addiction is considerably more complex than irresponsible behavior or an immoral lifestyle.
When someone becomes addicted to alcohol or drugs, he or she experiences a wide variety of profound effects. Many associate addiction with the physical and health effects but the most catastrophic influences of addiction are often considered to be on one’s mind, behavior, and even spiritual state. This is partly because these particular changes affect not only the addict but the addict’s loved ones as well. In fact, addiction is often referred to as “the family disease” because of the significant and negative impact that it has when introduced into the family unit. As such, most addiction treatment programs that help alcoholics and drug addicts to overcome their addictions also offer family-oriented therapies to help individuals and their loved ones to heal from the effects that addiction has caused them. While family therapy can be an important part of an addict’s treatment curriculum, there’s an argument to be made that it’s as helpful, or perhaps even more helpful, to the family unit as a whole. The following will define and describe family therapy, particularly as it pertains to addiction treatment as well as why family therapy helps addicts’ families just as much as the addicts themselves.
What Exactly Is Family Therapy?
Counseling and psychotherapy are terms often used when describing one-on-one sessions between a patient and a therapist, during which time the therapist listens to and interprets the patient’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, offering guidance and feedback in order to help the patient achieve mental and emotional wellness. Naturally, individual therapy sessions are focused on the individual and can employ one or more of a variety of psychotherapeutic techniques, including cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and so on.
Family therapy utilizes many of the same techniques as individual therapy, but instead of it being one-on-one between a patient and therapist, session consist of the members of a family unit being treated by a therapist with specific knowledge and experience in counseling families. Moreover, family therapy is predicated on the belief that experiences or illnesses that affect one member of a family will inevitably affect all members of a family in some way; in other words, when one member of a family becomes ill, all members of the family experience symptoms of effects of that illness. In such instances, treating only the individual instead of addressing the effects that his or her condition has had on the family unit is likened to treating the symptoms of an illness while not treating the illness itself.
How Addiction Affects the Family Unit
In order to understand the part that family therapy plays in an individual’s recovery from addiction, one must be aware of how the disease of addiction can affect the addict’s family. For addicts who live on their own and not with others who make up a family unit, family therapy is less relevant, though that’s more a generalization than a rule since addiction can have a great effect on even an addict’s extended relations. However, for those who live with a spouse, parents, offspring, siblings, and other family members, the effects of addiction on an addict’s family tend to be much more pronounced.
When an individual develops an addiction, the disease quickly gains momentum and begins to cause hardship in many areas of his or her life. In particular, even the most inexpensive substances become financially unsustainable when the substance abuser is trying to sustain a daily habit. As such, addicts frequently resort to dishonesty and even crime, stooping to stealing from their own loved ones if necessary. Meanwhile, the dishonesty results in the loss of trust, poor communication, resentment, and many other feelings with which it’s hard for many individuals to deal. Unable to process one negative, addiction-fueled experience before having to deal with another, an addict’s family quickly becomes ravaged by one member’s addiction and it can be difficult or almost impossible to overcome the emotional barriers that the addict’s behavior is constructing while also feeling worry and concern for his or her well-being.
Family Addiction Treatment: Helpful to More Than Just the Addict
The family can have a central role in the course of an individual’s addiction. In short, a family’s reaction or response to an individual’s addiction can either prolong his or her suffering or play an integral role in his or her recovery. In addition to helping a family heal from the very hurtful effects of addiction, family therapy is a profoundly beneficial and primary way of determining whether an addict’s family has been unconsciously enabling the addict’s behavior. Codependency has been frequently found between addicts and members of their families, causing loved ones to enable substance abuse behavior for fear of rejection or abandonment. Family therapy can be essential to identifying and overcoming codependency among families.
Additionally, family therapy can help members of a family unit learn skills and strategies that will allow them to help their addicted loved one remain sober after treatment; this is important because an addict’s family can make or break the individual’s recovery. It’s essential for an addict to have a strong support system in place as they make their way into the maintenance phase of recovery and family therapy can prepare family members for the supportive role they must take. Moreover, family therapy is intended to restore harmony and serenity to a family unit, ensuring empathetic and respectful communication while helping family members attain a deeper understanding of addiction and its consequences. As such, family therapy—though often instrumental in helping an addict to repair the important relationships in his or her life—is more about the role that family plays in an individual’s recovery as well as helping a family begin to heal from the devastating effects of addiction.
Ready to Return to a Life of Health & Happiness? Let Recovery Hub Help
The process of recovery has many individual, interconnected parts. In addition to family therapy and individual counseling, there are a number of other treatments that have a prominent role in each addict’s efforts to overcome chemical dependency. If you or someone you love is suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction and would like to learn more about recovery, call Recovery Hub today at 888-220-4352. We have a team of experienced recovery specialists available for free consultations and assessments. With just a phone call, you can free yourself from the chains of active addiction.