Although it might be difficult to accept, it’s important to acknowledge that the history of a family and its dynamics can exacerbate a person’s substance misuse.
It would be wrong to blame someone for another person using drink or drugs. However, it’s important to acknowledge that just as a family member can be a positive help and support to someone they love, they can also be the opposite.
This means that a relationship can influence addictive habits.
We live in a society where there are many types of family units. Families are defined as being traditional, extended or elected. (1) Traditional families would be heterosexual couples with a couple of children.
It’s incredibly important to remember that for some people, this traditional model doesn’t work. For those who have been raised in the care system, or for LGBTQ couples and their children, family members often also include “elected” family members.
This means that they might not be blood-related, but they are the person’s family.
In terms of family therapy, the people with who the addicted person identifies as a family would be invited to family therapy sessions. Addiction doesn’t solely affect the user. It’s understandable, then, that research demonstrates how “family has a central role to play in the treatment of… substance abuse“.(1)
Why is family therapy helpful for addiction treatment?
There are many reasons why having family therapy can be helpful in treating someone who has an addiction. A rehabilitation programme which includes family therapy improves the overall outcomes of a person and can support those around them.
It’s commonly accepted that when a person has an addiction the entire family experiences it too.(2)
Addiction damages relationships. Some of the behaviours linked to a person who is in the denial phase of addiction such as being secretive, lying, or being manipulative (in order to borrow money, for instance) can be, understandably, extremely hard to process for the other family member/s.
Often, communication and boundaries completely deteriorate. When family members don’t understand the nature of addiction or how to navigate around the person who is ill, they might become codependent or develop enabling behaviours.
Codependency is when a family member becomes totally preoccupied with the person with the addiction. Everything seems to revolve around them including the person’s own well-being.
Enabling is when a family member might use a substance with the person who is addicted or help them to use or it get it.
Usually, family members end up in these situations by accident at a loss of knowing what to do. Some family members might become completely apathetic towards the person with the addiction.
This means they turn their back on the person and have nothing more to do with them.
Due to the complex nature of addiction, it’s understandable that individuals with different personalities will react and feel differently to the situation. These differences in perspectives can also create challenges in how the family works.
Ultimately, addiction creates physical, mental and emotional issues for everyone involved. Where there is a parent with an addiction, there is an increased likelihood of a child developing an addiction. This shows how delicate the family situation is.
Rehabilitation programmes for addiction
This means treating every aspect of the person’s addiction.
The physical, psychological, and emotional parts of the person are treated through detox, psychological therapies and alternative therapies. Aside from this, it’s important for familial and social approaches to treatment to take place as well.
This could include the offer of support around housing, financial support, or rebuilding family relationships.
Family therapy as part of a rehab programme
Depending on where a person is in their recovery journey will influence when family therapy might be suggested. The person with the addiction will decide with their therapist if and when it would be appropriate to invite family members to therapy sessions.
Usually, family therapy comes after physical detox (if the person is physically dependent) and some psychological therapies. After a person has participated in therapy and used some of the therapeutic tools they will come to understand addiction better.
They will be able to self-reflect and consider their own addiction and speak about it honestly. This is the point where family therapy is most effective.
What’s spoken about in family therapy?
There are various goals of family therapy that impact the content and structure of sessions. A therapist will support a family to speak in a safe space.
It’s their job to ensure that family members can speak honestly and share in helpful ways.
Therapy focuses on enabling the family to talk about their thoughts and feelings and to listen to and respect each other. There will be guidance on how to reframe language so that people find it easier to communicate how they truly feel without hurting each other’s feelings.
Within this context various topics might be discussed such as:
- The causes of the addiction.
- Identifying ways to support the person outside of therapy.
- Ideas around relapse prevention.
- How to communicate more effectively as a family.
- Setting boundaries.
The benefits of family therapy
There are many benefits of family therapy. When family members are supported in understanding their thought patterns, belief systems, language use, behaviours, and family dynamics they start to become equipped for healing.
Family therapy is a type of behavioural therapy. Behavioural therapies are the most effective evidence-based types of psychological treatment when it comes to treating addiction. (3)
When there is a patient-focused therapist, they collaborate with the person who has the addiction and comes to solutions together. The therapist equips the patient to identify a pathway toward healing and recovery.
In terms of family therapy, the therapist aims towards the same goals but does this with the entire family with a focus on the patient.
By supporting families in finding new ways of communicating and acting with each other, the following can be achieved:
- Positive and healthy support for the addicted person.
- Healing damaged familial relationships.
- Help to identify mental health problems in the family.
- Goal setting as a family.
Planning around relapse
One of the most helpful aspects of family therapy is that it equips the family in coming up with a relapse prevention plan. This means that lifestyle changes can be put in place together and the family can support the addicted person around triggers and cravings.
The family will discuss what to do in the event of relapse. This has huge beneficial consequences. Discussing and planning helps to strengthen the family.
When a family feels equipped to face a challenge (such as relapse) they are better able to get through it. This helps to build familial resilience.
When families support each other effectively through difficult times it empowers all involved.
As time goes on, the family will understand better how relapse works, how to cope with their own feelings, how to respond to each other and how to support the person who has relapsed more efficiently.
Are there family therapy options near me?
There are many family therapy options throughout the UK that support people who have addictions and their families.
Due to the various types of therapy, the amount of therapists, and individual differences, it can be difficult knowing which might be best suited.
Contact OK Rehab to find out what’s available near you. Our team will assess your situation and be able to match you with the most suitable services.
Addiction affects an entire family having physical, mental, and emotional repercussions for each individual in the family. Due to the nature of addiction, it can put a huge amount of strain on family dynamics.
Relationships often deteriorate and trust has to be rebuilt.
Family therapy provides a family approach to supporting a person with an addiction. It also provides support and therapeutic tools for family members to use in order to look after themselves and their loved one.