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Family Therapy for Substance Abuse

Individuals with a substance use disorder often believe they’re the only ones affected by it. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Their family members are equally affected; they end up supporting the individual and are constantly hurt by their negative behavior. For this reason, family therapy for substance abuse is an essential component of recovery.

We’ll explore how addiction impacts family members as well as the different roles they play in the life of a substance abuser. Family therapy offers many benefits for the whole unit and will aid in the recovery process.

How Does Addiction Impact Families?

Partners/Spouses of Addicts

Substance use disorder can take a great toll on partners and spouses. When you take your vows, you promise to be with each other for better or for worse. However, when the “worse” is an addiction, this can be difficult and challenging.

If your partner is abusing drugs or alcohol, you might find that he or she is irritable, moody, and secretive. Sometimes they can even get violent. This can be frustrating and dangerous, and you might not know what to do in these situations. Many people think that an addict can just stop doing drugs or drinking, but this isn’t the case. You can beg and plead with your spouse to quit, but they’ll keep using because addiction isn’t a choice.

For this reason, asking your partner to stop won’t do any good, and it could lead to further problems. You might find yourself taking over many household responsibilities (childcare, bills, cleaning the house) if your spouse can’t due to their addiction. This adds pressure and stress on you and the rest of your family. Your partner might even be stealing money to feed their addiction, making things even more strenuous.

Children of Addicts

Unfortunately, 1 in 5 children grows up with a parent who abuses substances. Children are greatly affected by a family member’s addiction. Many of them end up abusing drugs themselves and develop emotional or mental problems. They’re also three times more likely to experience neglect and physical or sexual abuse. They can even experience a delay in development and learning.

Toddlers and young children might not understand substance abuse and how it can affect them. However, it can impact their entire lives. They’re vulnerable to external behaviors and are likely to repeat what their parent is doing. If they constantly see their parents fighting, they might develop violent and aggressive behavior.

If a parent can perform regular responsibilities, the child might feel responsible and step into a caretaker role. This can put a great deal of stress on him or her, as well as feelings of self-blame and extreme guilt for the parent’s abuse.

Family Therapy for Substance Abuse

Parents of Addicts

Seeing their children struggle with substance use disorder can be frustrating for parents. Teenage addiction is all too common, with adolescents searching for their identity and peer pressure being the norm. If your child is doing drugs or drinking, you might notice that their mood is changing or that they’re doing poorly in school.

Family Roles in Substance Abuse

They might not know it, but family members all play their dysfunctional roles when they have a child or sibling with a substance use disorder. They do this to cope with their loved one’s illness. Below is a version of each role and how a family member will play it out.

The Hero/Savior

This is the “shining star” of the family. The Hero overachieves and excels to compensate for the shame surrounding their family member’s illness. They also do this to cover up the emptiness and helplessness they feel. They do no wrong and never lets the family down. At times they might cover for the person to make him or her look good in front of the family. They are often in denial about the family member’s illness and overlooks major problems.

The Scapegoat

This person is the one blamed in the family. The Scapegoat creates concerns and problems to distract the family from focusing on the individual with substance abuse. They are quite good at taking the family’s attention away from the real issue.

The Lost Child

This is the person who hides out emotionally and physically, bottling up their emotions and avoiding conflict. Although they don’t drain the family’s emotional resources, they’re suffering inside.

The Enabler/Caregiver/Rescuer

The Enabler will excuse the addicted individual’s behavior. They don’t hold the person accountable for their actions and they smooth things over. This way, the addict doesn’t have to face any logical consequences for their bad behavior. The Enabler behaves like this to avoid embarrassment and shame. While they think they’re helping, they’re actually hurting the family member and stunting their ability to recover from addiction.

The Mascot

This role provides the “comic relief” in the family, and the humor is usually targeted toward the addict. They make jokes to deflect hurt and minimize the pain in situations. This eventually becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism.

What is Family Therapy for Substance Abuse?

Family therapy for substance abuse can be best described as a form of education. It’s a set of therapeutic approaches that use the family’s resources and strengths to help the substance abuser quit drugs. Other issues covered in family therapy for substance abuse include:

  • Abuse
  • Depression
  • Family conflict
  • Parenting skills
  • Unemployment

In family therapy, you’ll unlearn the unhealthy roles you’ve taken. You learn how to play healthier roles so that you can encourage and support your loved one’s recovery. Healthy behaviors that go along with these roles include creating rewards for positive choices and holding your family member accountable for bad behavior.

The Family Systems Model

The family systems model has become popular in family therapy for substance abuse. This views substance use disorder as a result of dysfunction within the family. Your therapist will teach you that a family is a system, and as a result, each member of this system affects how it functions. When one person is at a dysfunctional level (i.e. abusing drugs), the family system suffers. Other family members might see that they also have dysfunctional behavior due to their efforts to support this system.

What to Expect in Family Therapy for Substance Abuse

In your first family therapy session, your counselor will determine who participates in therapy. This can include spouses, children, parents, extended family members, or even a close friend. The counselor will get input from everyone involved.

Family therapy for substance abuse will be offered in an outpatient setting, treatment center, or a private office. Depending on the severity of the addiction, your sessions might meet over several weeks. If you do therapy in a treatment center, you’ll likely have some shorter sessions and fun leisure activities along with group sessions.

The following are a few exercises that can be done in family therapy:

  • Pinpointing ways to rebuild trust and improve communication
  • Learning ways to interact with family members while respecting boundaries
  • Discussing different family roles
  • Identifying what’s harmful and what helps

Family therapy can also take the form of support groups. Outpatient and inpatient facilities offer these resources to help patients connect with their peers. Support groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon focus on families with relatives who abuse substances. They can share their experiences with others going through the same problems.

Benefits of Family Therapy for Substance Abuse

A few of the benefits people gain from family therapy for substance abuse include:

  • Becoming aware of family dynamics: Poor family patterns will contribute to substance abuse. Treating everyone will make sure they have the best possible outcome.
  • Sharing thoughts and feelings: Bridges can be burned during active addiction. Family might be excited to reconcile with their loved one or be concerned about a possible relapse. In therapy, you’ll learn how to express and balance these emotions.
  • Setting boundaries: It can be difficult to make your boundaries clear to your loved one, but it’s necessary for family recovery. For example, you might need to cut off a family member with active addiction for your health and safety.
  • Understanding addiction and how it affects behavior: Therapists will give family members insight and education on addiction, and they’ll learn how to assess themselves.
  • Learning to take care of yourself: Even if your family member has an addiction, you need to remember to practice self-care and nurture your needs. Support groups like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon will help with this.
  • Rebuilding trust: You’ve likely lost some faith and trust in your loved one while they’ve been using. In family therapy, you’ll learn how to interact honestly and better your communication.
  • Improving communication: This goes hand in hand with rebuilding trust. Communication has likely been nonexistent during your loved one’s substance abuse. You’ll need to invest yourself in effectively communicating with your family member.

Why is Family Therapy Important?

Family therapy teaches the encouragement of supportive behaviors and also addresses enabling behaviors. By learning how to keep your loved one accountable for their actions, you can help them start on the journey to sobriety. Family therapy is also important for rebuilding relationships. When you have family support and people in your corner, recovery will likely be much easier.

Family therapy for substance abuse can help family members heal from their loved one’s addiction. With the right approach, it will bring you closer together and strengthen your bond.

Let CNV Detox Help You Conquer Addiction

Our staff at CNV Detox can provide you with some of the best substance abuse treatment in the Los Angeles area. Don’t let your substance use disorder take over one more day or your life. The path to sobriety is clear; you just need some guidance. Contact us today!

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