The Importance of Family in Addiction Treatment

ADDICTION: the mere suggestion that a substance like drugs or alcohol has taken control over a loved one sparks a host of disturbing emotions. In many cases, family members may tread softly at first, hinting about problems gingerly while trying not to offend or push struggling loved ones further away. Often, insecure family members, desperate to reconnect dissolving relationships, may even inadvertently push the loved ones further into addiction by enabling the very behaviors that are destroying them. Conversely, others decide “one more chance” is one too many.

“My dad’s kicking me out; I came home wasted one too many times.”

“She told me it’s over. I’ve got to get help; I guess I’m full-blown addicted.”

“He said he’s taking the kids since I can’t be a good mom…I’ve GOT to quit!”

While many addicts never see their actual condition until a relationship has been permanently severed, proactive involvement by caring family members is much more beneficial, not only for the loved one but also for every member of the family. In a best-case scenario, loved ones concerned about a family member’s addiction will:

  • Lovingly address the problem without making allowances.
  • Authoritatively require the person to seek treatment.
  • Come alongside the person throughout the treatment, eager to contribute support without condemnation.
  • Lovingly withhold whatever is necessary to ensure the loved one stays the course.

Common Mistakes Enabling Families Make

“You stay out as late as you want; here’s some cash. I’m not spying on you.”

“Daddy, you want me to get you a beer?”

“Yeah, well, don’t worry, honey; we all make mistakes. I know you didn’t mean it.”

In the name of love, many families make it almost impossible for addicts to admit to their addictions, much less to quit. When loved ones are on the road to destruction, the most unloving action one can take is to smile and pretend all is well. The deceptive problem of codependency, which is when a person finds his or her worth in being a people-pleaser, is typical for families dealing with addiction problems. Being a pleaser makes it difficult to perceive that actions that seem to come from pure motives are killing that person with kindness. Professional treatment aims to identify areas of codependency, making a recovery possible as families learn to do the hard things to help their loved ones.

Common Mistakes Tough-Love Families Make

Even though enabling families make it easy for a person to use and abuse, it is just as detrimental to go to the other extreme. The “tough love” mentality can help addicts become aware of their need for help, but when angry, fed-up loved ones go overboard with a tough love attitude, it can be at least as harmful as enabling can be. Criticizing, name-calling, and a deaf ear to the pleas of the addicted person communicate hopelessness at a time when hope is the family’s great ally. Family participation in treatment programs also allows overwrought, bitter individuals to take a step back and understand how their hurtful words only exacerbate the problem; it gives them a safe outlet to express their pain and frustration with a mediator present who can translate unarticulated affection.

Family Involvement in Treatment Programs

Once a family has communicated their determination to see their loved one through treatment, they will begin locating the right treatment program for their situation. While outpatient programs can be beneficial, they allow the patient to stay at home where the transition to recovery may get muddled by family habits. Inpatient treatment programs enable participants to undergo rehabilitation while giving the family the opportunity to analyze their contribution to the problem. This gives them the chance to adjust their habits before their loved one returns. By becoming involved in the treatment process, family members may become aware of destructive tendencies in their own lives that have not yet come to a head, preventing more significant problems in the future. By seeking help as a family, issues of codependency, anger problems, and even generational drug problems can be addressed in a calm environment where support is available. Further, when the patient’s rehabilitation goals and objectives are shared with family members in a professional setting, achieving them will be much more likely after the treatment ends.

Substance abuse, alcoholism, and other addictions do not have to sound a death knell for families. When challenges are met by family members determined to band together as a team, it can result in relationships stronger than ever. When a family is willing to yield to the truth, the truth shall make them free.