The signs of a substance use disorder, or addiction, can include various debilitating symptoms. Although substance use disorders often begin in the midst of social interaction, each developing addiction will result in a person losing the ability to effectively interact with others. The addicted individual’s relationships are bound to struggle and suffer. Perhaps the most severely affected relationships are also the most cherished and important, including those shared with close family members.
The concept of family integration in addiction treatment focuses on the notion that the entire family (not just the addicted individual) has suffered damage on some level, and thus has a need to be healed. Families who participate in counseling as a whole may benefit from added knowledge and invaluable support.
Why Family Integration Matters
Some specialists and researchers in the field of family therapy feel that this method of treatment is widely underestimated. Perhaps this is because of a lingering viewpoint that the suffering inflicted on a family from addiction is the responsibility of only one or two members, and it is thus his or her responsibility to get help. Rather than seeking to blame any members of the family, treatment integration instead exposes the needs of each individual and focuses on how those can be properly filled in accordance with mutual understanding and support.
Consider the following benefits of pursuing addiction treatment together as a family:
1) Family cooperation removes the stigma that causes many addicts to refuse treatment out of fear of being judged.
Of course, it would be terrific if the addiction would go away all on its own. However, chances are that it will not. Action must be taken; and frankly speaking, the sooner the better.
2) The family disease model indicates that, in many cases, addiction is not entirely independent
Family members must understand what led to the development of the addiction. When one family member is addicted, for example, he or she is generally looked at as being the sole cause of the problems related to the substance use disorder. The reality is that addiction might itself be a symptom of other physical or emotional complications that could be relieved with family cooperation.
3) Family involvement in addiction treatment will teach individual members to process an addicted individual’s actions
There is often a lack of logic in the behavioral patterns of an addicted individual because addiction causes severely diminished reasoning ability. Dealing with it can present specific challenges. Family members may need to learn how to peacefully refuse to give money to the addicted individual, for example. The family systems model has been scientifically developed to assist the family to form patterns of behavior that are not shaped or controlled by the behavioral symptoms of addiction.
4) Family members who fail to become educated regarding addiction may form unrealistic expectations that can lead to disappointment
An actively addicted person may be unable to accomplish his or her share in household duties. These duties may include the responsibility to provide emotionally or physically for others in the family circle. The resulting frustration will only distract from progress. Family members need compassionate support to make up the slack and move forward with as little tension as possible.
5) Family members who know what triggers relapse can help recovering addicts to stay sober
Many family members cater to an addiction without even realizing it. Professional assistance (perhaps through cognitive-behavioral approaches) highlights enabling behavior and potential danger zones. Family members who are emotionally supervised with professional care are less likely to even unwittingly jeopardize the recovery of a person grappling with an addiction.¹
6) Family members are assisted to rebuild their own lives
Therapy activities might practically help individuals to highlight and work towards individual career, relationship, education, health, or other goals.
7) Discussions open up within a safe and neutral forum
If the chaos revolving the addiction is mentioned within the home, the most likely result is that there will be a chaotic discussion. Therapists can mediate and gently stoke conversations to stay on a productive and non-accusatory path.
8) Trained professionals will outline any negative relationship structures
Sometimes role reversals occur in families with an addicted member. Children may act like parents, and vice-versa. Therapists can identify negative patterns and suggest alternative activities that restore proper structure. These basic tactics are not region-specific, so they apply across cultures and religions. Therapists will be respectful and include the family beliefs in the treatment program.
9) Families draw closer together as all are mutually supported and challenged
Many good people make bad decisions, and that is a part of life. Family members who recognize negative personal behavioral patterns and correct them bring joy to those who love them. As a family works together to do so, each member’s efforts are bound to be admired by some of the others. Through mutual cooperation, each member learns to value his or her place in the family structure and can come to realize that he or she belongs.
10) Economically speaking, family involvement is usually the way to go
Group outings and therapy can find reduced rates in therapy sessions and recreational programs as these are occasionally pursued.
What is Specifically Involved in Family Treatment
All too often, self-care is confused for selfishness. Some might believe that getting personal assistance when another member of the family seems to be in greater need of help is somehow going to deprive that person of the attention that he or she needs. The opposite is often true. As family members become more individually cared for, healthy members become more helpful, and the substance use disorder can lose its roots.
Residential treatment centers offer various types of family integration programs, so it is good to find out what the specific options are and then to get as fully involved as possible. These might include counseling sessions, visiting days, group outing days or even weekends, calls to participate in online support sessions, and more.²
Duffy’s Napa Valley Rehab is a premiere substance abuse treatment center that is designed for adults over the age of 18. With programming options including safe detoxification, residential care, outpatient treatment, and interventions that incorporate family members and loved ones, Duffy’s offers a whole-family approach to wellness.
- SAMHSA. “Substance abuse treatment and family therapy.” Retrieved online 5/9/16 at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64269/.
- Al-Anon Family Groups. “Treatment must include the family- not just the Alcoholic.” Retrieved online 5/9/16 at: http://al-anon.org/professional-perspectives/item/289-treatment-must-include-the-family-not-just-the-alcoholic.