Family Roles in Addiction: How to Initiate and Encourage a Loved One’s Recovery Process
One of the toughest roadblocks to overcome in addiction is denial. Denial is an extremely common defensive mechanism, found in both addicts and the people who are close to them. Therefore, accepting that a loved one has an addiction and addressing it are the first critical steps to helping them recover.
It is often difficult, however, for the friends and family of addicts and alcoholics to breach the subject of substance abuse. Thus, it is ignored, and in the meantime, enabling continues to happen as loved ones have no choice but to harbor the individual’s problem since they are reluctant to confront him or her.
Also, some of those who attempt to intervene are too heavy-handed and may lack understanding as to the true nature of addiction. They may criticize and dole out moral platitudes, or make impossible demands. But addiction is a disease, however, and people with this disease need to be approached gently, with caring, understanding, and respect.
Family Roles in Addiction: The Intervention
Every family is different, as is every addict. Family involvement for each person will thus differ according to family dynamics, as well as the addict’s needs and interpersonal characteristics.
Some seek counselors or therapists to help mediate the intervention. This approach can be very effective, because once a professional is involved, the person given the intervention may take it more seriously.
On the other hand, some people may be threatened by unexpected professional intervention, and private conversations may be more beneficial for those who are particularly sensitive to even mild confrontation. In any case, persons holding the intervention should be honest, yet gentle and loving, and implore the individual to seek treatment.
Beforehand, it is helpful to prepare a list of reasons why your love for this person is driving you to ask him or her to get help. This approach is critical to getting your loved one off on the right foot, or moreover, engage in a positive journey toward recovery with loving support.
Family Roles in Addiction: During Treatment
The best case scenario is that the intervention will be encouraged the person to enter some type of treatment program. Depending on the person’s needs and goals, either outpatient treatment or residential inpatient treatment may be prudent.
Outpatient treatment allows the person to work and remain at home and among their family while undergoing intensive therapy and counseling. Inpatient treatment has the bonus of removing the person from an environment conducive to substance abuse while engaging in therapeutic activities with other residents.
At the same time, the person’s friends and family can breathe a sigh of relief, and also be able to sit back and get a more balanced perspective on their loved one’s addiction. Moreover, family involvement at this point is periodic, and having the addict or alcoholic out of the dynamic allows people to truly take notice of the negative behavior patterns that had formed around them.
During this time, the family gets a break from worrying about the loved one’s state of being, and whether or not enabling is appropriate (it’s not.) Residential stays typically last at least 30 days, but sometimes 2-3 months when necessary. Many critical realizations can be made during this time by friends and family members.
For those loved ones who become inpatients, families should do their best to visit and participate in activities hosted by the facility whenever possible.
Either approach, however, typically begins with a professionally supervised detox, in the which the patient will be medically monitored and made comfortable while drugs or alcohol are purged from the system.
Friends and family are also encouraged to attend Al Anon or Nar Anon meetings. These programs provide group support to the loved ones of drug addicts and alcoholics. In these meetings, you may see the following addressed:
- How to help an addict or alcohol seek help for his or her problematic
- How to address a loved one regarding their drug or alcohol addictions
- Tips on family building throughout the addiction therapy/recovery process
- How to support oneself and loved one throughout the recovery process
Family Roles in Addiction: After Treatment
Because addiction is a chronic, often lifelong condition, there is no specific timeline or end to the recovery process for either the addict or his or her loved ones. Families will often continue to feel the effects of a loved one’s addiction long after recovery has taken hold. For this reason, the family should attend Al Anon or Nar Anon meetings for as long as it takes, even indefinitely if it helps.
There is a reason why addiction is considered a family disease – people battling substance abuse must continually do the work needed to sustain recovery.
When the addict is battling the disease or engaging in substance abuse, it once again affects those who are close. Support, love, and understanding are always necessities.
Also, keep in mind that addicts and alcoholics sometimes require more than one intervention, and loved ones need to prepared, educated, and informed about the person’s current state of mind, habits, and behaviors without being too invasive. In short, to be successful, family roles in addiction must remain on the same course as the addict’s recovery process.
It’s a tricky balancing act, and mistakes will undoubtedly happen. However, with long-lasting love and support from family and friends, addicts are much more likely to remain sober and capable of coping with life beyond substance abuse.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology