Shoreline Sober Living, San Diego, CA

When we discuss the impact that addiction has on a person’s life, the focus is always on the individual. It is rare to think about how the family may be dealing with the situation. Addiction can destroy the family dynamics, diminish trust and weaken communication. When a loved one is stuck in a constant cycle of addiction or substance abuse, you can feel completely helpless against the problem; you may even lash out at other family member who are also enduring a host of painful emotions.

Addiction is a disease that rips apart the whole family, this is why it is so important to try and keep a strong family unit. The closest members to the loved one battling drug addiction have vital roles in the development and recovery of addiction. Playing an enormous part that can determine whether the individual is to relapse.

“Families of drug-abusing adolescents tend to have problems precisely because they continue to interact in ways that allow the youths to misbehave.”

Source: Chapter 2, Basic Concepts of Brief Strategic Family Therapy, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2003

There are a handful of ways the family can help and feel as if they are making a positive change; these include

  • seeking social support
  • attending family support groups
  • understanding relapse prevention
  • attending family therapy sessions

Creating a positive environment for addiction recovery

It is important for the family to understand and not assume that all of the problems associated with the substance abusers behavior have now disappeared once the addict has successfully completed the rehabilitation program. Family members often make the mistake and believe that since the addiction is now under control, they can begin to forget and move on with their lives together.

This is not the case, very often an addict in recovery will go return back to their home environment, connecting more with family member thus leading them back into the dysfunction that contributed to their addictive behavior in the first place. During the time in which the addict was receiving help, all family members from parents, down to the youngest sibling would have gone through an array of emotions. From anger to helplessness, disappointment, resentment and more. This could potentially create an even more dysfunctional environment. The family need to address all these emotions before their loved one comes home to continue on the road to recovery. If the family’s emotions are not addressed the addict is likely to relapse.

How you can help an addicted family member by playing your role

Decrease the chance of a relapse

As a family you can do two things to decrease the chance of your loved one relapsing. The first is to understand the issues and dysfunctions within the family unit. All family members must understand that their behavioral patterns will influence how the recovery process continues. Every member needs to be aware of their negative and/or unhealthy traits and be willing to change them. When a family really comes together, to positively alter their dynamics, they will very often see a real change throughout the family relationship with each other and the recovering addict. Many families will come together before their loved one comes home and work on their communication skills by going to counselling. It is vital to reconcile all past and present issues. When a family functions in a positive, healthy way, the addict will feel calm and at ease, helping them to continue on their recovery process.

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The second step is to understand the recovery process. The family need to educate themselves on  what causes the addict to become stressed or uncomfortable resulting in negative emotions to run through the body that will increase the risk of a relapse. It is important for the addict to not feel judged, or at fault for what has happened to them and subsequently the family. It is a difficult time for everyone involved, however it could get worse if a relapse was to take place. Every family that has had a member taken by addiction need to understand that their lives will forever change, but for the better. The previous life unfortunately resulted in someone becoming so overwhelmed with life that they turned to drugs as a form of escapism. This is a perfect opportunity for everyone to rediscover a healthier version of themselves and have fun with one another. The drug or alcohol previously used to escape are no longer an option to use.