Addiction does not restrict its impact to a single person. Addiction causes stress and fractures within a family unit, creating tension and chaos. Routines are disrupted. Relationships may break. Not to mention the potential financial, legal, or physical problems that often stem from addiction. All told, it can be beneficial to think of addiction as a family disease. Certainly, it is centered on the addicted person. But it cannot be isolated or cordoned off. As a result, addiction treatment providers have leveraged family therapy for decades as a promising component of comprehensive care.
How Addiction Affects the Family
Before digging into the benefits of family therapy for addiction, it is worth unpacking how addiction affects the family. Family dynamics become strained and pulled out of joint. Some of the biggest ways that addiction impacts families are:
- Emotional instability
- Safety issues
- Shifting, new, or burdensome responsibilities
- Communication problems
- Damaged relationships
One of the biggest impacts of addiction is behavioral changes within the family unit. Two problem areas in this regard are codependency and enabling. Each is described in more detail below.
Codependency is a type of relationship where one person neglects their needs in order to obsess over a loved one’s problems. They will reorient their lives to be entirely about the other person. This unhealthy structure is most commonly experienced between married spouses or dating partners. But it is not restricted to that alone. It can also develop between a brother and sister or between a mother and son.
Codependency appears in response to ongoing dysfunction and can be viewed as a way to accommodate or try to solve that dysfunction. Behaviors related to codependency include low self-esteem, unhealthy sacrifices to appease the addicted loved one, constant worry about the loved one’s addiction, and unhealthy coping mechanisms like overeating or gambling to make up for a lack of self-care.
Enabling refers to a set of behaviors people implement to support their addicted loved one, but that only serve to prolong or deepen addiction’s hold on them. Whether from love or fear, this often involves helping them avoid consequences for their drug use. This could look like denying your loved one has an addiction, making excuses for your loved one, and failing to question your loved one’s behavior or explanations. It could also escalate into more tangible forms of enabling. For instance, consistently bailing them out of trouble or covering all their expenses even after they spent their money on drugs.
The Benefits of Family Therapy for Addiction
Family counseling for addiction provides an environment where families can heal and recover together. It is particularly necessary and helpful where relationships have fallen into cycles of codependency or enabling. Research consistently demonstrates the benefits of family therapy for substance abuse.
One benefit is related to motivation. People who attend family therapy as a component of their treatment plan tend to be more engaged during treatment and display higher levels of motivation for persisting through treatment and achieving long-term sobriety. A major element of addiction treatment is education. Not just for the addicted person but really for their whole family. Thus, another benefit of family therapy for addiction is that it is a venue for communal learning. Involved family members will come to understand the science of addiction, how it has affected their loved one, and how they can best respond and support.
Finally, improved communication is a lasting benefit of family therapy for substance abuse. Family therapy provides time and space to discuss emotions, desires, and fears while helping rebuild healthy lines of communication. As stated earlier, addiction is a family disease. Addiction treatment then should be thought of as healing for the entire family.
Access family counseling for addiction services by calling 833.647.0392.