Family therapy is often a critical part of addiction recovery for many people. The family is typically the addict’s strongest support system. But the presence of a substance abuse problem can cause issues within those vital relationships. When the family is receiving therapy, there is so much that can be done to rebuild those bonds.
Drug and alcohol addiction does not just have an impact on the people who are using. It affects everyone around them in a lot of different ways. We want to discuss family therapy in more detail to demonstrate its importance during recovery.
What is Family Therapy?
Addiction treatment plans are made up of various types of therapy. Quite often, family therapy is included because of the damage that substance abuse can cause within these relationships. It is important to bring any issues out into the open so that healing can take place.
Family therapy involves the entire family sitting down and working with a therapist. There are benefits for the person in recovery as well as for that person’s loved ones. They include:
- Being able to tackle the issues that are causing strife.
- Really hearing what each person has to say.
- Learning how to understand each other’s points of view.
- Rebuilding relationships that have been damaged because of substance abuse.
- Coming to agreements about various problems that may be causing division.
What Should be Included During Family Therapy?
There are four elements of family therapy that make it effective. It is important for all of them to be covered during treatment. That will help the family get the most out of each session.
It is very important for family members to be fully engaged in therapy sessions. This can be difficult because a lot of people are reluctant to attend due to the relationship damage that has been done. But the therapist can help get people more engaged by doing the following:
- Reminding them that they are there to offer support to the addict, but that their own perspectives are important too.
- Acknowledging that while the work will be difficult, it will be worth it as long as everyone is involved.
- Getting commitments from loved ones who want to see the addict be successful in recovery.
- Reinforcing the fact that this is a journey that the entire family is on, and they are not alone.
- Setting goals together for both the family and the person in recovery.
Relational framing involves establishing a relationship-focused way of solving problems instead of one that is more individualized. It can also help people understand family members’ motivations for their behaviors.
Some examples of this include:
- Taking a description of a parent from a person who is judgmental and critical and reframing it. That parent is most likely just worried about their child and it is coming out as something more negative. But anger is not the primary emotion; worry is.
- Taking a description of a spouse from a person who is blaming their significant other for their substance abuse problem and reframing it. The spouse can learn to understand the reasons behind the substance abuse, and how they might be tied to feelings of anxiety or depression.
Relational reframing can help change people’s mindsets and allow them to understand what is really taking place beneath the surface.
Family Behavior Changes
Establishing family behavior changes can help family members learn new skills about how to connect with and communicate with each other. This can have a significant, positive effect on their relationships with one another.
Some of the new skills that can be taught during this aspect of family therapy include:
- How to communicate directly and assertively.
- How to enforce proper limits.
- How to negotiate boundaries and rules.
- How to express one’s feelings more effectively.
- How to listen to one another without being judgmental.
Every family has rules, whether they realize it or not. There are beliefs and boundaries that they adhere to, sometimes they can be destructive. This element of family therapy can help them to make shifts in the rules to improve their relationships with one another.
For example, a person may feel upset about something that was said, but they do not feel as though they can talk about it. Instead, they may try to deal with those feelings alone and as a result, turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope. Family restructuring can help by changing the rules and opening up opportunities for families to be open and honest with each other.
How Does Substance Abuse Affect Families?
There is no denying the fact that substance abuse has a direct impact on families. It can cause all kinds of issues that make it even harder for the addict to stop using. In time, it produces unhealthy behavioral patterns that can be hard to move away from.
Drug and Alcohol Addiction Can Result in Enabling Behaviors
Enabling behaviors are anything that make it easier for someone to use drugs and/or alcohol. Most of the time, families think that they are being helpful, but what they are really doing is making the addiction much worse.
A lot of families want to do everything they can to make the addict happy in hopes that their addictive behaviors will stop. But protecting them from the consequences of their behaviors will only have a negative impact.
Some examples of enabling behaviors include:
- Watching the addict’s children when they are too drunk or high.
- Running errands for the addict because they are always using.
- Bailing an addict out of jail if they are arrested for an offense related to their substance abuse.
- Keeping the addict’s substance abuse problems a secret from others.
- Offering money to help cover the addict’s bills and expenses.
It Can Lead to Codependency Issues
A lot of families fall prey to their addicted loved ones’ unhealthy behaviors. When this happens, co-dependency can occur, and it is a dangerous precedent to set.
Some of the characteristics of codependency include:
- Getting upset when boundaries are set, or struggling to set proper boundaries.
- Feeling the need to submit to someone’s demands to avoid consequences.
- Manipulating other people to take care of them.
- Rationalizing damaging behaviors.
- Failing to take responsibility for one’s actions.
- Taking advantage of people.
- Making oneself responsible for the behaviors and feelings of someone else.
Co-dependent relationships are not healthy, and yet, many families find themselves in that position with their addicted loved ones. It often breeds resentment, which puts even more strain on the relationship.