Like people in general, the disease of addiction can be quite different from one person to the next. From the circumstances that lead to the development of addiction to the recovery journey and beyond, every individual afflicted with this disease has been the subject of environment, relationships, personal choices and behavior, and so on. While this has historically made addiction quite difficult to treat, we’ve learned through years of research and study that the best way to overcome addiction is with flexible addiction treatment. Further, one of the components of flexible treatment that has proven to be especially useful for recovery is family therapy.
We often see recovery as the process through which an individual suffering from addiction overcomes his or her disease; however, addiction is often described as “the family disease” because it affects an individual’s loved ones nearly as much as the addict himself or herself. Thus, family therapy remains an invaluable tool for people going through recovery as well as the individuals in their support networks.
The following are seven specific reasons why family therapy is beneficial, both to those in recovery and their loved ones.
Family therapy helps with identifying enabling and codependent behavior.
There are countless scenarios and circumstances that can lead an individual to addiction. Moreover, many people have been surprised to learn that their actions and behaviors can contribute to the development of someone’s addiction. This is often referred to as enabling.
Enabling occurs when an individual’s loved ones essentially facilitate his or her substance abuse problem. This can occur either knowingly — e.g., when a family member agrees to pay an addict’s bills despite knowing his or her money is being spent on illicit drugs — or unknowingly — e.g., when a family member is manipulated into paying for an addict’s bills. However, whether the enabling is intentional or unintentional, the end result is that the addict remains in active addiction.
Similarly, codependency is when two people have become so dependent on each other that one individual becomes willing to overlook the other individual’s faults as long as he or she will stick around. Both enabling and codependent behavior are extremely damaging to an individual’s recovery. Thus, one of the main reasons that family therapy is so valuable is because it’s an opportunity to detect these types of familial behavior patterns and ensure they don’t continue to happen in the future.
Family therapy is a way for an addict’s loved ones to learn about addiction.
While in treatment, many individuals will spend a significant amount of time learning about addiction and recovery. Of course, this is practical knowledge for anyone who is actually suffering from addiction because it often means gaining a better understanding of why the addiction developed as well as helping to paint a picture of the recovery process. However, since an addict’s loved ones aren’t also in treatment, they often lack practical, actionable knowledge about addiction and recovery. Fortunately, family therapy can serve as a form of psychoeducation for an addict’s loved ones.
Family therapy offers an opportunity to rebuild relationships.
Individuals in active addiction often behave in ways that they never would if they weren’t dependent on alcohol or drugs. For example, people suffering from addiction often place very little importance on maintaining their health, sustaining careers and relationships, and so on. In fact, it’s quite common for addicts to damage or even destroy important relationships over the course of their addictions. Fortunately, family therapy can provide a forum in which to repair relationships with family members, close friends, and other close relations.
Family therapy ensures the recovering individual has a support system.
There are many pieces to the puzzle of recovery. While we tend to associate recovery with addiction treatment, having a support system in place can be the difference between lasting success in recovery and a relapse; however, much like other aspects of the recovery journey, a support system doesn’t just appear overnight. Further, when a person has damaged certain familial relationships over the course of addiction, the individual may not even realize that he or she has no support system. In family therapy, an individual in recovery can optimize his or her chances for success by establishing loved ones as his or her support network.
Family therapy can be a primer for certain forms of aftercare.
Just as a family therapy and a support system are important pieces of the recovery puzzle, there are numerous other resources that play an ongoing role in a person’s success in recovery. In fact, it’s often said that the real work of recovery begins when a person has completed treatment and returned home; this is the point in time when aftercare becomes vital to sustaining newfound sobriety. As such, family therapy could be seen as a sort of primer to other forms of continued care. Whether an individual chooses to continue participating in family therapy beyond the completion of the treatment program or if he or she opts to include loved ones in support group sessions, family therapy can effectively prime the individual for other resources that might serve vital roles in recovery.
Family therapy gives loved ones a chance to heal, too.
As mentioned above, individuals in active addiction often cause harm to their important relationships. Whether damaged or outright destroyed, these relationships are in need of repair, and that’s something unique that family therapy can offer. In fact, many loved ones have needs that are more personal rather than pertinent only to the relationship. Family therapy can give these individuals some time to acknowledge their own pain and provide strategies for coping with or addressing that pain in the future.
Family therapy gives families guidance and direction for healing.
Perhaps most importantly, family therapy gives families much-needed guidance while healing from the effects of addiction. Again, it’s important to remember that addiction is a disease that affects more than just the addict; in fact, the repercussions of addiction on one’s family can potentially be profound. The extent to which families incur damage due to addiction often makes clinical therapy a necessity as it’s extremely unlikely most would know how to go about recovering from the familial trauma caused by addiction. In other words, family therapy can provide navigation for the journey of familial healing and recovery.