Addiction is often described as a family disease.
“Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family's unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics.” (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence)
A teenager or young adult in active addiction is not only harming himself but also putting a lot of highly destructive stress on his parents. Despite that, family involvement in addiction was routinely neglected by many treatment programs in the past. In the last two decades, however, family therapy has gone from episodic engagement to a much more integrated approach.
At a recent discussion forum on family dynamics in addiction treatment hosted by Addiction Professional magazine, Decision Point’s Vice President for Professional Relations, Gary Hees emphasized the importance of a systematic approach that gives families a strategic plan to be able to support their loved ones. “We need to enable the family to function differently so it can become a positive, proactive supporter of recovery,” Hees said.
Family members can play an important role and when they are engaged in the recovery process, positive outcomes are more likely. It is equally important that parents and siblings learn about addiction issues and about the “rules of relationships” to avoid the common pitfalls of allowing compassion to morph into enabling or codependent behavior.
Learning to present a united front when dealing with a child receiving treatment for a substance use disorder confronts the issues and can help bring much needed peace to family members who have often been struggling with drug use and co-occurring disorders for years. Parents need to understand the limits of what they can do for their loved ones.
This is by no means easy for families. All too often relationships are taken to the breaking point by the trials and tribulations of addiction. Parents exhausted by the active addiction of their child deserve empathy. “When they send their child to treatment, we need to be able to tell them, your loved one is in a safe place now, relax, take some time off,” Hees said.
Sometimes, parents need to take a step back and “recharge their batteries” first before they will be able to play a constructive role in the recovery of their child. After a careful evaluation, family and friends can then be engaged in a substantive intervention to aid a successful recovery.