Addiction is a highly personal disease, so it’s easy for you (or a loved one) to convince yourself that it’s a challenge you need to face alone. However, because the effects of drug and alcohol abuse are far-reaching, research shows that the health of the entire family can play a major role in the success of recovery.
A family, whether big or small, is an essential part of everyone’s life. Despite positive family experiences that some people have, others are not as lucky. The type of family someone has is a huge part of who they are as a person and the habits they form. If a person experiences neglect or trauma from family members, it is very common for them to develop a substance addiction because of it.
As we continue to recognize National Recovery Month this September, we’d like to shed some light on addiction family therapy, since recovery is a shared experience. This blog post will break down some common questions related to this topic:
- What is addiction family therapy and its purpose?
- How do I know if my family would benefit from this type of therapy?
- How do I start the process of addiction family therapy?
- What are common activities/approaches used in addiction family therapy?
- What are the benefits?
- What are the challenges?
What is family therapy? What is its purpose?
At Crest View, we broadly define family therapy as when a professionally trained individual assists family members with an issue(s) that is impacting the family holistically, versus a singular person. In substance abuse treatment, this issue is addiction. Family therapy is used in addiction treatment to help educate all family members about the disease of addiction, its progression, and what to expect from treatment. Goals may also include learning to set boundaries, creating an effective communication system, identifying approaches in everyday life that can help the individual with addiction and their loved ones share a healthy life together.
The motivation behind addiction family therapy can differ; for some, family turmoil is at the root of the addiction, and therefore must be addressed. For others, family issues may not be a direct cause of the addiction, but having a support system that “gets it” is still a critical part of the treatment and recovery process. Ultimately, addiction has the power to tear families apart, so it’s important to re-establish broken relationships and enable everyone to heal.
People with addiction often feel like they’re alone. Using family therapy techniques during treatment demonstrates that this isn’t true. The support that they get from their family members helps their treatment and boosts their confidence in recovery. Additionally, family therapy deals directly with stripping potential toxicity out of old family ways. This, in turn, can help them to avoid relapse. It can also encourage them to continue their new habits and ways of thinking after a full recovery has been made.
How do I know if my family would benefit from addiction family therapy?
You could benefit from family therapy if you have family members (a spouse, parents, siblings, or children) who have been directly impacted by your addiction, support the changes you are striving to make, and who are sober and able to participate.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has identified a few family structures that often benefit from family therapy relative to addiction:
- A client who lives alone or with a partner – therapy often explores codependency and how to manage it.
- Clients who live with a spouse or partner and minor children – most research shows that substance abuse can have a detrimental impact on children.
- A client who is part of a blended family (i.e. stepfamilies) – This dynamic comes with unique challenges and addiction can hinder the ability for families to integrate.
- An older client with grown children – Additional family resources may be needed to treat the older adult’s substance use disorder. There may be issues of elder maltreatment that must be reported to local authorities.
- An adolescent client with addiction living with their immediate family – Therapy will explore complete family dynamics, from parents to siblings.
How do I start the process of addiction family therapy?
Because family therapy is a shared journey, it’s helpful for all parties involved to be open and willing to engage in the process. If you are an individual with addiction and considering family therapy, have a conversation with your family in advance, discuss why your family might benefit from family therapy, and invite them to contribute to the process of identifying the right doctor.
If you are a loved one of someone with addiction and would like to approach them about family therapy, a great time to initiate this conversation is while the individual is in treatment. A primary therapist can help facilitate this discussion at the treatment center, and set up aftercare appointments prior to your discharge.
Like Crest View, many rehabs or recovery programs will typically have in-house family therapists for you and your family to access. However, if you or a loved one are seeking a family therapist independently or outside of a broader treatment plan, Psychology Today is a great starting point to help you find one.
We recommend making a list of questions you have or specific qualities or qualifications you may be looking for in a family therapist, and then “interview” multiple individuals until you find someone who feels like the right fit. You can ask questions related to their style of therapy or things that are important to you (i.e. having knowledge of addiction). Most therapists often free consultations, which is great, because you can often learn a lot from just a brief conversation.
Ultimately, it’s important to be patient and not make any rash decisions. You don’t need to say “yes” to the first therapist you meet.
Note, if you are on the heels of a life-altering event related to the addiction or some sort of crisis, we recommend holding on the family therapy process until things have settled.
What are common activities/approaches used in addiction family therapy?
There are many types of family therapy. At Crest View, we have a specific approach we take and personalize for each family. Typically, the first step involves identifying the key issues within a particular family and better understanding the unique family dynamics. Once the issues surface, we set attainable goals for the families to reach in order to resolve these problems. From there, we design a family therapy program to inform and educate them about their loved one’s experience in treatment, their specific challenges and concerns, and practices we recommend for a shared, ongoing recovery process.
During this critical time, even when family members are confronting problem behaviors and setting boundaries, it’s important that those with the addiction – not just their families – feel supported and heard.
Once goals are in place, therapists can set up interventions to help families achieve them. The interventions are often necessary to show people that they have a problem. The therapists examine the responses from the interventions and develop specific topics to address in future sessions.
[Related content: 10 Steps for How to Stage an Intervention]
Here are a few examples of family therapy approaches:
- Impact letters: family members write letters to their loved ones with addiction to demonstrate the impact their substance abuse has had on them personally
- Active listening and communication skills activities: an example includes an intentional dialogue process, like Imago Relationship Therapy (for couples) or role play
- Creating new family rules and/or rituals
What are the benefits of addiction family therapy?
Family members can act as forces for positive change while supporting a loved one in recovery, and family members whose relationships have been harmed due to addiction can work together to heal those relationships.
At Crest View, we’ve seen many potential benefits of using family therapy to treat addiction. It can:
- motivate substance abusers to stay in treatment
- reduce the impact of addiction and the associated harmful behaviors
- improve relationships, reduced separation/divorce, and reduced domestic violence
A recent study also found that “Family therapy enhanced family resilience, structure, and strong ties; the program improved problem-solving skills, coping skills, and family resiliency levels of the addicts.”
Family therapy can also improve social interactions. According to WebMD: “Addiction is more than a physical dependence on drugs or alcohol. Even after detox, when your body is no longer hooked, you’re at high risk for relapse. Certain psychological and social factors can be powerful triggers that lead to relapse,” including:
- Unexpected stress
- Cues in the environment, like visiting a neighborhood
- Social networks, like spending time with friends who continue to use
Because of this, family therapy is important, as families have often created unwritten rules around dealing with “the elephant in the living room” and how to navigate social settings under such circumstances. Once the ‘elephant’ has been identified (addiction), and the loved one begins to recover, the dynamics of the family can shift. This can feel uncomfortable, even when the change is positive.
Giving families a common “language” and helping them ‘normalize’ their loved one’s disease provides an opportunity for the family to create new, healthy ways to cope and communicate. Ultimately, you achieve progress when your family shifts the focus away from crisis and negativity and to mutual support and healthy boundaries.
What are some of the challenges individuals and families face as it relates to addiction family therapy?
Despite the proven benefits of family therapy, many family members and their loved ones have already lost hope. They hesitate to try family therapy out of fear, or have convinced themselves that they are a “lost cause.” To combat this, we encourage you to try to connect with others who are going through a similar journey (you can access resources or success stories online), to help you see why recovery is possible for all individuals involved, regardless of how “messy” the circumstances may appear.
During therapy, a primary challenge for families is if relapse occurs. Although not everyone goes through relapse, it is a part of most people’s recovery. Families who know and understand this can begin to think of setbacks as less of a catastrophe or personal failure. They can use setbacks as opportunities to learn and strengthen recovery plans.
Another challenge during family therapy is resentment. Two ways to combat this include education and self-care. If a family member educates themselves on addiction and understands that it is a disease, their resentment may lessen. Additionally, they should also commit to taking care of themselves individually. It is not just up to the family member with addiction to change. Family therapy often sheds light on other issues that may need to be addressed. Family members will often need to seek individualized help/support in addition to family therapy.
Can family therapy replace individual therapy?
Rather than choosing one or the other, see them as complementary.
Many clients enter treatment with shame and guilt related to their actions in active addiction. Relationships have been damaged, trust has been lost, and clients and their family members are in pain. Participating in therapy with family members during treatment provides a safe space for families to find a common language around addiction and recovery. The person in treatment receives support, which may help encourage and motivate them to remain in treatment. Families learn how treatment works and ways to appropriately support their loved one after.
Depending on your unique circumstances, you may also benefit from some type of individual therapy or coaching at the same time, especially if you are navigating the early stages of recovery.
Don’t fight addiction alone
At Crest View Recovery Center, we pride ourselves on offering comprehensive rehab services. We use advanced family therapy techniques, as well as other group therapy techniques, to help you overcome addiction. At the same time, we provide comfort and quality.
Want to learn more about our family therapy techniques? Reach out to us to see how our family therapy addiction recovery program can help you.
Call us at (866) 986-1371 or submit a form here to get in touch. Even if we’re not the right fit for you, we want to help you find a treatment program that is.
Still feeling hesitant about rehab or a recovery program? Check out our latest blog here: Hesitant About Rehab or Getting Treatment During COVID-19? Here’s Our Advice
If you’ve already been in rehab or a recovery program, but are still struggling to remain sober during COVID-19 and trying to avoid relapse, we encourage you to check out our blog that explores this topic: Relapse Prevention Therapy & COVID-19: Understanding Addiction & Depression