For family and friends of drug and/or alcohol addicted individuals, addressing addiction is one of the most difficult aspects of seeking substance abuse treatment. Often, drug and alcohol addiction has built a destructive cycle over a time to the point where daily family involvement actually enables the addicted individual. Family members frequently do not know how to bring up the issue of addiction therapy, and opt to ignore the problem for fear of pushing their loved one away during a confrontation or intervention. These are legitimate concerns, and while families should understand that approaching their loved one should be a gentle and supportive process, they also need to understand that most patients seek substance abuse treatment because of positive family involvement and intervention.
Prior to Substance Abuse Treatment/Intervention
Each family is different, and the way you should approach family involvement with addiction therapy will differ with every person. There are counselors in your area who are trained to work with drug and alcohol addicted patients and their families, and while they can be useful to mediate the intervention process, your family may decide to have a private, non-confrontational and honest talk with a family member or friend to implore them to seek substance abuse treatment. Whichever approach you take, it is important to understand that the family dynamic in drug and alcohol addiction is incredibly powerful, and that addressing an unhealthy imbalance in communication is your first step in moving your loved one toward inpatient / outpatient addiction therapy. This type of positive family involvement can also help lead the rest of your family toward a journey of recovery and self-discovery.
During a Patient's Substance Abuse Treatment Program
After an intervention, the best case scenario is that the individual suffering from drug or alcohol addiction will be compelled to enter either an inpatient or outpatient substance abuse treatment program. Each patient's needs and means are different, and outpatient and inpatient programs have varying benefits for patients and family. Involvement in an outpatient addiction therapy program means that patients are not separated from their families, they are able to attend classes in a facility close to their home, and patients can continue substance abuse treatment for an extended amount of time. In a residential (inpatient) program, patients travel to a facility where they undergo an intensive 28-30 day detoxification and recovery program. They are immersed in the recovery process and do not have the ability to leave the substance abuse treatment campus. However, family involvement is important, and inpatient addiction therapy programs often encourage frequent interaction with visiting family and friends.
As previously mentioned, patients' needs vary, but inpatient substance abuse treatment has an obvious benefit of removing the drug and/or alcohol addicted individual from the toxic atmosphere that was enabling their addiction, and helping them through addiction therapy without distraction. This same benefit is transferred to the patient's friends and family, who are often able to gain a new perspective about their loved one's addiction and their own behaviors. Family involvement, once the patient is in an off-site substance abuse treatment facility, is periodic and helps families step back and recognize patterns of negative behavior. For example, well-meaning family and friends often become trapped into a cycle of enabling and codependency with the patient prior to addiction therapy. Often, family members pretend like nothing is wrong, and unintentionally assist the patient's addiction by ignoring the problem. Conversely, family members might become distant, angry, and resentful by feeling that they cannot address the issue for fear of angering the patient or exacerbating their loved one's addiction. When the family members are able to take a break and assess their behaviors and environment while their loved one is undergoing addiction therapy, they often identify behaviors and traits that they adjust to break the cycle.
This is not to say that residential substance abuse treatment programs isolate the patient from their friends and family - quite the opposite. In a quality residential substance abuse treatment program, the focus is equally upon the patient's physical recovery from drug and alcohol addiction as much as it is on a mental recovery from the addictive disease. Addiction therapy is supported heavily by positive and frequent family involvement. The support that a family provides to a patient recovering from addiction is essential to that patient's success, and residential centers will often have not only visitation throughout the week or on weekends, but will also engage family into an educational substance abuse treatment program of their own, such as supportive and dynamic recovery workshops and sessions for family involvement.
Outside of the residential substance abuse treatment facility, family and friends of patients are highly encouraged to attend Al Anon or Nar Anon meetings. These free programs are held around the nation and are dedicated to providing group support to family and friends of drug and alcohol addicted individuals. The meetings address things such as: helping an addict seek assistance for his or her own problem, addressing a loved one's drug or alcohol addiction, building family through the addiction therapy process, supporting yourself and your loved one through the recovery process, etc. These programs are essential for family involvement, as they support friends and family during and after the substance abuse treatment program.
After a Substance Abuse Treatment Program
With drug and alcohol addiction, there is truly no clear-cut "end" to the addiction therapy process. Families struggling with the effects of their loved one's drug and alcohol addiction should continually attend Al Anon or Nar Anon meetings (perhaps both) on a regular basis to continue a constructive program of support and ongoing education. Alcohol and drug addiction are both considered "family diseases", and family involvement with people combating drug and alcohol addiction requires continual attendance of these meetings during and after the formal inpatient or outpatient addiction therapy session. Additionally, while these meetings help individuals to understand the disease of drug and alcohol addiction to help and support someone they care about, they also assist friends and family with their own emotional support during what is most often an incredibly trying and stressful time. By continuing to attend Al Anon and Nar Anon meetings, friends and family of an addicted individual can continue to stay out of the destructive cycle of enabling and codependency and fully realize the benefits of addiction therapy.
About the Author
Since 1998, Steven Gifford, LICDC, LPC, has worked in the Licking Memorial Hospital -- Shepherd Hill treatment center located in Newark, Ohio, and currently serves as Senior Counselor at The Ridge, a residential treatment center in Ohio. Mr. Gifford's areas of competence include the following: individual counseling, assessments, group counseling, diagnosis and treatment, children and adolescents, marriage and family therapy, addictions and smoking cessation. He is a member of the Ohio Counseling Association and is a LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LICDC (Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor), CTTS (Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist) and has a Masters Degree in Education in Community Counseling. For more information about the Ridge, please visit www.theridgeohio.com.