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Family Therapy a Significant Component of SUD Treatment

family therapy

What is Family Therapy in SUD Treatment?

Substance abuse is known as a family disease. Why? Our individual actions have an impact on others in our sphere of circle: our friends, co-workers or classmates and our family. The disease of addiction has ramifications for all members and can become a generational problem. Often a child will see a parent who is an addict and swears nothing like that will happen to him/her/they. But the sad truth is, addiction can be seen from one generation to another. That is why family therapy is significant.

“The idea of family implies an enduring involvement on an emotional level. For practical purposes, family can be defined according to the individual client’s closest emotional connections. Family therapy is a collection of therapeutic approaches that share a belief in the effectiveness of family-level assessment and intervention.”

Many families, including the family of origin, may have dysfunctional dynamics. That means that the dynamics of the family operate outside of what is considered the norm or what is healthy—perhaps some secrets and behaviors cannot be spoken about, or abuse that occurs. These dynamics create distorted family dynamics and impact all members’ healthy psychological and mental development. “Family therapy in Substance XVI Executive Summary [expressed that ] abuse treatment has two main purposes: (1) to use the family’s strengths and resources to help find or develop ways to live without substances of abuse, and (2) to ameliorate the impact of chemical dependency on both the identified patient and family.”

Family dynamics are important whether you are the parent of children or the sole surviving family member. During childhood, unhealthy life skills such as cheating, snooping, hiding, and manipulating develop. These behaviors are often present in the newly recovering addict and must be addressed. How one handles stress or disappointment impacts the recovery of an addict and can have its source found in family dynamics. It also means that as an adult recovering from addiction with children, unhealthy means of communication, lying, and the power plays are demonstrated to the children and become part of role modeling—these need to be addressed to create a healthy family dynamic. “Extended family members may experience feelings of abandonment, anxiety, fear, anger, concern, embarrassment, or guilt, or they may wish to ignore or cut ties with the person abusing substances.”

Re-evaluating spousal relationships facilitates a breakdown in habits related to coping with active addiction. Both partners need to relearn how to listen, talk, and care for each other without co-dependent behaviors. The non-using partner, used to covering up or stepping in for the addicted partner, must relearn behaviors that support the growth of both partners.

Mental health disorders, often diagnosed in those addicted to substances, need to be addressed. The addict needs to learn appropriate behavior to handle his/her/their disorder, must engage in medication management education (if required), while the spouse must understand the implications of a specific mental health disorder.

How Family Therapy in SUD Treatment Works

Research has demonstrated that a strong family and healthy social support symptom boosters the chances of maintaining sobriety.

Family Therapy involves:

  • Facilitating behavioral contracting between family members and the client around such issues as abstinence and medication adherence
  • Getting input from family and recovery supports on the client’s early warning signs of returns to use
  • Involving supportive family members and other recovery supports in developing and implementing the continuing care plan

Family Therapy can and should help the family in various ways 1) Attainment of sobriety. The family system is unbalanced but healthy change is possible. 2) Adjustment to sobriety. The family works on developing and stabilizing a new system. 3) Long-term maintenance of sobriety. The family must rebalance and stabilize a new and healthier lifestyle.

There is no one model for family therapy; often, a therapist will use a variety of treatments and integrate them to address the number of issues, the personalities present, traumas, and how family members may or may not speak to each other. Moving through all these issues while maintaining the focus on the person in recovery can be challenging. However, research demonstrates that family therapy, or in the instant that a person is without family, addressing past family dynamics, is integral to recovery.

Family therapy aims to improve 1) positive communication among all members of the family unit, 2) problem-solving, 3) encouraging treatment engagement and completion, 4) goal setting, 5) addressing relapse and relapse prevention, 6) positive reinforcement for all members of the family, 7) enhancing impetus for changing the dynamic.

Treatment of the whole family is imperative in substance abuse treatment. Research has demonstrated that the addict is no longer the focal point of the problem but an expression of the family problem. As stated above, to restructure the behavior of family members. Therapy re-establishes how parenting is managed in healthy ways, providing every member of the family a voice that is heard and acknowledged. The focus shifts to the whole family, not just the addict. That does not diminish the work the newly recovering addict must do to accept responsibility for his/her/their actions while using, but it does bring awareness the impact of addiction has had on family dynamic.

“[A]nother reason that family therapy is effective in substance abuse treatment is that it provides a neutral forum in which family members meet to solve problems. Such a rational venue for expression and negotiation often is missing from the family lives of people with a substance problems. Though their lives are unpredictable and chaotic, substance abuse—the cause of the upheaval and a focal organizing element of family life—is not discussed. If the subject comes up, the tone of the exchange is likely to be accusatory and negative. In the supportive environment of family therapy, emotional safety breaks uneasy silences. As the therapist brokers, mediates, and restructures conflicts among family members, emotionally charged topics come into the open. The therapist helps ensure that every family member’s voice is heard. In a safe therapy environment, pent-up feelings such as fear and concern can be expressed, identified, and validated.

Often family members are surprised to learn that others share their feelings and new lines of communication open up. Family members gain a broader and more accurate perspective of what they are experiencing, which can be empowering and may provide enough energy to create positive change. Each of these improvements in family life and coping skills is a highly desirable outcome, whether or not the [addict’s] drug or alcohol problems are immediately resolved. It is clearly a step forward for the family of a person abusing substances to become a stable, functional environment within which abstinence can be sustained.”

Get SUD Treatment that Works

Call us today if you or a loved one need substance abuse treatment. A licensed treatment facility that uses best practices, including a strong family therapy program, is essential for the recovery of every family unit member. Do not wait to get the help that can change the family dynamic and bring health back to you and your loved ones.