Addiction affects more than just the individual who is suffering from a substance use disorder. In fact, family members are often the first people to experience the negative consequences of addiction. They may also notice the warning signs of addiction long before their addicted loved one recognizes that they have a problem. Addiction is widely recognized by addiction experts as a disorder that runs in the family.
At NuView Treatment Center, when clients begin the process of recovering from addiction, we make it a priority to serve the needs of the whole family — not just the individual in treatment. We believe not only that family support is a vital part of the healing process, but also that dealing with damaged family dynamics is often a critical component of addiction recovery.
Support Groups For Families of Addicts
Family members need to have access to support groups. At NuView Treatment Center, we aim to help family members learn to be supportive without enabling. During family support groups, family members have opportunities to learn more about the nature of substance use disorders. Perhaps most importantly, family members have an opportunity to connect and support one another through their own inevitable emotional challenges.
In our biweekly meetings, we cover a wide range of topics, including:
- The way substance use disorders impact the family
- The disease of addiction
- Healthy communication and boundaries
- Recovery management for families
- The difference between unhealthy helping and detaching with love
- Enabling vs Supporting
How Does Addiction Affect Families
It is common in our culture to view substance use disorders from an individualistic standpoint. In fact, many people avoid seeking treatment for their drug and alcohol disorders because they think of addiction as a purely personal battle.
In reality, the only surefire way of handling addiction is to seek outside help and support. Moreover, it is important to recognize that the harms and negative consequences of addiction affect many people, from close friends and co-workers to family members.
Individuals who are suffering from addiction often behave selfishly and may not even consider the feelings or experiences of those around them. As such, they may not even recognize how their drug or alcohol abuse has impacted their family members. Their obliviousness can be frustrating and painful.
Family members are affected by addiction in many ways. First and foremost, it is simply painful knowing that someone you care about is struggling with a drug or alcohol use disorder. When children, spouses, or parents watch someone they love repeatedly harm themselves, it is incredibly painful.
Alcohol and drug addiction usually bring about many problems, including legal, financial, medical, and other issues. For addicts and alcoholics, drugs and alcohol can often help them ignore or forget about these problems. This leaves spouses, parents, and even children to clean up their messes — or suffer the consequences.
Alcohol and drugs also change people’s behavior in other ways. Mood problems and mental health conditions can put a strain on family relations. Alcohol and many drugs can lead to impulsive behavior. When a family member suffers from a substance use disorder, conflict, fighting, and even violence can become the norm.
Over time, relationships can become eroded as trust fades. In many cases, individuals with addictions become entirely estranged from their families. The results can be catastrophic and can include consequences like divorce, loss of child custody, cheating, and isolation.
How Addiction is Affected by the Family
Not only do family members often suffer many of the most severe consequences of addiction, but they also are often one of the driving forces behind addiction. Recognizing this fact is different from blaming the family. Coming to terms with the way family dynamics impact addiction is simply an important step on a healing journey.
Substance use disorders do not have one simple cause. Most addiction experts and researchers believe that addictions come about due to a variety of factors. These factors can be broadly placed into two categories: nature and nurture.
Regarding the former, addiction is strongly affected by genetics. Individuals who have family members who suffer from addiction are far more likely to develop substance abuse problems themselves, even if they have never met those family members.
But nurture and life experiences also have a profound effect. Individuals who had ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) are also more likely to suffer from addiction later in life. These experiences can range from childhood neglect and abuse to simply living in an unstable environment. In this sense, addiction is truly a family problem.
What To Expect When a Family Member Goes to Rehab
It is normal for family members to have somewhat mixed feelings when their loved one goes to rehab. They may be happy that their loved one is getting the help they need. But they may also experience other complicated emotions. Family members who have repeatedly seen their loved ones relapse may feel skeptical.
If family members are paying for rehab, they may feel like it better work. It is also common for family members to think to themselves, “Well, what about me? I have problems that need to be addressed as well!”
While your loved one begins their recovery journey, it is important to be prepared for changes. Your addicted loved one may have many mood and behavior changes, especially during the critical early period of recovery. If they have recently stopped using drugs or alcohol, they may be temporarily more difficult to deal with than they were when they were drinking and using drugs.
This is because drugs and alcohol, while damaging overall, often help addicts and alcoholics cope with difficult or distressing emotions in the short term. Deprived of these comforting substances, it is common for individuals in early recovery to have mood swings, act out, or behave impulsively. This is a difficult time for them. But it will pass.
After this initial difficult period, other changes follow. If your addicted loved one is working hard to recover, these changes will be positive. But they may take some getting used to. As your loved one learns better communication tools, self-care, and begins restructuring their lives, their relationship with family members often changes. Sometimes these changes are purely positive.
But for family members in toxic or codependent relationships, they might require some difficult adjustments. Over time, you will see your addicted loved one become the best possible version of themselves, and it is likely your relationship with them will improve dramatically.
Family Roles in Addiction
If your loved one has entered an outpatient program, you may be wondering what the best way to be supportive is. Support of close friends and family support plays a critical role in long-term sobriety rates. Family members and other loved ones often need to re-learn what being supportive actually means.
It is common for family members to develop unhealthy patterns of co-dependence with their addicted loved ones. In many cases, even when family members are unhappy about their loved one’s addiction, they develop patterns of behavior that effectively enable their loved ones substance abuse.
Learning the difference between supporting and enabling behaviors is critical for family members. Since engaging in enabling behaviors is such a common mistake, it may take a while before these behaviors are replaced by more supportive ones.
Common types of enabling behaviors include:
- Justifying dangerous or harmful behavior
- Supporting drug or alcohol use financially
- Tolerating inappropriate or abusive behavior
- Not setting boundaries
Healthier types of supporting behaviors include:
- Helping an addicted loved one without putting yourself in harm’s way of overextending yourself
- Not tolerating inappropriate or abusive behavior
- Setting boundaries
- Encouraging an addicted loved one to accept the consequences of their behavior and take responsibility
However, often the best way of supporting a loved one in recovery is by taking care of your needs. If you are suffering from emotional distress or mental health difficulties, it is unlikely you will be of much help to your addicted loved one.
Help for Families of Addicts
Biweekly family support groups at NuView Treatment Centers can help family members build their social support systems and develop new approaches and ways of being supportive. However, it is sometimes beneficial for family members to make use of other outside resources as well.
Family therapy can be an important tool during addiction treatment. What is the role of family therapy in addiction treatment? This therapeutic modality involves treating the entire family as the patient, rather than just one single individual. This therapeutic approach recognizes that addiction is a family condition — one that not only affects the entire family but in fact often stems from it.
During family therapy, a clinician will work with multiple clients simultaneously to help them work out their differences, develop better family dynamics, and approach addiction in a way that heals the entire family system.
By shifting the focus away from the individual, family therapy can be a healing form of therapy that is less overwhelming than one-on-one therapy. In fact, putting the “blame” for addiction on one individual is often simply unproductive — and it can even delay recovery and lead to unhealthy emotional responses. Family therapy and other family interventions can help the entire family heal as a unit.
In many cases, family members of addicts and alcoholics suffer from a variety of mental health disorders. These may not necessarily be a direct result of living with an addict, but in many cases living with an addict causes or at least exacerbates family members’ mental illnesses.
In those cases, individual therapy may be recommended. The behaviors and mood swings of individuals with drug and alcohol use disorders can lead to conflict, violence, and trauma. As a result, family members are likely to suffer from the following conditions:
- Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Anxiety disorder and panic attacks
- Major depression
- Unhealthy coping habits, such as overeating or other impulse control disorders
While your addicted loved one’s alcohol or drug addiction may have taken center stage for many years, it is important to take the time necessary to address any issues that you may be suffering from yourself. This will not only put you in a better position to help your addicted loved one, but it will also allow you to obtain peace of mind for yourself.
Family Support Groups at Nuview
Our family groups at NuView Treatment Center function as a support group, but if you are interested in meeting with support groups more frequently, there are many options in Los Angeles treatment center. Support groups for family members can help them feel more socially connected and supported. They are also invaluable resources for developing new coping techniques for self-care and learning how to support an addicted loved one.
Many support groups for family members in LA are 12-step based. 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are enormously beneficial to individuals suffering from addiction, but many 12-step programs are geared toward non-addict family members. While many of these programs do have a spiritual basis, they are nonetheless backed up by a large body of clinical evidence and support. These support groups include:
- Adult Children of Alcoholics
- Codependents Anonymous
- National Association for Children of Alcoholics
- Families Anonymous