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In Addiction Treatment, Family Therapy Is Fundamental

Addiction is devastating and far-reaching disease. Although we tend to think about it in terms of how it affects the person addicted, the real truth is that both the addict and their home environment or family situation are heavily integrated from the start. Any dysfunctional relationships at home will naturally exacerbate addiction, and any addiction will exacerbate or even cause dysfunction within the home.

In order for the addict to truly get and stay well, treatment needs to be integrative enough to address both of these aspects at the same time. The family unit must be willing to heal and grow right alongside the person in treatment. Without this critical step, most addicts return home with a very high risk for relapse.

While this may seem like the most obvious reason to include family in a patient’s treatment plan, it’s really a very surface-level view. In truth, addicts benefit from family integration in a long list of ways. If you’re currently struggling to stay involved with someone who is in treatment, this list will help you better understand your role.

1. Family Involvement Equals Acceptance

Addicts who come from families that shame them or make them feel as if they have to hide their addiction don’t often seek treatment until very late in their illness. Much of the time, they feel forced to hide their symptoms or relapses – sometimes until it’s too late and they pass away.

By committing to cooperate with treatment, you send the addict the message that you accept and understand them as they are, yet still believe they are capable of getting and staying well.

2. The Family Is Always Affected

As mentioned in the introduction, there is never a situation where the family isn’t affected by the addict’s addiction. In fact, most researchers agree with the family disease model of addiction, which states that addiction is often precipitated and worsened by issues within the family system itself.

Even if it seems like the addict is the only one losing control, issues like codependency, resentment, and enabling can still hamper healing for all parties involved. Cooperative healing can help the entire family learn and grow together for the betterment of all.

3. Cooperation Helps the Family Better Understand the Addict

Anyone who has spent time with a loved one who is suffering from addiction knows how illogical and strange an addict’s behaviors can seem. They may behave in ways that seem almost delusional or confused, or they may act out aggressively and guilt family members into providing them with money.

This can eventually become codependency and enabling behavior, preventing the addict from getting well. Family therapy can help to break that cycle and empower people with the right skills to say “no” without inspiring any drama.

4. Family Integration Helps Everyone Set Realistic Expectations

People who don’t understand addiction often hold addicts to unrealistic standards they simply cannot adhere to. For example, a family may expect an addict to graduate out of treatment and simply never use again. When the addict inevitably has a relapse, the family immediately assumes it’s a failure on the part of the addict, rather than a normal part of recovery.

Through integrative support services, it becomes easier to form realistic expectations so everyone understands what to anticipate along the way. It’s about holding everyone accountable without placing the addict in an impossible-to-achieve position.

5. Family Education Helps Prevent Relapse After Addiction Treatment

Well-meaning family members who truly love the addict, but often enable their addictive behaviors, may inadvertently prevent someone from staying well.

By learning about addiction, triggers, and red flags for relapses, the family unit also gains the ability to recognize their own problematic behavior. This helps to break the cycle of contributing to the addiction without realizing it.

6. Family Members Must Heal, Too

Earlier on, we mentioned that addiction often occurs in the presence of familial dysfunction – which can sometimes be subtle. When family members struggle with their own problems in education, employment, finances, or relationships, that stress can and often does carry over to the addict. There’s no good reason not to help everyone in the family find a healthier path forward at the same time.

7. Family Therapy Helps Facilitate Safe Discussions

At home, it’s easy for discussions to turn into demands, accusations, and anger. This can create an unsafe environment for everyone involved, putting the addict and the family at risk for serious harms. Chaos of any kind will eventually lead to depression and anxiety in everyone, too. Family therapy provides a safe neutral space in which everyone can feel heard and understood without facing accusations.

8. Family Integration Helps People Recognize Problematic Relationships

Few people have the same skills as therapists and psychiatrists – skills like being able to recognize problematic relationship structures without bias. People can become so used to the “status quo” that they just cannot recognize when a problem exists, like a child being forced to “parent” the adults in the situation instead of the other way around.

Having a neutral third party involved is an excellent way to gain a better understanding of the bigger picture.

9. Family Therapy Strengthens the Family Bond

In family therapy, everyone is challenged to face their own contributions to the situation – and yes, everyone contributes, both negatively and positively. By challenging each other on neutral ground, people gain the ability to admit that nearly everyone occasionally makes bad decisions.

This is the first step. Then, the family can work together to identify and make better choices that help everyone lead better lives. The sheer act of supporting one another from an honest standpoint like this can, and often does, bring everyone closer together.

10. It’s More Affordable in the Long Run

Although treatment plans that include family integration do often require a higher level of service, it often becomes more affordable in the long-run. An addict whose family cooperates from day one will have a reduced risk for relapse, which means fewer additional sessions in inpatient treatment facilities.

Naturally, this means a lower price tag on treatment – but there are also frequently reduced group rates for therapy sessions, too. Overall, it just makes good financial sense.