The family unit is often the most influential source for growth and development throughout an individual’s life. When one family member is affected by trauma or disease, all other members are also affected. The same can be said when one member has substance use disorder (SUD) or another mental illness. Lasting recovery calls for family involvement. Family systems must address the effects of substance abuse on each family member. They must also foster greater accountability for the member working to establish lasting sobriety.
Substance Abuse Affects the Entire Family
Addiction is often referred to as a family disease because of substance abuse’s impact on the entire family unit. According to Social Work in Public Health,
Each family and each family member is uniquely affected by the individual using substances including but not limited to having unmet developmental needs, impaired attachment, economic hardship, legal problems, emotional distress, and sometimes violence being perpetrated against him or her. For children there is also an increased risk of developing an SUD themselves.
Although every member will be affected differently by their loved one’s substance abuse or other mental health symptoms, all members are inevitably affected somehow.
Young siblings might feel their loved one’s disordered behavior is their fault. Parents may blame themselves for their son’s or daughter’s substance abuse. Spouses or partners of those with SUD may be at risk of developing an addiction. They may also feel forced to leave their partners so their loved one can put their entire focus on their healing.
Understanding Enabling Behaviors
Another rippling consequence of a loved one’s substance abuse on the family unit is the development of enabling behaviors. These behaviors aim to rescue or protect the family member with addiction from facing the negative consequences of their substance abuse. Examples of enabling behaviors can include paying a loved one’s bills or lying for them. Not only do enabling behaviors perpetuate substance abuse and procrastinate treatment entry, but they also often contribute to worsening emotional distress for the enabling loved one.
What Does Family Involvement Entail?
Family involvement is a general term that welcomes family members and loved ones into an individual’s recovery journey. Typically, family involvement entails regularly speaking with a loved one’s healthcare team about their treatment progress.
Often, therapists and other healthcare professionals will initiate – with the permission of their client – a direct line of communication between themselves and their client’s family. However, many treatment facilities offer family programs and interventions from which the entire family unit can benefit. Family involvement will differ between treatment facilities and programs.
The Value of Family Involvement During Treatment and Recovery
Family involvement can prove extremely valuable during treatment for addiction and mental health disorders. For many clients, the family unit can provide a stable source of social support while a loved one works to establish abstinence. In supporting their loved ones, the family members can also gain insight into their health needs. Family programs can help everyone involved.
Fostering Education and Understanding
One of the most important benefits of family involvement in recovery is that all family members can become properly educated about the recovery process. Working with healthcare professionals, family members can gain knowledge about various topics, including:
- How SUD affects the brain
- Risk factors for mental health disorders and SUDs
- How addiction affects the family unit
- Effective treatment programs and therapeutic modalities
- Why co-occurring disorders are as prevalent as they are
- How trauma and PTSD often contribute to addiction
- Learn how to best respond to relapse if it occurs
Additionally, family-based interventions can help family members feel confident when supporting their loved one in recovery.
Promoting Communication and Conflict Resolution
Another benefit of family involvement in recovery is that it promotes healthy communication between family members. Engaging with family resources or family therapy can teach and improve conflict-resolution skills. In turn, this can decrease the intensity of conflict within the household.
Loved ones should not have to keep their recovery progress a secret. Instead, family involvement encourages loved ones to share their progress with their family members. This can foster accountability and promote lasting abstinence. Likewise, family involvement can also help to increase family members’ self-awareness to limit enabling behaviors and set healthier boundaries within the household.
What if Family Involvement Hinders Recovery Progress?
Unfortunately, it is not always the case that every family wants to be involved in their loved one’s recovery. Likewise, not every family is supportive or stable enough to contribute to healing for their loved one.
For example, consider a family that regularly uses alcohol and drugs. If a family member is in outpatient treatment and returns to this environment every evening, environmental temptations may be too extreme to remain abstinent. Likewise, consider families that identify addiction as a sign of moral failing. If relapse occurs in these households, members may not be supportive.
For these cases and more, it is vital to recognize that family involvement is not always necessary. There are plenty of other ways individuals can gain social support from peers in their sober networks. Sober living homes are one resource individuals can utilize outside of treatment for social support. Other resources provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can offer valuable alternatives to family involvement during recovery.
Individuals working to establish and maintain recovery from substance use disorders or other mental health disorders can benefit from family support and involvement. Family involvement can help an individual feel supported and accountable in sustaining sobriety and recovery. It can also allow family members to heal from their loved one’s addiction. 12 South Recovery is an addiction and mental health treatment facility that recognizes the value family involvement can have on an individual’s recovery journey. We provide various resources and services for family members seeking healing and support. If you or a loved one needs healing, we can help. Call us today to learn more about our programs at 866-839-6876.