Paul Lavella of Summit Behavioral Health discusses key considerations for families trying to learn how to help an addict without enabling.
Throughout my experience as a professional counselor, whether it be in a treatment facility or a private practice setting, I’ve always found that when working with addiction, it’s best to have the family involved. As much family as possible. When it comes down to it, the support that a family provides to a patient recovering from addiction is essential to that patient’s success.
It’s unfortunate, however, that family members may be reluctant to be involved in the recovery process. They’re the one with the problem! Why do I have to go? Parents, spouses, and even children have usually been through the ringer a time or two before the identified patient agrees that treatment is needed. Families can be emotionally exhausted and resentful toward their loved one, or possibly just preferring to not have to deal with the aftermath because of all of the pain that had been caused in the past. No matter the journey that led the family to this point, it’s important for the successful recovery of the addict or alcoholic that the family stay involved.
In an article on Psych Central, Steven Gifford, a long time addictions counselor, and literary contributor offer, “It is important to understand that the family dynamic in drug and alcohol addiction is incredibly powerful… This type of positive family involvement can also help lead the rest of your family toward a journey of recovery and self-discovery.”
As the recovery process is clearly beneficial to the family as a whole, it’s worth investing some efforts to making it work. Although there are many suggestions for families of addicts, let’s just consider a few to begin with, shall we?
Don’t Drink or Use With a Person with Addiction
This tip may have you scratching your head. Doesn’t this go without saying? Well, no. You may be surprised (on the other hand, maybe not) how often this comes up during the initial phase of recovery.
Abstaining from substance use requires some tough decisions usually including some significant lifestyle changes of the person with the addiction. But the buck doesn’t stop here. Family members may find themselves needing to consider changes as well. Think of some common life situations that may need to be re-thought.
Family Bonding Time
Football season is upon us. What a better way to get back to normal than to crack open a cold one with your family and watch the game? This is a great big NOOO! The folks over at NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) can tell you, with loads of research to back them up, that if a person has an addiction to drugs or alcohol any use of substances can create significant barriers to the recovery process. It’s going to be beneficial to think of how socializing and family bonding may need to change to support the recovery process.
Sober Holidays & Getaways
Many families have traditions surrounding the holidays and vacations and in our current culture, most of them involve or revolve around alcohol use. This can pose problems for a person in early recovery (even if they say it’s fine). It’s best practice to have discussions as together on how you’re going to navigate these family gatherings. Coping with the holidays in recovery can be a daunting task, however with careful planning and support from families can lead to successes and strengthening relationships. Have alcohol free meals, plan for more time for sober supports such as self-help meetings (you’ll want to research some local to where you’re traveling ahead of time), agree on an escape route as a Plan B if it’s needed.
The main goal here is to create a safe environment for your loved one to be able to rest and be relieved of any triggers he or she may experience. Clear alcohol or any substances from the home. All family members should agree that the home needs to be a sober environment and by no means should it be acceptable to drink or use in front of the person in recovery. It’s a small sacrifice for the greater good of your family.
Go To Family Support Meetings
If you’re already taking part of your loved one’s treatment, you have likely already received this suggestion. Support groups are an excellent addition to a family’s recovery. They deliver a practical opportunity to learn from other families of addicts how to deal and what to expect with the changes during early recovery.
Benefits of Attending Support Groups for Families of Drug Addicts
Educate yourself on addiction and relapse prevention
Support yourself and your loved one through the recovery process
Practice self-care by addressing your needs
Learn how to set healthy boundaries with your family
Recognize negative behavior patterns that may contribute to the problem
Gain fellowship from others who understand what you are going through
There are many options for Addiction Family Support Meetings. In a Project Know article, Dr. Leigh Walker spells out the different types of addiction family support meetings including support groups for spouses, siblings, parents, and children. Some of these meetings have a national presence and some are more regional in nature, but always know, support is available, is usually free, and is highly recommended.
Summit Behavioral Health offers its own addiction family support groups. You can learn more about them here.
Open Up Communication Lines
Family communication in early recovery can be complicated at best. As previously mentioned, there can be much anger, resentment, or fear as a result of the active addiction. Personal issues aside, many simply don’t know how to bring the topic to the table for discussion.
Gifford’s insight would suggest that family members struggle to bring up grievances or concerns and end up distancing themselves out of fear of confrontation or triggering the person with the addiction. Truth be told, the more nothing changes, the more nothing changes. If you’re going to have your needs and your family’s needs met, you need to talk about them.
Make time for weekly check-ins. No matter how hurt you may feel, focus the communication on being positive and constructive. Remember, you are supporting your loved one’s recovery and you are supporting yourself by allowing yourself to say what you feel. It may be helpful for you to remember the adage: Say what you mean and mean what you say, just don’t say it mean.
If you’ve already given this a few tries and find that the conversation falls off the rails, you may want to consider working with a professional. Couples counseling or family therapy can be a significant aid in learning how to communicate with a recovering addict in a way that is healthy for the couple or family as a whole.
Eric Patterson, addictions counseling professional, shares thoughts with DrugAbuse.com about when it might be time for family therapy:
If your family member struggles with relapse
If your mental and physical health has been impacted by the family member’s addiction
If you want to learn methods to improve your ability to communicate appropriately
If your family member has not found success from other treatment approaches
If you’ve experienced family issues that you believe are contributed to the addiction
There’s no shame in asking for help. In fact, continuing to ask for help is strongly advised for anyone in recovery and families seeking to do whatever they can to help their loved one with addiction. You’ve gotten this far along the journey toward health and wellness. Keep motivated and keep up the good work.
I share these suggestions with every family that I work with and am amazed that some hesitate to consider the family role in supporting recovery. You are important, not just to your loved ones, but as a person. If you’ve been affected by someone’s addiction, allow the space for your own healing. Supporting a person in recovery requires you to also heal for yourself.
About the Author: Paul Lavella Jr. MA, LPC, LCADC, ACS
“Wellness Based Counseling is a concept very dear to my heart. At the root of it, the counseling relationship is not solely focused on “the problem,” rather how you go about life’s journey in a way that leads you toward feeling and being well. Counseling is not about pathologizing; it’s about learning what’s not working and figuring out what will.
I am dually Licensed in the State of New Jersey as a Professional Counselor and a Clinical Alcohol & Drug Counselor with thirteen years of professional experience working with adolescents, adults, and families. As an Approved Clinical Supervisor, I also provide supervision for those seeking licensure for counseling or addiction counseling.”
Embarking on a journey towards wellness and recovery is perhaps the bravest and most inspiring thing a person can do. At Summit Behavioral Health we are here for you every step of the way.