Addiction has long been called a family disease. This is because it usually has drastic effects on everyone close to the individual, including parents, siblings, children, and spouses. If you are seeking treatment, it’s important for your family to be involved in your recovery. Your family members need to heal with you and understand how to support you going forward on your journey.
A family therapy program at Gateway Foundation offers the quality treatment and care you and your loved ones need to get back on track. Family therapy for drug addiction or substance use can help you achieve your goals while repairing the relationships with those you love most.
Addiction has consequences for everyone around the person struggling with it. Whether it’s you, your parent, your child, or your sibling, seeing a loved one experience the difficulties of addiction can change your entire family dynamics. Though every family is different, most likely experience some of the following issues when a member suffers from alcohol addiction or substance use disorders:
Individual family members are also encouraged to participate in their own therapy and in marriage and family therapy.
Addiction can create dysfunctional family roles as each person tries to cope with the reality of the situation. In some families, each person plays a specific role to keep the family system running. In others, family members may adopt several roles at once. Some families may have multiple of each roles or may not have certain roles at all.
Here are the unhealthy roles family members may unintentionally take on when dealing with a loved one in active addiction:
The person with the substance use problem will often be the focal point in the family. They may directly or indirectly cause conflict in the home due to their actions or words. It’s common for people with addiction to behave regardless of how it affects their family members, whether they realize it or not.
In some cases, the individual struggling with addiction may even present a victimized attitude. They may take on the role of manipulating, making excuses, or lying to their family to maintain their addiction. Alternatively, others who struggle with addiction may feel extremely ashamed and guilty, causing them to lash out at their family in denial or blame them for their addiction.
Also known as the enabler, this role refers to the person in the family who appears to be responsible for and protective of the person with addiction. This role is sometimes called “the enabler” because they often make excuses for their loved ones and may even take on extra responsibilities to keep the peace in the family. Though they’re trying their best to help, they unintentionally enable the individual’s addiction and behavior. This person will often sacrifice their well-being to make sure everyone in the family is happy.
Similar to the caretaker, the hero of the family strives to do everything in their power to keep the family together but won’t enable the family member with the addiction. They usually appear “perfect” to outsiders, being both responsible and self-sufficient even though they may suffer in silence. For example, an older sibling might feel responsible for keeping up appearances about the family dynamic when someone raises concerns or questions about their younger sibling’s addiction.
On the other side of the spectrum is the scapegoat, also known as the “problem child.” This family member will often cope with their loved one’s addiction by displaying defiant, harmful behaviors in the home, at school, or at work. Often, this is seen as a tactic to draw attention toward themselves. This person may also be very angry or hostile toward their family, adding to the chaos of the home. The scapegoat may be likely to get into trouble with the law or follow the destructive path of addiction as well.
Serious, intense topics like addiction can be so difficult for families to handle, which is where the mascot comes in. This person will take on the job of providing comedic relief to the family as a way to make other family members feel better about the situation. They may often try to make light of the situation by acting silly or making jokes to alleviate stress on others. However, this exhausting role is usually a coping mechanism that lets the family member avoid facing the reality of their loved one’s addiction and its effects on the family.
Finally, the lost child is the family member who is often quiet and alone. This is usually a younger sibling who feels helpless to resolve anything compared to their older siblings. The lost child tends to isolate themselves from the family chaos and blend into the background as they watch the conflict unfold. This person may also struggle with social interactions or engaging in healthy relationships as they learn to cope by avoiding physical and emotional attachments within their family.
Family therapy can vary based on the individual’s specific needs and the type of addiction they struggle with. There are many types and structures of family therapy that can help everyone achieve their goals. The therapist will determine a unique approach to suit your family’s needs, including using multiple types of therapy at once. Here are three common types of family therapy you can expect in addiction recovery.
This family therapy approach helps family members find solutions by generating their own treatment goals for their loved ones struggling with addiction. This encourages the family to be more active in their loved one’s recovery. Therapists who implement solution-focused therapy may help family members identify reasonable solutions to empower everyone to feel motivated and optimistic about behavioral change.
A common goal in solution-focused therapy is for the family to determine what their home and family would look like without their loved one’s addiction present. Then, the therapist will help the family create steps to realize that vision while managing the emotional intensity that comes along with negotiating with other family members. The therapist may also encourage the family to identify exceptions and problem sequences to better understand their daily interactions.
This behavioral-based family therapy treatment aims to alter the family’s dysfunctional or negative behaviors — such as substance use, violence, or reckless actions — while building back trust. Therapists may use functional family therapy to improve any negative patterns that help the family member struggling with substances maintain their addiction. In doing so, they can introduce and reinforce positive problem-solving techniques. This type of family therapy uses the following three strategies:
This family-based treatment focuses on helping family members learn more about mental health conditions, self-help approaches, medication, and other treatment options. Psychoeducation prioritizes educating family members on their loved one’s addiction so they can function as a more cohesive support system.
However, this type of family therapy is more than just providing family members with information. Instead, family therapists use psychoeducation to engage all members in their loved one’s treatment while developing communication skills, problem-solving skills, social support networks, and other community-based services. Psychoeducation helps families:
Family plays a critical role in addiction recovery. Whether or not you cohabitate, experiencing a loved one struggling with substance use disorder can cause many painful emotions that are difficult to face. Some family members may even feel hopeless or angry when seeing their loved one in the midst of a drug or alcohol addiction and have no idea how to approach the situation. Others may feel guilty for not being more actively involved in helping their loved one pursue treatment. When it comes to addiction, it’s normal to feel confused, angry, or exhausted about how to deal with your loved one’s struggles.
Families impacted by substance misuse often develop unhealthy, dysfunctional coping mechanisms. Family therapy can encourage healthier behaviors and reduce problematic patterns, such as blaming, making excuses, or avoiding communication.
When all family members learn to embody healthier behaviors and roles in the wake of addiction, they may feel better equipped to hold their loved ones accountable for their actions. Likewise, families can learn how to reward that loved one when they make positive choices. The building blocks of addiction recovery are implementing healthy boundaries and working on goals as a family unit.
Above, we learned that addiction can create some unhealthy roles in the family dynamic, such as the scapegoat or the enabler. With therapy, your family can learn to recognize these negative or hindering behaviors and introduce more positive methods of supporting each other. A key component of helping the individual suffering from addiction is promoting healthy, encouraging interactions at home.
For example, a parent who may have previously been the “caretaker” or enabler type may learn to remain supportive and encouraging while setting firm boundaries. Learning how to alter enabling behaviors can help individuals hold their family members accountable and motivate the client to be more thoughtful about their actions.
It’s also important to note that some people who struggle with addiction may have different needs when it comes to their families. For instance, one client may wish to have some space from their family while focusing on themselves and getting the help they need before attempting to rebuild close relationships. Other clients may want their family closely involved because they flourish from the support of their loved ones.
Family involvement can help clients suffering from addiction feel supported while going through a difficult situation. Treating addiction as a family obstacle can ensure that the client does not feel alone on the road to recovery and that there is hope for a healthy future with their loved ones.
However, research also supports the idea that active family involvement in treatment has more positive outcomes for clients in addiction recovery. Family participation can also support long-term recovery for clients. For those struggling with addiction, recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.
Having family support, improved communication, and healthy boundaries can increase the likelihood of successful abstinence from substances once the client has completed their program. With the help of therapy, families can implement new dynamics that prevent negative behaviors like enabling and instead encourage the client to commit to a healthier lifestyle.
Family therapy for addiction helps the person suffering from addiction and everyone close to them. Addiction can have different effects on everyone in the family, which is why it’s important for every member to have the opportunity to heal from any hurt caused by the client’s behavior. Families struggling with a loved one with addiction or substance use can enroll in various treatment programs that address everyone’s needs and concerns.
The term “family” can include a myriad of loved ones in your life, such as:
Almost any loved one in a client’s life may be welcome to join family therapy because it significantly helps with recovery. When a client feels supported, understood, and loved throughout their marriage and family therapy addiction treatment, it may make it easier for them to feel motivated to stay the course. Additionally, family therapy can establish better relationships going forward after therapy ends. For example, once the client completes treatment, their future relationships benefit because everyone close to them has addressed their concerns and dealt with the difficult situation as a unit.
Just as individual therapy enables family members to discuss their feelings and concerns privately, family therapy enables this process on a group level. Each person in the family is welcome to share their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of what they’ve dealt with regarding their loved one suffering from addiction. Therapists in family therapy provide a safe, secure environment to help everyone feel comfortable voicing their emotions. Everyone benefits from therapy by feeling validated, healing from past issues, and moving forward to better days.
Family therapy can help your family resolve conflicts while helping you or your loved one overcome addiction. However, if it’s your first time participating in family therapy for addiction recovery, you may not know what to expect. Below, we’ve compiled a list of common questions you might have about this process.
At Gateway Foundation, your family includes your close emotional connections that endure over time. Family therapy and addiction treatment therapy involve the people who are committed to your recovery and will support your ongoing success. The definition of family means those participating could include blood relatives, extended family members, friends or anyone emotionally invested in your well-being.
The most important thing you can do is listen, communicate, and continue to learn more about addiction. Keeping an open mind — while maintaining healthy boundaries — is key to helping your loved one feel supported during their recovery. This is why family therapy focuses on everyone involved, not just the person struggling with addiction. Addiction affects every single person in that individual’s life, meaning those who are closest to them may also require their own support through therapy.
Just by showing up and participating in therapy, you already commit to your loved one’s recovery. If you wish to support them in other ways, you might try communicating that sentiment during one of your sessions. Your loved ones and therapist can determine the client’s needs without causing other members to feel burnt out.
It’s important to note that no family member or loved one is required to attend family therapy if they choose not to. This is a completely voluntary decision. In some cases, one or several family members may not be willing to participate in family therapy for their loved one struggling with addiction. Their reluctance, hesitation, or refusal to engage in therapy may occur for several reasons, such as:
If this occurs, the family member is open to discussing their concerns or questions with the therapist individually. Sometimes, additional encouragement or education about the purpose and benefits of family therapy for addiction recovery can promote participation. Ultimately, though, it is the individual’s choice.
Participating in family therapy is not always easy, but it can bring you closer together and provide the healing everyone needs. Going into each session with an open mind and open heart can be challenging, but it may also help you make the most out of your sessions. Your therapist will work with your family dynamic and help you create several common goals to work on as a unit.
Though the sessions will primarily focus on your loved one’s addiction, it will also give each family member time to discuss what they want to achieve during the sessions. Whether you struggle with addiction yourself or have a loved one going through it, it’s important to think about your goals before each session so everyone understands your needs and expectations.
Making the most out of family therapy also depends on your relationship with the individual struggling with addiction. Expressing your thoughts and sharing your feelings might not come naturally at first if you’ve felt betrayed by your loved one, but being an active participant is how you will gain the most benefits from therapy.
All relationships take work. When addiction is involved, there can be a lot of hurt, resentment, and guilt involved. However, coming to your sessions with a positive mindset and focusing on your strengths in the family dynamic can help you re-establish connections and achieve your family goals.
Addiction can create rifts in relationships that are difficult to mend. Every member of the family may cope with their loved one’s addiction differently and have a unique style of communicating. During your first few sessions of family therapy for addiction recovery, you can expect to experience some intense emotions or even difficulty communicating.
Some family members may be willing to come to therapy but feel hesitant to speak up about how they feel. Others may feel angry and voice their opinions and thoughts freely. The session entirely depends on your family’s experience and what has occurred within your relationships.
However, you can generally expect your therapist to ease you into the session before setting goals or focusing on building new skills. One of the purposes of family therapy is to assess how your family interacts and behaves with each other, acquiring new skills and applying them for healthier communication. Improving your family’s overall environment allows everyone to better support the client’s recovery while keeping boundaries in place.
You can also expect to see behavioral changes in your loved one as they work through their addiction recovery program. As they resolve underlying issues and mend damaged relationships, you may see them gradually progress and adopt more positive behaviors.
Whether you’re suffering from addiction or know a loved one who is experiencing it, having access to a comprehensive therapy and recovery program is key to supporting your family’s unique needs. At Gateway, we provide an array of therapies within multiple levels of care. You or your loved one will receive the precise level of treatment needed for your best healing and greater chances of long-term recovery.
Some of our programs and therapies include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness Sobriety, and Withdrawal Management. At Gateway, you can also choose from inpatient or outpatient programs to get the care you or your loved one needs.
Addiction affects the people closest to you. When you decide to enroll in a treatment program for addiction, you support your own recovery while helping build a healthier, happier family unit. At Gateway, we’ve helped generations of families achieve recovery and ongoing fulfillment by supporting you or your loved one on the road to addiction recovery.
Contact us to learn more about our family therapy programs and get more information about other treatment details. With our help — and the support of your loved ones — you and your family can find healing.