Substance abuse affects more than just the addict — it has a serious impact on those closest, damaging family dynamics, destroying trust, and weakening communication. Having a strong family is often a key factor in recovery and long-term sobriety. It is almost instinctive for family members to support each other through both good and bad times, so helping throughout recovery leads to more positive outcomes.
When a loved one fights addiction, family members go through a wide range of painful emotions, including frustration, hopelessness, and loss. For this reason, addiction is often called a “family disease” particularly when the addict / alcoholic lives at home with their family. The effects are profound — often children are neglected, trust is damaged and difficult to rebuild, emotional stress and frustration build as family members try to “make up” for issues caused by the addict, financial problems arise as the addict diverts money to pay for their addiction or endangers their employment situation, and emotional overreaction on both sides leads to larger conflicts.
The Family Structure and Stages Of Recovery
Addicts and their families tend to go through four distinct stages during the recovery process. They can be loosely described as follows:
- The using stage – Issues are recognized by the family, but they tend to deny or offer excuses for the person’s behavior and addiction. Sometimes a mental health professional is called in to evaluate the situation, and will often encourage them to look for help. Once the user is convinced that there is a problem, things move to the next step.
- The transition stage – The family and individual acknowledge that the substance use is no longer under control. They begin to focus on detox. Treatment begins, and the family must help the recovering addict stay clean by providing a safe, supportive, and trigger-free environment.
- The early recovery stage – The focus is now on breaking the psychological addiction through therapy. Relapses must be handled, and the individual needs continued support to continue their recovery. The issues that triggered the addiction need to be identified and corrected. Families can help support the recovering addict through their group therapy or 12-step programs, assist with social and financial rebuilding, and watch for any new challenges (depression or other emotional problems, sleep issues, and health issues).
- The ongoing recovery stage – After the individual is clean, the family unit rebuilds itself. They work together to help the person in recovery stay clean, welcoming them back, healing the emotional damages, and dealing with the underlying causes of the addiction.
Family Roles Commonly Associated With Addiction Recovery
Those who study family dynamics have noticed that people tend to fall into set “roles,” or adopt coping strategies that are generally dysfunctional:
- The Savior / Hero – the superstar of the family, pushing for success at school, work, and home in an effort to distract from the addict/alcoholic and to become a source of pride for the family. The praise heaped on them may increase the shame and guilt felt by the addicted person.
- The Enabler – the individual who allows the addict/alcoholic to continue using by providing shelter, money, or transportation in an effort to keep them safe, but making the situation worse. They excuse the addict’s behavior and do not hold them accountable for their actions, but this interferes with the addict’s desire to quit since their actions have little negative consequence.
- The Mascot / Joker – the person who uses humor to cover their feelings and to distract from the severity of the situation. They will try to make light of difficult situations, sometimes even making fun of the person struggling with addiction. This can be harmful if the addict feels that those around them are not taking things seriously, and will also damage his self-esteem.
- The Lost Child – the one that gets lost in the chaos and feels forgotten or ignored. They avoid conflict and suppress their emotions, and may withdraw from family activities or social events.
- The Scapegoat – the family member who is always blamed for the bad things that happen within the family. Sometimes this individual unconsciously creates unfavorable situations in order to draw attention away from the real issue.
Fortunately, family members can also take supportive roles and encourage recovery. Someone should play the role of the supportive but firm caregiver, encouraging the addicted family member to take positive action. They hold the abuser accountable for their actions and create rewards for positive choices. They may attend support group meetings with their loved ones or peer groups designed for the families of those in recovery.
The Importance Of Family During Addiction Recovery
Families are the most valuable support groups, even with the damage done by the abuser. Some recovery programs offer family therapy, which teaches healthy ways of communicating, managing resentments, being accountable for actions and choices, and rebuilding trust. Trust is the first thing lost to addiction, and the last recovered. Even the simplest of actions can help, such as having meals together, planning social activities, suggesting rest and relaxation, or just being there to talk — particularly during times of high stress when relapse can be tempting. Family members can help prevent relapse by maintaining an open, judgment-free environment.
Family plays a significant role in addiction recovery and the future of both itself and of the person in recovery. In a nutshell, a family can help the recovering addict build coping skills, manage their stress, abstain from drugs and alcohol, follow their treatment recommendations, participate in peer support groups, and reduce family friction. As the family heals, they learn how to support their loved one in recovery so that the “family disease” of addiction does not recur.
Why Choose Bridges Of Hope?
Bridges of Hope is a Joint Commission accredited dual diagnosis adult substance abuse treatment program. Our program is designed to achieve long-term recovery. We are licensed by the State of Indiana Department of Mental Health & Addiction. Most importantly, we care about families.
Our treatment philosophy is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders. We leave nothing to guesswork as we utilize therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices. We place superior patient care as our highest priority and offer them all-inclusive treatment services.
Contact us today if you or someone you love is grappling with addiction.