Drug and alcohol addiction doesn't just affect the alcoholic or drug addict – it has a deep impact on the family system to which the addict belongs. Family support groups are a critical part of the overall rehab process, and can prove to be immensely helpful to the loved ones of an addict, on both a familial as well as personal level.
Why is family involvement important in the rehab process?
Addiction is exhausting for all involved. Drug and alcohol addiction damages families just as much as it destroys the addicted individual. Family members struggle with helping the addict while trying to avoid getting pulled into the addict's world. Addiction strains relationships, often places both financial and emotional burdens on those involved, and quite often leads to heartbreak.
Family involvement is crucial to the substance abuse treatment process. Not only is the family system sometimes where unhealthy behaviors and patterns were first established, but it is often the environment to which an addict returns after rehab. The more supportive the environment, the more like sobriety is to "stick". The less supportive, the more likely the addict will relapse.
What does healthy family support look like?
There are several stages of family involvement: before, during, and after treatment.
Before substance abuse treatment (including rehab)
Friends and family of alcoholics and drug addicts often struggle with addressing addiction. They don't know how to help the addict seek treatment, and they don't know how to communicate their concerns without angering or alienating their loved one. Unfortunately, many times family involvement only enables the addict, meaning allows them to continue the addiction without consequences.
What needs to be understood is that while approaching a loved one about addiction should be a supportive process, it must happen. The risks are simply too high, both for the addict and for the family overall. It's also important to understand that most of those who end up in substance abuse treatment, including drug or alcohol rehab, got there because of positive family involvement.
One way of addressing the situation is by staging an intervention. This is simply an organized meeting with the addict where loved ones share concerns, suggest substance abuse treatment, and outline consequences should the addict decide not to attend drug rehab or alcohol rehab.
There are several ways to stage an intervention, including using professional intervention services. Counselors can help a family plan intervention itself, as well as assist in the preparations that must be made in advance (like what consequences are appropriate if the addict chooses not to enter rehab).
During substance abuse treatment (including inpatient or outpatient rehab)
The ideal outcome of an intervention is for the alcoholic or drug addict to enter an inpatient or outpatient rehab program. Each person's needs are different, and it will need to be determined which works better: outpatient or inpatient rehab.
One advantage of inpatient rehab is the separation that happens between the addict and their family. This time apart and physical and psychological distance can help both sides recognize their part in the addiction cycle and start to take stock.
For example, family and friends can start to see whether they've unwittingly been part of a cycle of enabling and codependency. One of the best things family members can do at this stage is to participate in family therapy if offered by the rehab facility.
In addition, it's highly recommended for loved ones to attend family and friends support groups like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, or SMART Recovery Family & Friends. These are free programs held in nearly every community specifically for those close to alcoholics and drug addicts. Things addressed at the meetings include:
- How to bring up a loved one's drug or alcohol addiction
- How to help an addict get help for their addiction
- How to handle all the many feelings that accompany the addiction and recovery process, including guilt, shame, rage, discomfort, and hope
- How to learn to support both yourself, your family, and your loved one through recovery, from those who've been through it themselves
Part of the advantage of support groups like these are meeting, interacting, and bonding with those who have experience in the whole thing. Dealing with addiction on any side of the equation often leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Having others to talk to openly and honestly opens up new paths of healing. Others in the same position can not only offer support and guidance, but practical tips and suggestions on rehab programs, physicians or therapists if applicable, and effective coping strategies.
SMART Recovery Family & Friends, a secular and science-based program, features CRAFT (Community Reinforcement Approach & Family Training). CRAFT is a system that teaches friends and family self-protection as well as non-confrontational skills to help their addicted loved one recover. Clinical trials have demonstrated that CRAFT's approach is more effective than other strategies. In terms of getting a loved one into substance abuse treatment, CRAFT has been shown to be 2x more effective than the Johnson intervention and 6x more effective than Al-Anon.
After substance abuse treatment (including rehab)
Many consider both alcohol and drug addiction "family diseases". This is, in part, because of the original triggers for addiction as well as the fact that close relationships within a family system can either help or hinder in terms of sobriety. Family involvement in the addiction recovery process can't be overemphasized; it's vital for the healthy recovery of all involved.
The rehabilitation and recovery process is thus ongoing, both for addicts and their families. Both should continue to get support from support groups and other therapy when applicable.
Alcohol and drug addiction can destroy a family just as thoroughly as it can an individual. It takes strength and resilience to successfully come through addiction – for everyone.
Fortunately, many who do choose to get help (both addicts and family members) and take the therapeutic process seriously, find that their family system actually matures and becomes even stronger due to the healing process. Communication can improve, as well as healthy boundaries. As skills improve and more learning takes place, a healthy, loving, and truly whole family can emerge.