Dependency on alcohol or drugs is a disease that strikes individuals, but it is also a family disease in several senses.
The whole family creates a home environment that may enable or worsen the illness without family members knowing what they are doing.
The whole family can play a role in the substance abuser’s addiction treatment and recovery process. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says research proves that family members are effective in supporting a loved one’s recovery.
The whole family is also susceptible to physical and mental illness. There is medical evidence of a genetic predisposition for blood-related persons to develop substance abuse disorders and mental health disease. If one family member struggles with substance abuse or mental health issues, other family members are more likely to suffer from the same disease.
How Can You Tell if a Family Member Has an SUD?
A family member is likely to be one of the first to recognize that a close relative is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, especially if they are living together or have frequent contact.
Some of the signs of substance abuse include:
- Increased tolerance for the substance
- Suffers blackouts
- Sneaks drugs or alcohol
- Is preoccupied with using a substance
- Only remembers the “high,” never the negative consequences
- Avoids talking about the substance
- Makes alibis for their behavior
- Alternates between aggression when using and remorse when not
- Their social life suffers, they lose friends
- Experiences severe physical symptoms such as digestive and sleep problems
Family Members Can Fuel Addiction
Most people are surprised when an active addiction impacts their family. It can be extremely confusing when the truth emerges about a loved one. If it is adolescent substance abuse, the response may be even more clouded.
In this bewildered state, family members may unknowingly fuel the addiction of the loved one by not setting healthy boundaries and enabling behaviors that take them deeper into their own codependency.
- Increased tolerance to the user’s behavior
- Suppressing their perceptions about the family member
- Minimizing the situation; “things are not that bad”
- Hiding the problem from persons outside the family
- Continuing to make excuses for the alcoholic/addict
- Lashing out at the user when they are intoxicated or high, but later feeling remorse
- Losing friends to protect the family member
- Developing health problems or having a breakdown
Family Roles in Starting Recovery
Early intervention can be very beneficial for an addicted person who is unable to start their own recovery. Frequent and close contact puts the family system in a unique position to realize a loved one’s addiction.
An intervention leading to addiction treatment may be performed by family and friends in consultation with a professional counselor, an addiction professional, a psychologist, a mental health counselor, a social worker, or an interventionist.
Family members gather facts about what they have observed, seek accurate information about the addiction, and may research treatment centers to which the loved one may go.
Without revealing the reason, the loved one with the addiction is invited to the intervention location. Team members take turns stating their concerns and feelings, a treatment option is presented, and the addicted person is asked to accept it.
Impact on Children of Substance Abusing Parents
One person’s drug addiction or substance abuse can trigger substance abuse and mental illness in the entire family system, even extended family members with common genetics.
Adult children of substance-abusing parents are at an increased risk to develop a substance use disorder by young adulthood. It happens to them more than twice the rate of children without this family dynamic.
Before they can develop coping skills, a child begins to be at risk as early as 2 to 3 years of age for a wide variety of negative outcomes, including emotional, social, and behavioral problems.
Education, Support are Important for Family Members
The family of a person suffering from a substance use disorder needs to know the facts about the nature of alcoholism and addiction. Family members should learn about the progression of addiction and how they can be most supportive in helping their loved one.
It is important for relatives and friends acting as caregivers to be aware of their own health and prioritize staying healthy. Like airline attendants’ advice to “put on your oxygen mask first, then help others,” a caregiver needs to be smart about their condition if they are going to help someone else.
Family therapy with a licensed counselor or program can help the extended family respond in a healthy manner. The purpose of family therapy is to address the interdependent nature of family relationships and how these relationships serve the loved one and other family members.
Support groups such as Al-Anon– along with family therapy and counseling–can be invaluable for the whole family.
Support Groups for Family Members
Substance use disorders tax both the physical health and mental health of relatives living with them and puts every single person in the whole family system at risk.
The best-known is Al-Anon, for the families of persons with alcohol abuse issues. Its origins go back to 1939 and the name was adopted in 1951.
- Nar-Anon for families of persons suffering from a drug addiction
- Co-Anon for families of persons addicted to cocaine and other substances
- ACA/Dysfunctional Families is for people who grew up in dysfunctional homes
- Co-Dependents Anonymous (CODA)for recovery from codependence
- Alateen is an Al-Anon family program for teenagers.
Communication Issues Key to Family Unit Effectiveness
Examples of Harmful Family Communication
- Isolation, keeps thoughts and feelings to self
- Doesn’t share anger or frustration
- Doesn’t seek help
- Assumes they know what another is thinking
- Blaming, shaming, and placing guilt on others
- Says family should not discuss substance abuse problems
- Procrastinates, avoids “certain discussions”
- Does not listen to others
Improving Family Communication with Assertive Communication
Through assertive communication, family members do not avoid or win confrontations, but appropriately resolve conflicts and support the recovery process.
Techniques for Assertive Communication
- Remove distractions before attempting to communicate
- Be an active listener. Listen carefully, look each other in the eye, and verbally acknowledge hearing statements (“I heard you say …”)
- Avoid raising voice level or intensity
- Be specific. Avoid generalizations
- Keep content close to the present
- State wants and needs clearly
- Use “feeling” words and “I” statements
- Describe how you feel, not how you think.
La Hacienda Treatment Center's Family Program
A new life in recovery begins with the process of letting go with love, getting rid of guilt and shame and learning to take care of oneself. The La Hacienda team wants the chemically dependent person to receive addiction treatment and return to their home and a family educated about the disease.
Addiction is a family disease, and La Hacienda Treatment Center is proud to equip relatives and loved ones with the skills necessary to address it as family. We want them to learn how to empower rather than enable, how to take care of themselves, and how to influence rather than control.
La Hacienda’s Family Program includes process groups that allow patients and their families to start communicating honestly and work on sharing thoughts and feelings openly.
One of the most popular parts of the Family Program are physicians’ medical lectures featuring the most current information about substance use disorders.
The family training also includes workshops on topics about feelings and recovery, boundaries, codependency, returning home, recovery for the family, patient, and family needs, 12 Steps and Traditions, and creating a family recovery plan.
Substance Abuse Treatment at La Hacienda
La Hacienda Treatment Center has been helping people receive addiction treatment and overcome substance use disorders and start on the road to a successful recovery for 50 years.
La Hacienda’s professional chemical dependency counselors work individually and in groups with patients, each of whom has a personalized treatment plan. A continuing care plan mapping their next steps after leaving the center is also provided.
The week-long Family Program provides accurate information about the disease, family therapy, and workshops to help the family unit better understand what their loved one is enduring, and how family dynamics can be adjusted to better support their recovery.
If you or someone you know needs help, phone (800) 749-6160 and talk with one of our dedicated on-campus admission specialists who will answer questions about substance abuse treatment.
Alcoholism is a Family Disease
Dependency on alcohol is a disease that strikes individuals, but alcohol addiction is also a family disease. The entire family unit creates a home environment which may enable or worsen the addictive behaviors, or it can play a role in the substance abuser’s recovery process.
Treatment for Substance Use Disorder
Depending on the patient’s diagnosis, treatment centers provide a variety of programs to care for substance use disorders, including detoxification, individual and group therapy, community reinforcement, introduction to 12-step support groups, learning self-care and new coping skills, and improving family relations.
Substance Abuse Risk Factors
Risk factors can influence drug abuse in several ways. The more risks to which a person is exposed, the greater chance they will abuse drugs. Some risk factors are more powerful than others at various stages of development, like peer pressure during the teenage years.
Who is an Addict?
An addict is a person with a treatable, chronic disease involving intricate brain pathway interfaces, genetics, their environment, and their life experiences. People with drug addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that, in the absence of drug abuse treatment, become habitual and often continue despite injurious results.