Family Involvement: The Key To Addiction Recovery

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( — June 27, 2018) — When an individual is struggling with a substance use disorder, our first instinct is typically to send them away. But just because rehab programs are often residential doesn’t mean patients must go it alone. No, to thrive in recovery, experts agree that family and friends need to be involved in the process – and the onus can’t rest exclusively on the person in treatment. In other words, family involvement can’t end at the ninth step, when the individual makes amends for past wrongs.

At the most basic level, families need to restructure their own behavior to support the person in recovery and that can take many forms. Starting during the detox period, these four steps can help families better understand the nature of addiction and support their loved one in maintaining a healthy lifestyle going forward.

Emphasize Education

One of the most common barriers to family engagement in addiction recovery is the perception that addiction is a character flaw, rather than a disease. That’s because, while we sympathize with a sick individual, we judge those who we perceive as simply lacking self-control. And this division applies as much to issues of weight or grooming as it does to addiction or other forms of impulsivity.

Implementing a family psychoeducation program, then, can provide families with the information they need to understand the emotional and social roots of addiction, the chemical mechanisms, and the course of treatment. Indeed, family psychoeducation is the gold standard for treatment of serious mental illness precisely because it helps break down bias against those suffering from mental illness.

Rebuild Relationships

Addiction can seriously damage relationships, but it can also originate from emotional trauma early in life. In order to succeed in recovery and stay sober after the initial rehab period, then, individuals and their families need to spend time rebuilding their relationships.

This is best done with professional guidance and support and many inpatient programs encourage family visitation and involvement in support groups, so that all parties can come to terms with difficult emotions and regain a sense of trust before reentering the community together.

Hone Healthy Habits

Lasting recovery is based in making meaningful lifestyle changes, which may include diet and exercise, finding a new social group, or involvement in spiritual or religious activities in the community, but the person in recovery isn’t the only one who needs to make changes.

Too often, substance abusers are entangled in relationships with family members who can’t tell the difference between helping and enabling addictive behaviors, and learning to distinguish between the two is vital if the family is to provide support in the long-term.

For example, parents who don’t follow through on consequences for drug abuse such as withdrawing financial support or refusing to bail them out of jail send the dangerous message that addiction doesn’t have consequences for their relationship.

A healthy degree of detachment, however, can help guide a relative to make better choices.

Seek Sustainable Support

The final and most important thing that families need to do in order to support and loved on in recovery is to build a sustainable support structure because the recovery process isn’t a few months or even a few years – it’s a lifetime of struggle. Luckily, there is a growing network of organizations that can provide support, such as local Al-Anon or Nar-Anon groups for families, as well as groups run by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Similarly, family members should be aware of what community resources their loved ones are utilizing and should help seek out AA or NA meetings in other cities when traveling and encourage the use of digital recovery resources. It’s all about striking a balance between resuming a normal life and maintaining sobriety.

Family involvement in recovery is one of the primary determinants of long-term wellness, but it’s not always easy to accomplish. To be sure, there will be painful moments as recovering addicts and their relatives navigate old conflicts and shared history. On the other side of the struggle, though, is a renewed sense of trust and better communication all in the service of a new, sober life.