Addiction is a chronic, debilitating illness that changes people in ways that are sometimes hard to reconcile. Alcohol and other drugs have a profound impact on the brain. Those who struggle with this disease sometimes say and do things that inflict emotional trauma on those they love the most. Often, those closest to individuals struggling with addiction suffer the most; for various reasons. Family and friends (uncomfortably) watch their loved one transform and change in harmful, self-destructive ways. Because of this, family members can benefit significantly from family therapy and support groups like those offered at The Hills in Los Angeles, California.
Addiction Impacts the Entire Family
There are no limits on which members of an addict’s circle are impacted by addiction. Family members, coworkers, and friends all witness the mind and body of their loved ones change. The home environment becomes toxic as moods change. Trust and communication are often compromised. Misunderstandings and arguments become the standard mode of communication. With time, family members usually begin to display co-dependency symptoms as a result of seeking a coping mechanism for the unpredictable behavior of their loved ones. All too often, family members do not realize they are enabling their loved ones when they intend to help them.
Addiction ruins relationships, but families are vital resources for those who are struggling with addiction. Unfortunately, many family members are not naturally equipped to help someone with an addiction. Despite their best intentions, many people enable or unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) stigmatize substance abuse. Family members tend to focus their support on the person with the addiction, and they often forget to support one another. Having supportive relationships is one of the four essential pillars of recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Therefore, friends and family members often need counseling, therapy, and peer support to learn how to cope with the emotional problems caused by their loved one’s addiction.
The Importance of Family Support Groups
Family members with a loved one struggling with substance abuse may feel alone and, in some cases, angry at themselves. They may also feel as though they failed as a parent or a spouse and seek reassurance in their suffering. Finding support for family members is essential to understanding a family member’s substance use disorder and easing anxieties and frustrations. Addiction is sometimes referred to as a family disease, as one family member’s addiction ultimately affects the entire family. When family members attend therapy or support groups, it inevitably affects the family as a whole. Family therapy and family support groups can be highly beneficial in helping the family heal from the dysfunction addiction causes. It also increases the chances that their loved one will seek help for their addiction and maintain sobriety and long-term recovery.
What to Expect in a Family Support Group?
Many support groups follow steps or organization similar to that of the 12 Step program invented by Alcoholics Anonymous. In addition to these more organized groups, other informal groups and individual therapy options also exist. Organized support groups will have many people in one room, sharing stories of their struggles with a family member’s substance abuse. These groups can be held in various settings, including private therapist offices, hospital rooms, online, or in a community building such as a church or lodge. During these meetings, family members may disclose painful stories and memories of seeing their family members under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
New group participants are encouraged, although certainly not required, to introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting, when the chairperson or leader of the meeting asks if anyone is new. By raising one’s hand and stating your name and any other information you’d like to share, you’re opening the door for others to approach you after the meeting should you wish to talk to them further.
Eventually, new members feel more willing to open up and speak in front of several people they do not know well. A significant positive element of support groups like these is the feeling of community. There is considerable privacy offered when engaging with other members of the support group. Family members can be encouraged to practice forgiveness by expressing and releasing hard feelings associated with addiction.
Available Support Groups for Families
Family support for addiction takes many forms, including family therapy at a treatment facility like The Hills in Los Angeles, CA, and support groups, among others. There are many publicly advertised support groups for families with members addicted to various substances, which ensures all families have several options from which they can choose. A few examples of these support groups are described below.
Nar-Anon is a support group for family members of addicts. Remember, the family is a pivotal element in addiction recovery and long-term sobriety, and therefore the family needs recovery as much as their addicted love one does. Nar-Anon groups are a safe and confidential space where families can openly share their experiences and hope but, most importantly, know (and understand) that they are not alone. Nar-Anon is a 12-step support group where each member is encouraged to obtain a sponsor. In this program, a sponsor is someone who has completed their 12 steps and is working on carrying the message of the program to others. Twelve-step support groups for addicts’ families are not necessarily affiliated with any religion but are spiritual in nature. By attending support group meetings like these, family members will learn about the disease of addiction and ways to implement an honest and consistent approach when talking to your loved one about their addictive behavior.
Al-Anon is a support group for people affected by another person’s addiction to alcohol. This group is commonly composed of family members of alcoholics; however, friends of alcoholics are also welcomed to attend and participate.
Like the program by the same name for people surviving substance abuse disorders, this program is available for families who need support. SMART Recovery Friends & Family is a science-based secular alternative to Nar-Anon and other 12 step-based programs. Their method is based on the tools of SMART Recovery and CRAFT, which is a program aimed to teach family and friends self-protection and non-confrontational skills that can be utilized to help their addicted loved one find recovery. SMART Recovery Friends and family is different than the 12 step programs because it works as a four-point program. Each program provides education, communication, and education about coping mechanisms.
Other Support Groups
In addition to the programs listed above, there are other programs designed for parents and siblings of addicted loved ones. PAL (Parents of Addicted Loved Ones) was formed in 2006 and addresses issues such as co-dependency and enabling for parents with an addicted child. Support groups for siblings of addicts focuses on strained relationships and ways to repair them. There are also grief centered support groups such as GRASP, which help families who have lost a family member due to addiction-related overdose.
Online Support Groups
In today’s technology-friendly age, online support groups are becoming a popular, easily accessible way for people to gain the support that they need. Family members can also benefit from this method if finding the time to attend an on-site support group is difficult. Online support groups range from large to small in size and allow participants to benefit from community interaction and guidance or support from wherever they may be. This method is also beneficial for people who are uncomfortable with face-to-face vulnerability often experienced in an in-person setting.
While individual therapy focuses on one person’s thoughts, behaviors, and emotions, family therapy focuses on the relationships of the entire family. Family therapy aims to understand and validate all family members’ experiences while bringing clarity to all relationships and repairing strained communication. A family therapist will explore with the family how substance use is embedded in a cycle of interaction within the family. Also, family therapists can educate about substance use for the whole family and support family members in reducing unhelpful behaviors such as enabling while increasing effective behaviors. Many researchers believe that family therapy helps repair the family relationship, assists with family behavioral change, and increase family engagement. Family therapy can occur in various settings, including private offices or addiction treatment centers like the Hills.
How Family Can Support Someone with an Addiction
The ability of families to play a strong and compassionate role in recovery is essential for many addicts in avoiding relapse. As a family member, there are several things you can do to help your loved one with an addiction. Keep in mind that you should not try to help someone struggling with addiction on your own. A substance use disorder is a chronic disease and should be addressed by medically trained professionals who can help with all of the potential side effects of detox and withdrawal.
The first thing you can do as a family member to help a loved one with an addiction is to learn about the disease. Addiction is often highly misunderstood. While some people are capable of controlling how much alcohol or drugs they consume, others are not. These individuals possess a variety of risk factors that lead to the development of severe brain disease. Long term substance use causes physical changes to the brain that make quitting nearly impossible no matter how hard or how many times they try. Learning all you can about addiction and the treatment options available to your loved one will help prepare you down the road when it’s time to seek treatment.
It is also important to remember to avoid stigma. Despite many changes in how people view addiction, stigma remains one of the most significant addiction treatment barriers. Historically, families tried to conceal a loved one’s addiction, and addicts have sought isolation to avoid the embarrassment associated with a substance use disorder. Family members who avoid and actively combat stigma, are better able to support each other and their addicted loved one.
It is also essential to avoid being an enabler. Family members have to continually think about whether they are supporting their loved ones or enabling them. People who enable their loved one’s addictive behavior provide an environment that condones substance abuse because they are unwilling to suggest or force change. Helping somebody with an addiction involves setting clear boundaries, enforcing rules, and providing love. You can help your loved one by assisting them in finding support groups, attending medical appointments, or seeking treatment.
Convincing your loved one to seek treatment is only part of the battle. The next step is to find the appropriate evidence-based program with the proper programs to suit their needs. Addiction is a chronic disease that affects each person individually, and therefore, the best treatment programs are designed with the individual and not the disease in mind. At The Hills in Los Angeles, California, we offer a wide variety of treatment programs designed to treat your loved one’s addiction and help them maintain sobriety long term. We also understand the essential role that family plays in long term recovery, and we work to ensure family members have access to the vital help they need as well. Don’t let addiction control your family for another day.