Substance use disorder (SUD) doesn’t just affect the person experiencing it; it affects whole families. Those dealing with SUD need to understand the family as a social system when it comes to their disorder. While the family might have been the place where substance use originated, it is also a space for ultimate healing.
What Is a Family System?
Family is not just made up of kinship ties, but also a web of friends and caretakers to which one feels a strong emotional attachment. A family system provides rituals, routines, communication, socialization, and financial security. These important functions are realized through close-knit relationships in which people care for each other. The lack of a healthy family system may pave the way for lasting negative outcomes, such as SUD or other mental illnesses.
When it comes to SUD, each family member can be uniquely affected by the person using substances. Addiction may cause economic hardships, legal problems, emotional distress, and unmet needs that can disrupt a family unit. Sometimes there may also be violence, neglect, or abuse. For these reasons, children who grow up with parents who have SUD are at a much higher risk of developing the disorder themselves.
Family systems are critical for addiction prevention because they are incubators for individuals’ social functions. SUD rooted in unhealthy family dynamics creates a rift in the entire society because individuals may experience homelessness, risky or even criminal behavior, additional mental illnesses, and other social problems.
Will Family Interventions Help?
Family intervention should be included in addiction treatment programs, ranging from assessment, detoxification, rehabilitation, therapy, continuing care, relapse prevention, case management, and peer support groups. The focus of family intervention should be around resolving relationship problems that create stress at home.
Family members who are affected by addiction can experience a wide range of emotions, such as betrayal, anger, fear, anxiety, and depression. Without intervention, family members may feel isolated from each other. Untreated SUD and family trauma can create a vicious cycle of emotional pain, hindering any progress toward sobriety or the family unit’s well-being.
What Does Family-Based Intervention Look Like?
Families that are affected by addiction suffer a tremendous emotional burden. They may be unable to cope with the emotional pain and thus feel unready to support their loved ones through treatment and recovery. Family-based intervention therapists should educate family members about the science and facts about SUD and recovery. More education may dissipate the fear and stigma they have toward a loved one’s condition.
Health professionals may try to engage the family in the assessment process and early in treatment. The more one’s family members are involved, the better connected they become with each other because involvement increases empathy and compassion. Some supporting members of the family may realize they need therapy themselves and get help. Experienced therapists can help them explore how they interact with the family system and improve communication.
How Can Families Become Recovery-Supportive?
Family members should re-examine their relationships with the individual in treatment to see if they have in any way “enabled” their addiction. These patterns of codependency need to be identified and addressed to best support their loved one’s sobriety. Additionally, families can benefit from mutual support programs that connect families with similar experiences. This is an opportunity to learn, as well as a chance to make positive changes when hearing about other families’ experiences with what works.
Most importantly, family members need to help make the home a stress-free environment with maximum relapse prevention support. They should remove all substances from the home and stabilize the environment by learning how to express and process emotions in a healthy way. If there are children at home, adults must be aware of how unhealthy relationships put children at risk and the children should receive age-appropriate information about the issue.
How Can Family Members Practice Self-Care?
Self-care is critical for families that are struggling with the impact of their loved one’s SUD. The stress of coping with this situation and trying to be supportive can make it easy to neglect their own health needs. Self-care begins by setting a regular quiet time for oneself. Family members need breaks to relax as well as good times to connect with their family members.
To support a loved one long-term, family members should actively seek to build a support system around them. Apart from mutual support groups for family members of people with addiction, one can also find a sponsor or therapist for one-on-one conversations. Meanwhile, each person in the family unit should stay in touch with personal joy through hobbies or activities they enjoy. They can also advocate against social prejudice on behalf of their loved one.
Families living with addiction don’t have to walk the path to recovery alone. They need help from treatment teams and programs that include families in the recovery process. Support from family members and friends can be an integral part of a successful recovery. Friends and family members who stay informed and take care of their mental and physical health are better equipped to deal with addiction, support their loved ones, and help put their family on the path to lifelong recovery. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our experienced mental health professionals can guide people through recovery from SUD and coach their family members to be good support systems. We will walk alongside you as your loved one continues their recovery. Call us at (866) 229-9923 today to discover how you can be part of our community, as family support is key to your loved one’s recovery.