Understanding Addiction as a Family Disease and Treating It With Family Therapy

Understanding Addiction as a Family Disease and Treating It With Family Therapy

Addiction is often considered a family disease. What does that mean? Parental addiction and intergenerational trauma can expose children or youth to these problems. These circumstances can put them at a higher risk of developing substance use and dependence later in life. When family issues are the root causes of addiction, family therapy is necessary for healing. 

SUD as a Disease of the Family

Addiction does not only affect the person with substance use disorder (SUD). It can become an affliction for the entire family. One person’s use may increase use or risk of use for other family members. Similarly, family members may suffer the deceptions and consequences of their loved one’s actions. On the other side of the coin, dysfunctional family dynamics may contribute to substance abuse. Addiction and family dysfunctions go both ways.

Many families view substance addiction as something to hide. Cultural stigmas perpetuate shame, tension, and fear, prohibiting people from seeking professional treatment. In the worst scenarios, the family system’s ability to communicate, have meaningful relationships, and care for each other disintegrates.

Common cultural narratives in the family also dictate denial and codependency. For example, parents might deny or ignore the problem of a teen using substances to keep the peace or pretend there is nothing wrong going on in the family. Codependency can come into play through enabling or as a type of relationship addiction that exists separately but simultaneously with substance addiction.

Signs of Enabling and Codependence in the Family

Patterns of enabling and codependency tend to thrive in families with addiction problems. The most common signs include hiding the problem of addiction, financially contributing to the purchase of drugs or alcohol, paying for legal fees or bail, making excuses for a loved one’s inappropriate behaviors, and more. 

If these patterns of enabling and codependency are left untreated, they can perpetuate the cycle of addiction and family dysfunction. Family members who care for a loved one with addiction may become exhausted by the vicious cycle. Their health can suffer, which means they can’t effectively care for their loved one.

Co-Occurring Addiction and Mental Illness Within the Family

Untreated and persistent mental health illnesses among family members, especially care providers, can put children at high risk. Many people use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. Co-occurring addiction, mental health illnesses, and family dysfunctions create the worst environmental risk factors.

These co-occurring conditions place children at higher risk of suffering from low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, violence, and future substance use. Unhealthy communication, poor role modeling, and inconsistent rules or boundaries in these dysfunctional homes leave a lasting negative impact on the next generation.

Breaking the Cycle of Family Trauma and Addiction Through Family Therapy

As SUD can become a family disease, it is unreasonable to place all the blame for the issues present solely on the person using substances. It takes a family-based approach to treat such complex symptoms. That is when family therapy becomes a crucial part of the healing process.

Family therapy is beneficial for many reasons. Recovering individuals have a higher rate of success when they have support from family members. For a person to get well, the entire family system needs to be treated. 

The goals of family therapy include rebuilding communication channels, removing stigma, identifying and breaking down negative behavioral patterns, establishing healthy boundaries at home, and coaching family members on how to provide care for the loved one with SUD.

Expectations When Participating in Family Therapy

It can be daunting to work with a family therapist. Many people cringe at the idea because they fear airing their dirty laundry. However, when that is what it takes to support their loved one in recovery, many family members learn to deal with some difficult emotions and conversations. 

A professionally trained family therapist will first meet with the entire family and potentially a few members one-on-one. They will ask a few general questions and try to uncover some pain points in family relationships. The following sessions will focus on a strength-based process to motivate family members to adopt new tools to strengthen each relationship.

In family therapy, the therapist is there to be a facilitator and mediator who encourages and empathizes with the group. They will explain what kind of support a recovering individual needs at home. Additionally, they may coach individuals to express difficult emotions and actively listen when others are sharing.

Dos and Don’ts During Family Therapy

Family therapy has boundaries so each participant can achieve positive effects. Below are a few healthy rules that can promote collaboration and growth:

  • Do honestly express thoughts without bottling up
  • Do encourage others toward open communication instead of evading questions or problems
  • Do consider one’s words before one speaks
  • Do try to express first-person-based thoughts 
  • Do follow the instructions of the therapist
  • Don’t interrupt others when they are speaking
  • Don’t blame or shame others
  • Don’t verbally attack others

Family therapy has a lot of benefits. However, as much as group expression is helpful, it is made more so when each member of the group is working toward health and growth on their own. Each person needs to practice effective self-care, including using tools (such as family rules, roles, and responsibilities) to stay emotionally and mentally healthy. 

When addiction co-occurs with family mental health problems and dysfunctions, it can be an uphill battle for a recovering individual to maintain recovery progress. Family therapy addresses psychological, behavioral, and emotional issues in the family system that cause problems. In a therapeutic setting, family members work with a therapist or counselor to develop and maintain healthy relationships at home. At Laguna Shores Recovery, we offer family therapy and traditional treatment plans such as detox, medication, 12-Step groups, and relationship skills coaching. We also provide an outpatient program to support you and your loved ones in achieving long-term health. Schedule an appointment with us at (866) 774-1532. Start the new journey with us today.