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Does Family Therapy for Addiction Work?

Dealing with addiction is difficult both for the persons who are trying to give up the habit and also for the people around them who cares and loves them. But there are various ways to address it. Among the things that can be done by persons with addiction and their loved ones is family therapy for addiction. However, before that can be agreed upon by everyone, it is first important that there is a common understanding of addiction is and what can be done about it.

Understanding Addiction

For a lot of people, it is not easy to understand how a person can become hooked to drugs and other addictive substances. Sometimes, people immediately think that addicts don’t have the willpower or the moral principles to guide them to do the right thing which is to stop and avoid drugs altogether. What should be first understood about addiction is that it’s not easy for the addict to stop even if they want to.

The reality of addiction is that it is a disease that should be dealt with in various ways. Quitting the habit requires more than willpower and good intentions. Once a person started using drugs, the brain gets rewired and it becomes quitting very difficult for the addict.

But the good thing is that today, there are treatments available for people who want to recover from their addiction. And eventually, they can get back to being productive members of society.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is under the category of chronic diseases. Among its characteristics are drug-seeking behaviour, compulsiveness, and difficulty to control drug use. For many people who take drugs, the first time they decided to take it is initially voluntary.

However, with the repetition of the intake, the brain eventually changes and the person loses his or her self-control. This means they can no longer resist the urge to take their drug of choice.

The changes in the brain can persist even if the person is trying to quit. Drug addiction is also known as a disease where addicts are prone to relapse. Even if the addicts are in recovery from their addiction problems, they are still at high risk of going back to their old habits even if they have been clean for years. Relapse is common so don’t think that you or your loved one with an addiction problem is not making the best effort to change for the better.

What should be done is that the person in recovery should be given constant treatment and support. Since addiction is a chronic disease, the treatment should also be continuous.

It should also be adjusted according to how the person in recovery is responding from it. Treatment plans for addiction are regularly reviewed and then modified so that it will fit well with the ever-changing needs of the people recovering from drug addiction.

Effects of Drugs to the Brain

Most of the addictive drugs can change the reward circuit of the brain. What this means is that the drugs can make the brain release a flood of dopamine which causes euphoria.

Normally, the brain does release dopamine when we eat our food or when we spend time with people we love. We then feel happy and we repeat the behaviours that make us happy.

With drug abuse, the dopamine surge that an addict gets reinforces the behaviour to use drugs repeatedly. That’s why they become addicted to particular substances. With continued drug use, the brain will adapt eventually and the level of euphoria that an addict feels is not as intense as before.

This causes them to increase the dosage of their drug intake. Also, other activities that were once pleasurable no longer has the same effect on the addict. They no longer feel happy with social activities, food, even sex.

Factors Affecting Why a Person Becomes Drug Addict

Some people are more prone to becoming addicted to drugs than others. There are many reasons for this. There is not a single factor that can determine if a person will be a drug addict. But the combination of several factors can influence the risk of becoming one. Here are some of those factors.

  • Biology – The genes with which we have inherited from our parents can account for the risk factor for addiction. Along with that is the person’s ethnicity, gender, and also mental disorders that are present.
  • Environment – The environment that we have is a source of many and various influences. This includes our family and friends as well as our economic status and also the quality of life that we are experiencing.

Drug use can start because of peer pressure, exposure to illegal substances, sexual or physical abuse, lack of parental guidance, and difficulty handling stress.

  • Development – Combing the environment and genetic factors influence the person’s developmental stages and the risk of forming addictions. When a person begins drug use early in life, it will most likely lead to addiction.

Teenagers are vulnerable to this because their brains are still developing. Their self-control, judgment, and decision-making skills are not yet that strong, making them at risk of trying out drugs.

How to Cure or Prevent Drug Addiction?

Drug addiction is just like asthma, heart disease, diabetes; it is a chronic disease which means that in general, there’s no cure. Nevertheless, there are treatments available and drug addiction can be managed successfully.

It is important to remember that recovering addicts may experience a relapse that’s why it’s crucial for the health care provider, family, and friends to provide them with support and guidance.

A combination of prescription medications for addiction and behavioural therapy can increase the treatment for addiction more successful. Each treatment plan is different for each recovering addict. Their drug use habits, medical, social, and mental backgrounds are also considered when treatment plans are created for them.

As for the prevention of drug addiction, yes, it can be prevented. Prevention programs from media, communities, schools, and families can be effective instruments in preventing as well as reducing the drug addiction. Cultural factors and also personal events are important factors that can affect the trends of drug use.

But when people are educated about the harmful effects of drug use, the number of drug addiction problems can lessen. That’s why outreach and education are vital in making people understand the risks of getting into drugs. The roles of health care providers, educators, and parents are crucial in preventing the spread of drug use in young people.

Understanding Family Intervention

Having a loved one who is suffering from drug addiction is painful and difficult for the family. Any family would want to give their support and help but most of the time, they do not know how to intervene or how to communicate to their loved one. Here are some pieces of important information to understand how to effectively help a family member with drug addiction.

What is Family Intervention?

A family intervention is a meeting of family members, friends, and professionals who can inspire an addict to change his or her behaviour. With drug addiction, the loved ones will have a gathering along with their family member with drug problems. Having a professional present depends on the family.

In such a meeting, the group will talk about drug use problems and how it has been affecting everyone’s lives. This is not to blame the person but rather, it is to encourage him or her to seek help and address the drug addiction. A family intervention is both a way to educate and support the person with drug problems.

When is a Family Intervention Needed?

Many addicts are in denial and are struggling to face the reality of their drug use problem. Most would rather handle it on their own and address the addiction without the help of their family. However, the support of family and friends can make the recovery more effective and successful.

A family should intervene if the family member with drug problems is having professional, financial, social, and personal challenges because of their drug use. If they cannot control their drug use anymore even if they can see that it’s causing them problems, then the family should plan a way to step in and intervene.

Also, if they ignore their family members’ opinions and feelings about their behaviour, it is best for the family to confront them that addiction is indeed a problem for everyone.

Who Should be Present During the Intervention?

With a family intervention, those who ought to be present are the family members and the good friends of the person with a drug addiction problem. There can be cases where professional intervention becomes necessary. So that means that addiction professionals will be present in the meeting as well.

When preparing the family intervention, it is important that the loved ones who truly care for the person will be participating. Avoid including people who tolerate or support the use of drugs. So, when choosing friends of the person with a drug problem, invite the good ones who only want the best for him or her. If an informal meeting is not enough for an intervention to be successful, it is best to seek the help of a counsellor or professional.

Planning the Intervention

The intervention should be carefully planned so that it can be a successful one. Before you do a family intervention, you should first think about who to invite in the meeting. Also, it can be helpful to invite a professional who can guide the group as well.

The next thing to consider is the place where the intervention will happen. It should be somewhere that your loved one will feel most safe and comfortable in. It could be in the family home or a private setting. Avoid doing it in public spaces.

Family members and friends should also do their best to educate themselves about drug addiction and what their loved one is going through. It is important that everyone understands what they’re dealing with so that communication thoughts and feelings to the person with drug issues can be more effective.

Everyone involved should be prepared about what they’re going to say. It would be better if the group can meet before doing the intervention so that each one can practice what to say and how to say it. A person involved in drugs may feel cornered during an intervention so it’s vital that the group knows how to approach him or her without sounding threatening.

The next steps after the intervention should also be planned. If it turns out to be successful and the person accepts the invitation to go to rehab or seek professional help, then the group should also know what to do. Make all necessary arrangements such as choosing the right addiction treatment facility which is both affordable and appropriate for the kind of addiction, and health care professionals who will take it from there.

Everyone should also be prepared for the worst. For example, the person with drug problems may still be in denial and refuses to accept the reality of the situation. Know what the group should do about this. How can they be able to encourage their loved one to seek help? This is something everyone in the group should think about.

Interventions May Fail. Here’s Why

Most interventions are successful but some are not. One of the reasons why this is so is that the group who is trying to intervene is not prepared properly. So many things may go wrong while talking to the loved one so everyone should be prepared.

When the intervention takes place somewhere that the person doesn’t feel secure can also contribute to the failure of intervention. Never do it in public or where the person will feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. It’s important that he or she feels safe.

See to it that the person with drug problems is not high or having any withdrawal symptoms. It will be difficult to communicate properly with them if that is the case. Make sure to pick the right time when they haven’t been using drugs so that they can absorb what the group is trying to communicate with them.

Sometimes it is best to approach the person with one family member at a time. A group intervention may become too intimidating for them that they will shut everyone out and feel threatened. When the person becomes more comfortable, then the group can be invited to sit together and talk as a family.

When doing the intervention, it is best if everyone is understanding, patient, and compassionate to their family member who has a drug problem. Don’t be judgmental or angry at them. Don’t shame or blame them. That won’t do any good. The person will just become defensive and angry as well.

When you’re unsure about what to do or how to do things properly, it is best to consult with an expert on interventions and drug addiction problems. The professional can guide everyone about what to do or say during an intervention as well as the next steps if it is a success or a failure.

Family Therapy in Addiction

Related article: Can Experiential Therapy Help in Addiction Recovery?

What is Family Therapy?

You may already know about psychotherapy or counselling. These are done to extend help to someone with drug problems and other mental or behavioural issues. With family therapy, it is similar to those two but instead of just an individual going to sessions, it’s the whole family that’s involved.

With individual therapy, the focus is on the emotions, behaviours, and thoughts of one person. With family therapy, the focus is on the relationships within the family. The aim is to better understand as well as validate the feelings and experiences of each of the family members.

Another goal of this kind of therapy is being able to bring more clarity to the relationships of the family members. It is an opportunity to repair the relationships that have been ruined by drug addiction. Family therapists state that the problems of a family exist not within the people but between people.

Family therapists can explore the effects of drug addiction in the family. They can provide the right information about drug use and how to help their loved one with drug problems. They can also guide the family members on how to properly provide their support and love to the individual.

Benefits of Family Therapy for Addiction

When it comes to substance abuse, there are all kinds of factors that can contribute to the problem. It is wrong to assume that it is only the result of an individual; factors such as financial issues, environment, and family problems can have an impact on it.

Because the family often has a large role in an individual’s addiction, it is common that they will take part in family therapy for the good of themselves, and of their loved one. Family therapy is a treatment style which incorporates the thoughts and feelings of a group, rather than one individual.

This style of therapy is based on the idea that families share a very strong bond. When a member of the family needs help, everyone can take part to find a solution. As a growing approach to addiction, there are many benefits of family therapy in addiction treatment.

Awareness and Understanding

It is not always easy for an addict to recognize that they have a problem, even if someone points it out to them. However, the effect can sometimes be different when those who are closest to the person begin to share their fears and concerns as well.

In family therapy, members can help their loved one to gain an awareness of their addiction, pointing out how the individual has changed, and why they may need help. Hearing this kind of information from family members can often have a much stronger effect than hearing it from friends or acquaintances.

Helping the Family to Evade Enabling Behaviours

Even families with the best intentions for their struggling family member may make mistakes when it comes to helping them recover. It is helpful in family therapy for families to learn about enabling behaviours, Such behaviours often slow down the recovery process of an addict.

These enabling behaviours include things like waving rule breaking, bending house rules and making excuses for addicts. Oftentimes family members feel bad for being tough on their loved one, and these feelings result in “going easy” on the addict. Even though these actions might make things easier, in the long run, it is important for family members to recognize these issues and to stop them immediately.

Improving Family Connection

When a family is strong together, it is much easier to work together to help their struggling family member. When a family is not strongly connected, they may be weaker and easier to manipulate by a person with drug problems.

One of the benefits of family therapy in addiction treatment is allowing everyone to talk about their feelings and fears, and to face them all head-on in a controlled conversation. When a family is able to solve underlying issues, the result is a much stronger bond that can help everyone to get through an addiction.

Permitting Self-Care Needs

It is common for an addict’s family and friends to go through their own struggles during an individual’s addiction journey. It can be very hard to watch a loved one struggle with drugs or alcohol, and it often puts a lot of weight on the shoulders of others.

In saying that, it is important during family therapy to talk about self-care. That means encouraging family members to seek their own necessary treatments, to take care of themselves, and to maintain their own sobriety and happiness.

This is not always made as a priority but family therapy can highlight the importance of a family maintaining their own health and happiness.


Drug addiction is one of the many chronic diseases that is characterized by harmful behaviours. The brain is rewired when a person uses drugs, and this leads them to addiction. During recovery, relapse can happen but that is when the support of the family is most needed. The benefits of family therapy in addiction treatment cannot be overstated. As some of the closest people to an addict, family members should consider this kind of treatment to encourage solidarity and healthy home for everyone.

Related article: Why Recovering Addicts Will Benefit from Family Therapy