There are many faces to addiction: the teen who cannot go to school in the mornings without smoking a joint, the overwhelmed mom whose one glass of wine a night balloons into full-on alcoholism, the corporate executive who tries – with ever-declining success – to mask a cocaine addiction. Behind the faces are stories, and these stories involve close friends and family members: human beings whose lives have been impacted by the addiction.
In the past, it was the norm for people undergoing addiction treatment to be isolated from their families for a period of time. While there are still some facilities that follow that practice to varying degrees, an ever-increasing number of addiction treatment centres are making family counselling an integral part of their programs.
Family members play a pivotal role in an individual’s journey as an addict. Usually, this is because they are the ones caught in the crossfire: addicts often steal money and belongings in order to fund their addictions, and they lose their sense of responsibility for work, family and other important things as the addiction takes centre stage in their lives. In many cases, the drugs themselves – or their withdrawal symptoms – result in addicts behaving in an aggressive or abusive manner toward loved ones.
This takes an inevitable toll on relationships, and this toll often goes far beyond the concept of hurt feelings. Addictions can destroy trust and tear families apart. Couples become separated, parents lose custody of their children, people move to different cities because they fear for their safety.
This erosion does not only happen to the relationships between the addict and the family members; it happens to the relationships that family members have with each other. As the addiction becomes the central focus in the family, individuals start neglecting themselves and their relationships. If this is not adequately addressed in family counselling, families can continue to dissolve even after the addict has undergone treatment.
The purpose of addiction treatment is twofold: to safely get the substances out of the addict’s system, and to equip the addict with the skills needed to survive in the outside world without drugs or alcohol. This includes ensuring that a support system is in place for the addict – support that usually exists in the form of family. If family support is absent, the risk of relapse is much higher.
But how can family members be expected to act as a support when they have been damaged to the point of needing support themselves? Addiction treatment centres are placing increasing emphasis on treating the family unit as a whole, rather than just the person with the addiction. This has all kinds of benefits:
- The family members are given professional guidance to rebuild their trust in one another
- Family conflicts that may have contributed to the addiction are resolved
- The addict and family members learn new and better ways to deal with stressful situations
- The addict and family members reach a point of being able to forgive each other and themselves for things that have been said and done
- The addict develops the ability to ask for help from family members instead of turning to drugs or alcohol when things get rough
- Family members learn how to give themselves priority and rebuild relationships with each other that were neglected during the period of addiction
It has been said that no man is an island. Human beings are social beings who rely on each other for their individual and collective wellbeing. Addicts turn themselves into islands, though, by alienating the people they love. By incorporating family counselling Therapy in recovery programs, addiction treatment centres are helping individuals foster productive, loving family relationships that can last a lifetime.