Family dynamics are constantly changing. Family members have taken on new roles and developed new behaviors over the last few decades. Regardless of how families change, family therapy is still an essential form of treatment. Research shows that addiction treatment involving family therapy is more successful than treatment only utilizing individual or group therapy. 

What is Family Therapy?

Family therapy follows the same guidelines as other forms of psychotherapy. Instead of one individual attending therapy, family therapy for addiction involves the whole family. For example, in individual therapy, the person struggling with addiction will focus on their thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Family therapy encourages each family member to focus and understand their respective feelings and experiences. 

The goal of family therapy is to repair relationships between family members and ultimately foster closeness. Therapists utilize proven techniques to assist in bringing clarity to all relationships within the family. 

How Does Family Therapy Work?

In family therapy for addiction, the therapist will investigate how substance use has altered family interactions. Together, the family and therapist will develop new skills to bring clarity and healing to the family. The four following segments are key components in the family therapy for addiction model. 

Family Engagement

Family engagement practices take place at the beginning phase of treatment. The goals and investments set during family engagement are revisited throughout therapy. The intentions of family engagement are foundational. The therapist will utilize different strategies to show the value of engaging in therapy. 

For family treatment to be most beneficial, each family member should engage in therapy. Parents and teens sometimes feel reluctant to engage in therapy, often not seeing the value of it. Family therapists create an environment where each individual can feel comfortable in examining their positive and negative emotions.

Relational Reframing

Family therapists use relational reframing to move away from individual blaming and toward understanding and problem-solving. This element of family therapy removes irrational attributions and descriptions for family member’s specific behaviors. Relational reframing allows family members to be more open, which often requires their relationship to be reframed. 

Family Behavior Change

The third main aspect of family therapy for addiction, family behavior change, seeks to make tangible family behavior changes. At this point, family members have a better understanding of substance use and the role it plays in each of their relationships. These sessions aim to help each individual learn new skills and behaviors that will allow for a better family relationship.

Family Roles in Addiction

Successful family behavior change involves learning techniques to promote better communication skills, boundary setting, effective emotional expression, enforcing limits, and more. 

Family Restructuring

Family restructuring is the last element because it is the most difficult. It mainly takes time and participation from each family member. The basic goal of family restructuring is to shift the family’s unhealthy foundational aspects into a positive system. This process commonly involves altering family rules, beliefs, and premises.

For example, some families do not promote an environment where members can feel comfortable expressing themselves. A family therapist will target these types of unhealthy premises and help restructure them into healthy family habits. 

Addiction and the Whole Family

Family therapy for addiction is best described as a form of education. Addiction does not only affect the person struggling with substances. Depending on the particular circumstance, it may be a family problem. Other than helping the person struggling with addiction quit substances, family therapy covers issues with the whole family, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Abuse
  • Family conflict
  • Parenting skills
  • Unemployment

The following section takes a look at how addiction can impact different aspects of a family. 

Partners of Addicts 

Addiction can take a significant toll on a partner or spousal relationships. When one partner in a relationship develops a substance use disorder, their personality may change drastically. You may find they are secretive, irritable, and sometimes even violent. Aside from being frustrating and dangerous, this can feel like an impossible task to deal with. 

Addiction is not a choice; therefore, people generally cannot choose to stop using substances. Partners in relationships often beg and plead for their significant other to stop using, but it does not help. Begging and pleading may eventuate further problems. 

Children of Addicts

Children may be affected most by addiction. Research shows one in five children grows up with a parent struggling with addiction. Growing up with a parent who abuses substances may be detrimental for a child. Many times these children grow up to eventually abuse alcohol or drugs and develop mental or emotional issues.

Children do not have to understand what is happening for them to be affected. The external behavior of addicts is enough to impact children and even toddlers negatively. Negative parental behaviors may lead children to violent or aggressive behavior, self-blame, or extreme guilt for their parent’s addiction. 

Parents of Addicts 

Parents often take on a police-style role if their children start using substances. This can make it even more challenging to deal with the problem that is pushing them toward addiction. Teenage addiction is common since peer pressure is typical in this age range. When adolescents start using drugs or drinking, you may notice a change in their mood or school habits. 

Family Roles in Addiction

Addiction and the FamilyPeople often take on dysfunctional roles when dealing with their sibling or child with a substance use disorder. These roles are common in many situations since they are natural methods of coping. Below are several roles that family members may take on when dealing with addiction in the family. 

The Hero/Savior

The Hero is a family member that overachieves in order to avoid feeling the shame of their family member’s illness. They may feel empty or helpless, so they try to excel and not let the family down. At times they may enable their troubled family member by covering for them. An individual playing the hero or savior role is usually in denial about how severe their troubled family member’s addiction is.  

The Scapegoat

Unfortunately, when families deal with substance abuse, they sometimes shift the blame onto a particular family member. This person takes on the Scapegoat role. The Scapegoat sometimes creates problems to distract their family from the real concerns at hand.  

The Lost Child 

The Lost Child bottles up emotions and tries to avoid conflict at all costs. This person tends to hide from the devastation caused by the addicted individual. The lost child generally suffers from the inside, a repercussion of hiding their emotions and hiding out physically.  

The Enabler/Rescuer

The Enabler typically excuses the behavior of the person struggling with addiction. By not holding the person accountable for their actions, they enable them to continue their path of addiction. The enabler/rescuer often wants the best for the addicted individual, but they do not understand the effect of their actions.   

Enabling behavior is incredibly dangerous in this circumstance, as it does not allow the family member to recover from addiction. 

The Mascot

The Mascot uses humor as an unhealthy coping mechanism. They often make jokes about the addict to deflect the pain and reality of their situation. 

Benefits of Family Therapy

Family therapy for addiction is a complex subject. Over several decades, research continuously demonstrates the benefits family therapy can have on an individual’s recovery from addiction. A few of those benefits include:

  • Improved family dynamics: Treating the whole family, opposed to just one individual, may make all the difference. Unhealthy family patterns and behaviors contribute to substance abuse. To have the best outcome with addiction recovery, family therapy works best. 
  • Openness to thoughts and feelings: Addiction within a family environment causes damage to each relationship involved. Therapy teaches each family member to express their emotions and concerns healthily and productively. 
  • Boundary setting: When dealing with a loved one’s addiction, it is difficult to set boundaries. Setting boundaries is necessary for family recovery and may help the addicted family member seek treatment.
  • Understanding addiction and its effects: Family therapists provide more than just therapeutic insight. Some aspects of family therapy for addiction are educational. To understand an addict’s behavior, therapists provide education on addiction.
  • Self-care: Family therapy helps take care of more than just the struggling individual. Addiction is a family disease, and each family member must remember to take care of themself.
  • Rebuilding trust: The process of recovery is long. Family therapy utilizes techniques designed to develop trust-based on communication and honesty. 
  • Communication: In a family environment involving substance abuse, communication is often lacking. Family therapy sessions will encourage each family member to invest the time in becoming an effective communicator.

Family therapy for addiction can bring people closer together while strengthening each bond and relationship within the family. 

Get Help at Chapel Hill Detox

Family therapy helps to build supportive behaviors while addressing enabling behaviors. Recovery is a lifelong process, and family support is a significant factor in maintaining and sustaining sobriety. Chapel Hill Detox offers several programs, including family therapy, to help you take back control of your life. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, please contact us today.