06 Jul Working with Families While Patients are in Treatment
by April Pittman, M.S., M.S., B.S., Counselor at COPAC
Addiction impacts the entire family system. The addict typically experiences feelings of despair, hopelessness, guilt, shame, loneliness and worthlessness. The family also experiences similar feelings. Families may have increased anxiety, loss of their own identity, diminished work functioning, isolation, and an overall decrease in life satisfaction. The first step in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program is admitting powerlessness to the mood altering substance. For families, the first step is admitting powerlessness to the addict and their addiction. Addicts can rely on their support system in AA to work through the steps and to deal with some of their issues. Family members can develop similar support by becoming involved in Al-Anon. Al-Anon is a 12 step program for families that have been affected by addiction. Developing support and addiction education can be a crucial part of the treatment process for families.
Al-Anon teaches families about enabling and detaching. Most people enable the addict out of love without recognizing that the enabling behaviors help keep the addict sick. Think about when you have experienced an easy way out of something difficult in life. Did you take it? Most of us do. When we enable, we allow the addict to take the easy way out. This helps continue the vicious cycle of manipulation and addiction.
When a family learns about enabling and how to practice tough love, the dynamics change in the relationship between the family and the addict. The addict then can become more responsible and independent. Addicts need bottom lines and boundaries. When families set boundaries and stick to them, they become the greatest ally in the treatment process. When someone is in early recovery, they struggle with making clear, well planned decisions. They need guidance from professionals. When the professionals are supported by the family, the addict is more likely to follow recommendations.
The relationship between treatment professionals and families is vital. Communication is the key. We learn a lot about the addict from reports from the family. This can help paint a clearer picture of how the addict was really doing prior to treatment. Their self reports can be tainted with denial, blame, and rationalizations. We depend on families for this information and ongoing information as the addict progresses in treatment. We are here as an outlet of support for families with the common goal of helping addicts embrace recovery.