The Family Disease

Addiction is a family disease. When one person in a family has an addiction to substances, the whole family feels its effects. This ripple effect can cause miscommunication, trauma, and strained relationships. In order to avoid these effects, it’s important to find a family therapy program when searching for a Los Angeles drug and alcohol rehab center.

Understanding the Family System

family therapy for addiction treatment

Generally speaking, the family is a system. We all start life with a family, whether its blood relatives, adopted parents, a close-knit neighborhood or a foster family.      Every member of the family, regardless of age, plays a role. 

Parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, et cetera can all contribute to this system. Thus, as a system, the family experiences highs and lows together. When one person in the family succeeds, the whole family benefits. Likewise, when one person in the family suffers, the entire system suffers.

If you have a substance use disorder, you have likely left some distrust, hurt feelings and general confusion in your wake.

What is Family Therapy?

Family therapists believe that problems exist between people not within them. Family therapy is a type of psychological counseling that helps family members improve communication and resolve conflicts. It is often short term and may include all family members or just the members who are willing or able to take part.

Individual therapy targets the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions of one person. Family therapy examines the relationships and aims to understand the experiences of all the family members. The goal is to bring transparency to all the relationships in the family and encourage repair and closeness if the members choose.

Within the framework of addiction, a family therapist will examine with the family how substance use is ingrained in the cycle of interaction within the family. The therapist can help establish new skills and coach the family members in practicing them.

The four most important parts of family therapy:

  1. Family Engagement—Enhancing family members’ involvement. Family engagement interventions usually occur during the first phase of treatment.
  2. Relational Reframing—This consists of interventions designed to move from individual ways of defining a problem and producing solutions toward understanding focused on relationships.
  3. Family Behavior Change—The goal here is to shift the behavior of the family members by teaching new skills and encouraging individual changes in behavior.
  4. Family Restructuring—the goal is to change the way the family system is governed; shift basic beliefs and family rules.

Why Family Therapy?

Treatment programs for those who have a substance use disorder (SUD) have better results if the individual’s family or close associates are involved in the therapy process. If the family does not get involved in educating themselves about substance abuse and the effect it has on the workings of the family, it might actually thwart the individual’s recovery if family members continue their enabling and dysfunctional behaviors.

According to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), “Family therapy can help families become aware of their own needs and aid in the goal of keeping substance abuse from moving from one generation to another.” 

Family therapy helps you improve distressed relationships with your partner, children, and other family members. Your individual treatment plan will depend on your family’s circumstances. You may want to discuss issues such as marital problems, financial problems, issues between parents and children or the effect of substance misuse or mental illness on the whole family. During therapy you will:

  • Analyze your family’s ability to solve problems and express feelings in a productive manner.
  • Investigate family roles, rules, and behavior patterns to pinpoint the issues that contribute to conflict, and ways to work through these concerns.
  • Recognize your family’s strengths and weaknesses.

Addiction’s Effect On the Family 

It’s a common misconception that addiction only affects the person using addictive substances. In reality, addiction affects everyone close to that individual. These effects can also change depending on who in the family has the addiction.

SAMHSA’s Treatment Improvement Protocol #39 recognizes how substance abuse may affect these family structures:

  • A patient who lives alone or with a partner—Both partners need help. If one is substance dependent and the other is not, there is the issue of codependence.
  • Patients who live with a spouse or partner and minor children—Available data shows that a parent’s SUD often has a damaging effect on children. The spouse is likely to assume all the parenting duties to protect the children from the parent abusing substances. Naturally, it is worse if both parents have an SUD.
  • A patient who is part of a blended family—Substance abuse can be an obstruction to a step-family’s stability and integration.
  • An older patient with grown children—Supplemental family resources may be necessary to treat an older adult’s substance use disorder. There may also be issues of elder abuse.
  • An adolescent substance abuser living with his or her family of origin—The sibling who is using substances may monopolize the parents’ attention while the needs and concerns of the non-using siblings go ignored. If there is a parent who also abuses substances, it can initiate a combination of physical and emotional problems that can be very dangerous.

For example, if a father struggles with addiction, he may no longer be able to provide for his family and may neglect his children. This can cause financial strain for the family and lead to poor familial relationships down the road. If a child struggles with addiction, the parents may not understand how to handle it. The adolescent may begin failing in school, which can anger the parents and lead to fighting.

Without family therapy, loved ones may fail to understand and support each other. When it comes to addiction, support is essential for lasting recovery. A family therapist will help moderate productive conversations about addiction and the family’s feelings.

Treatment of Adolescents

Approaches to treating adolescent substance users focus on the need to include the family, including parents, siblings and sometimes peers. Keeping the family involved can be particularly important because he is probably living with one or both parents and being under the parents’ controls, rules, and supports. 

The family-based approach generally includes a wide array of issues along with the substance use disorder. These could include family conflict and communication, co-occurring behavior, mental health and learning disorders, and problems with attendance at work or school

Research has shown that family-based treatment is highly effective. Other studies propound that it is superior to other individual and group treatment therapies. Although family therapy is typically offered in an outpatient setting, family treatment has been shown to be successful in more controlled settings like residential and intensive outpatient treatment.

There are several types of family-based therapy shown to be useful in treating adolescent substance use:

  • Brief Strategic Family Therapy—A family systems approach. One member’s problems are seen to come from unhealthy family interactions.
  • Family Behavior Therapy—Has shown positive results for adults and adolescents. This combines behavioral contracting (in which an agreement is reached between counselor and client regarding the client’s behavior) and contingency management (rewards earned for positive behavior). This addresses substance use and other behavioral issues. The adolescent and the parent take part in treatment planning.
  • Functional Family Therapy—Combines the family system approach with behavioral methods to improve communication, conflict resolution, and parenting skills.
  • Multidimensional Family Therapy—This is an inclusive family and community-based treatment for adolescents with a substance disorder and others who are at high risk for behavior problems, conduct disorder, and delinquency.

Benefits of Family Therapy

During our Los Angeles addiction treatment programs, family therapy is one of the cornerstones of lasting recovery. After leaving a treatment facility, an individual’s loved ones are all they have to keep them accountable. Without this support system, a person is much more susceptible to relapse.

Family therapy opens the lines of communications that may have closed due to addiction. The family therapist mediates conversations, ensuring they stay productive. It can be difficult for families to discuss things objectively without firing up emotions. Family therapy ensures that everyone feels safe when sharing their thoughts and feelings. Therefore, loved ones can work through problems and communication barriers together without worrying about hurting each other’s feelings.

Additionally, a therapist can identify unhealthy relationships within a family. This includes codependent relationships. In family therapy, individuals will learn to recognize these unhealthy behaviors and develop methods for combating them. As a whole, family therapy helps loved ones stay connected and secure during recovery.

Family therapy doesn’t systematically solve conflicts and make a disagreeable situation go away, but it can help improve the understanding between you and your family members. It provides skills to cope with demanding situations more effectively and may also help the family achieve a feeling of closeness that had been missing.

Begin Recovery With LA Detox

LA Detox supports families in their journeys toward lasting recovery. Along with family therapy, addiction therapy programs at our Los Angeles treatment center include:

To begin down the road to recovery with your family, call us today!