Addiction and the family and how addiction affects families is a difficult subject to address during addiction treatment.
Family involvement can vary dramatically among individuals who suffer from substance use disorders. In some cases, family support is very strong. In others, family addiction issues can tear families apart. Addiction affects on family can be devastating.
And, sometimes, family roles and family history may be a contributing factor to the addiction problem in the first place. Various forms of physical or emotional abuse can lead to mental health problems that a person may self-treat with drug abuse, leading to drug addiction.
When family members are aware of what type of substance abuse treatment works best, such as medication assisted treatment for opioid addiction, the patient has an excellent chance of getting into successful addiction recovery. Family members help the patient get in to see a treatment provider, and within a short time, their life is back on track.
However, sometimes the family dynamics are different, and there may not be as much clarity over what type of individual therapy will work for specific addicted individuals. Additionally, the effects of addiction on family and friends can distort the perspective of what must be done in order to help a loved one get past active addiction.
Parents of addicts can be misguided by support groups that preach tough love.
There are groups for families of addicts. For example, there is Al-Anon, and Nar-Anon. These groups are free to the public and provide a forum for discussion among family members and loved ones of people with addictions.
These support groups for spouses of addicts and other family members and loved ones are places where people can vent about the troubles they have had with their addicted loved ones. Sometimes, they can be places where people find solutions to how to get help for a spouse, or adult children with a substance abuse disorder.
Whether the problem is gambling addiction, alcohol addiction, opioid addiction, or stimulant addiction, substance abusers can make life difficult for their families. Addictive behavior can put a serious strain on the family in many ways.
Families may face financial difficulties, or domestic violence issues relating to their loved one’s substance abuse problems. In relationships, there are often codependency issues as well, which may prolong active addiction with enabling behaviors.
For example, a codependent spouse may want substance misuse in the house to stop, but they are afraid of causing changes that might end the relationship. Unfortunately, some relationships do not survive addiction recovery, but it is of the utmost importance that the person suffering from active addiction get help.
The impact of addiction on family can be addressed with effective family therapy.
Family addiction counseling is a good idea, when family members are supportive. The best rehab programs incorporate a family program to ensure that all family members who are supportive know the best ways in which they can help.
It is important for family members to approach addiction as a health problem rather than a moral problem. A person in active addiction exhibits behaviors caused by their addiction which are difficult to get under control.
Mental illness is often treated as something that a person can simply get under control with will-power and self-control. During family therapy, the therapist has an excellent opportunity to make it clear that a person is an addict because they have a mental health condition, which, in many cases, can be medically treated.
When an addict has a child, social workers may recommend that the child be placed with other family until the person is ready to get help. Substance abuse issues, such as heroin or fentanyl addiction, can be treated quickly, so that the opioid addict will be ready within a short time to start caring for their children again.
Family sessions with a therapist are excellent to bring the family together and get past the issues of substance addiction. Family members are able to reconnect and relearn how to work together as a loving family again.
How does addiction affect the family when their loved one attends rehab?
In my podcast interview with a psychologist from American Addiction Centers, we discuss the importance of family involvement in many addiction treatment cases. As we noted during the interview, every situation is different, so patients in treatment must be evaluated as unique individuals, each with very different family situations.
In another interview, my guest emphasized the importance of recognizing that family members do not necessarily have to be people who are genetically related. A person may make new connections with friends in recovery who can become their new family.
For more great interviews from the best addiction recovery podcast, please listen to The Rehab podcast on the Mental Health News Radio Network. If you find the episodes helpful, please leave a five-star review and please subscribe.
A family of people who are supportive of addiction recovery can be a better family than the family a person was born into. Being surrounded by loving support, and not harsh judgement, can make all the difference in the world.
Of course, while a recovery network of support from a family of new friends is usually a positive force, it can occasionally be negative as well. Many people who go through the detox/rehab recovery process find themselves in sober living facilities where housemates may not always be good influences.
It is important to navigate life very carefully in early recovery. If you are just getting started on the path towards long-term sobriety, it is important to be honest with yourself about who in your life is a good influence and who may be a bad influence. Choosing to surround yourself with people who truly want you to succeed is very important.
Why are family members so far away and how do addiction effects on family drive families apart?
In my experience working with people with substance use disorders, family members tend to live in far away places. To some extent, this may be related to where I live and work, in South Florida.
Our region has been described as the rehab capital of the world. This title is not intended to be complimentary. The many rehabs found in South Florida are often small storefronts in strip malls, filled with people who have cycled through the rehab system multiple times.
In some cases, the rehab client has travelled to Florida because they were promised by a particular rehab facility that they could recover in sunny Florida, sitting on a beach, sipping a non-alcoholic beverage, going to the gym, watching cable TV, and more. Family members most likely saw Florida rehab as an opportunity to have their loved one taken care of while they had some breathing room, away from the devastating effects that addiction has on the family.
Family members believed at first that their loved one was going to Florida to be in a safe place, free of drugs and surrounded by therapy and recovery. Unfortunately, they often got caught up in corrupt rehab schemes that did not at all have their safety or recovery in mind.
So, why do families not do something to get their addicted family member back home again? Reasons are complex and different for different families. Often, parents of adult children are still working at jobs or running a business, and do not have the time or resources to run around the country chasing after their child who is struggling to stay in recovery.
Also, after multiple relapses, the prospect of long-term recovery may seem hopeless. Imagine how parents, spouses, and siblings feel when they find out their loved one is back in rehab again after another relapse.
Often, they are not impressed at this point with another round of restarting recovery. It seems inevitable that the cycle will continue to repeat itself, with another relapse just around the corner.
Is there hope for a chronically relapsing family member?
How many relapses mean that a person is hopeless and simply cannot recover? Is there a number or threshold, past which family members might as well give up hope completely?
Incredibly, there is always hope for a long-lasting recovery and long-lasting sobriety. Even if a person has relapsed 20, 30, 40, or even 50 times, even with multiple overdoses, trips to jail, and other frightening incidents, there is still hope. Many people have settled into long-term recovery after many, many relapses.
Harm reduction techniques are ideal for keeping addicted family members safe during times when they are not yet ready to accept recovery. As long as an addicted person is alive, there is still hope for recovery. And, ideally, we should also support them in maintaining their health as much as possible.
What is harm reduction? For opioid addicts, it means having naloxone in the house and available at all times. Naloxone is sold as the brand, Narcan, and is an effective opioid overdose reversal tool.
Narcan is commonly sold as a nasal spray and can be sprayed in the nose of a person who is overdosing on opioids. I have spoken to many family members who revived a loved one with Narcan, saving their life.
If there is an opioid user or opioid abuser in your home, and your doctor gives you a prescription for Narcan, make sure you fill the prescription, and then put the Narcan somewhere easy to find. Let the rest of the family know about it and how to use it.
Normally, you would want to keep prescription medications in a safe place, possibly locked up if they are drugs with abuse potential. Narcan is different. If you have an opioid abuser in your home, they are not going to abuse the Narcan.
In fact, there is no way that they can abuse Narcan. Naloxone does not get anyone high, and it cannot make other drugs work better to get people high.
Narcan simply reverses an overdose. If your family member is found unresponsive, first give the Narcan, and then call 911. You may have to give multiple doses of Narcan, because street opioids containing fentanyl analogs can be so potent, they are Narcan resistant.
What other harm reduction methods exist for families?
You should not give a drug abuser money or drugs. Harm reduction does not mean enabling your loved one’s addiction.
However, this requires further explanation, because many family members have misunderstood and misinterpreted the concept of not enabling addictive behavior.
When I say you should not give your loved one drugs, this means no street drugs. Street drugs are toxic, contaminated, unreliable, and highly dangerous substances sold by criminals. Purchasing street drugs is also illegal.
You should also never give a drug abuser prescription medication that was not prescribed to them. This is also illegal and potentially dangerous.
Yet, taking someone addicted to opioids to a Suboxone clinic or even a methadone clinic can be life-saving. While the drugs dispensed or prescribed at these facilities are opioids, they are relatively safe, and provided in the context of addiction treatment.
By offering to take a family member who is addicted to opioids to the local Suboxone clinic, you can help to get them on track and drug-free. Suboxone treatment is highly successful and is considered now to be the gold standard of care for opioid addicted people.
While giving your family member in active addiction a handful of cash is almost always a bad idea, you may still pay to support them living safely in your home, if you are able to do so without jeopardizing your own safety and the safety of your family. If your addicted family member goes out and has a relapse, should you kick them out and change the locks?
What do you think happens to a person in active addiction who is kicked out on the streets? I can tell you that in most cases, good things do not tend to happen in this situation. Do you really want your loved one in a dirty dark alley, buying or using deadly street drugs?
Addiction experts agree that keeping your addicted loved ones close and making yourself available to help them to get help when they are ready is one of the best forms of harm reduction. I have seen both situations, where the family distances themselves and where the family stays close, and the addicted family member always does better with close family support.
How does addiction affect family and friends with addictions to other substances and behaviors?
Of course, while opioids have been in the headlines for years now, they are not the only addictive substances. Alcohol addiction is another serious issue that can tear families apart.
And, in some regions, stimulant addiction, including meth or cocaine, is common. Each drug has unique characteristics that lead to unique issues for the family.
A drunk person is at risk for crashing their car, causing serious harm to others. Or, they may come home drunk, scaring their children, and causing a sense of instability in the house with their ongoing, routine alcohol intoxication.
A gambling addict tends to spend a lot of money and lose most or all of the money they spend on gambling. In extreme cases, they may spend all of their family’s savings, and even go deep into debt.
Why do some addictions respond well to medical treatment and others do not? Most likely, it is because, while addictions share many traits in common, they are also different in how they manifest, based on the substance or behavior involved.
For example, a meth addict will tend to engage in self-harming behavior, persistently using their drug and staying awake for days and weeks, neglecting their hygiene and basic self-care. Yet, the meth addict may not cause financial ruin to their families, because meth is relatively cheap and long-lasting. And, many meth addicts are able to continue working, until their addiction pushes to an extent where they exhibit symptoms of serious mental illness.
On the other hand, a cocaine addict, particularly a crack cocaine addict, uses a drug that is very short-acting, wearing off in minutes. It is also relatively expensive.
A cocaine user will quickly spend all of their money and their family’s money, and even start selling and pawning anything in the home of value. They will also have difficulty functioning in society because of a frequent need to buy and use the drug throughout the day.
The effects of addiction on family can be much worse with some addictions compared to others. When assessing how addiction affects family and friends, it is important to understand this concept.
Can the family help by moving their addicted loved one away from their drug of choice?
While generally, people in recovery tend to recommend against geographical changes, because wherever you go, your problems will follow along with you, a move to a new location can help in certain situations. If a person is unable to obtain their drug of choice easily, it may be easier to commit to recovery.
For example, a meth addict who moves with their family to a region where meth is not commonplace may get discouraged and seek help. Though, they may simply change their drug of choice to the similar effects of cocaine, which may cause more collateral damage to the family within a short time.
The same might happen with a gambling addict. You can move them away from the casino, but what happens when they discover the excitement of online sports gambling, or something similar?
When it comes to choosing a rehab, a geographical change may or may not help as well. For example, going out of town to a corrupt Florida rehab in a strip mall storefront can have tragic consequences.
Yet, going to a luxury rehab in Maine, or a Navy Seal-run rehab in California might be highly beneficial. There are the dual benefits of getting away from the drug-using environment of home, and going to a secluded place where recovery is at the center of daily life for a period of anywhere from one month to 5 or 6 months.
What is the best, next step for a family that wants to get help for an addicted family member?
It all depends on the urgency of the situation. Do you believe that your loved one is in imminent danger from their activities?
There are legal routes to have a family member placed in rehab, even if it is against their will. While this is generally not the recommended way to go, since it may alienate your addicted family member and make it harder to offer them help in the future, in some cases, it is the best option.
Otherwise, it depends on the substance or behavior that is at the center of their addiction. If it is a gambling addiction, psychological therapy with a doctor of psychology, experienced in treating gambling addiction may be the best next step.
In the case of opioid addiction, seeing a concierge Suboxone doctor may be the best option, so that the patient may get the best possible treatment and have a doctor who is available to them at all times and is willing to listen carefully, with caring, compassion, and empathy. Medication-assisted treatment is the gold standard of care for opioid dependence and addiction.
Alcohol addiction also responds well to medication-assisted treatment. There is the full abstinence route, which may require an inpatient medical detox, or there is The Sinclair Method, which uses medication to help a person reduce their alcohol intake.
Importantly, when an addicted family member goes to see a private doctor for addiction treatment, one or more close family members should go along and be involved in the initial consultation with the doctor, if possible. Having family understanding and family support behind the medical treatment greatly increases the chances of success.
When family members do not understand the mechanism and goals of treatment, they sometimes overlay their own prejudices about addiction and addiction treatment. Having family encouraging a family member to stop successful addiction treatment early is one of the most common causes of treatment failure.
The best chance for long-term success is when most, or all of the family is on board and fully supporting addiction treatment efforts. With understanding and empathy, having family support in addiction recovery is the best possible way to get past active addiction and work towards overcoming an addiction.