Witnessing someone you love battle a life-threatening and wholly devastating addiction is one of the most painful and trying experiences you may ever undergo. Watching someone you deeply care for consistently choose chemical substances over his relationships, career, and personal wellbeing is not only heartbreaking – it can be baffling, frustrating, and emotionally exhausting. People may encourage you to ‘set boundaries’ and cease all financial support, but cutting out a struggling loved one may seem cruel – what if your actions push him away for good? What if he gets so angry that he leaves, and winds up homeless and alone, living on the streets and begging for change? There is a very fine line between enabling and helping, and without professional assistance it is almost impossible to draw that line successfully. In many cases, family members opt to ignore the issue of treatment altogether, for fear of pushing their loved one away during a confrontation or intervention.
The Benefits of an Intervention
It is important to understand that attempting to help a loved one who is struggling with an addiction can be quite delicate, and it is always best to involve a licensed and experienced specialist. Even if you firmly grasp the idea that approaching a loved one about addiction must be a gentle and supportive process, it is always safer to include someone with extensive experience to help guide and assist you. It is equally as important to understand that the vast majority of patients end up seeking treatment directly because of positive family involvement and intervention. During a professionally facilitated intervention, boundaries will be clearly set. The facilitator will orchestrate the confrontation, making sure that emotions are expressed effectively, and the addict himself does not feel as if his loved ones are ganging up on him or being overly harsh or accusatory. A firm ultimatum will be laid out – usually, something involving the mandatory attendance of inpatient treatment.
In most cases, it will look something like this:
“We would like to give you the opportunity to attend a 90-day inpatient treatment program. We have the details all smoothed out – all you need to do is agree to give it a shot. If you choose not to attend, we will discontinue supporting you financially. We will no longer help you with car payments, your cell phone will be shut off, and you will not be welcome to live in our house – you will need to find somewhere else to stay.” Of course, this specific example features a young, male addict, and the boundaries set in this example will certainly not be applicable to every case. That is why involving a licensed interventionist (who will help you determine the best course of action to take) is highly necessary.
Family Involvement in Addiction
If clear boundaries are not set and maintained, your addicted loved one may go on using or drinking for years simply because he knows he will always have you to fall back on. If he finds himself in a precarious situation, he knows that you will come to save the day as soon as he calls. If he needs a place to crash or some money for groceries, he knows that you will never turn him away or let him go hungry. You may feel as if you are helping him out, but in reality, you are unintentionally exacerbating his self-destruction.
In most cases, family involvement in active addiction does far more harm than good – when the family attempts to solve the problem without first seeking outside help. Aside from staging an intervention, which we previously discussed, there are a few ways in which you can help. Because each family is different, the best way to approach family involvement will differ from case-to-case. If there are counselors in your area who are experienced in assisting the families of addicts and alcoholics, it may be a wise idea to reach out to them and ask for further direction. Education is a very valuable tool, and learning as much about the disease of addiction as you can will inevitably benefit you in the long run. Finally, attending a support group designed for the loved ones of addicts and alcoholics (such as Al-Anon), can be immensely beneficial. Hearing the experiences of others – listening to their failures and successes – will help you to gain valuable insight while realizing that you are far from alone.
Family Involvement in Recovery
Once your loved one enters into treatment, your role will change quite drastically. You will still need to set and maintain certain boundaries in order to protect your own mental and emotional wellbeing, but your involvement will certainly change. Inpatient treatment programs will typically encourage some degree of family involvement, perhaps orchestrating therapeutic conference calls or family therapy sessions once every couple of weeks. We at Next Chapter prioritize family involvement – we believe that addiction is a family disease, and that all family members must simultaneously heal before long-term recovery can be achieved. While many inpatient programs offer regular family therapy, we also offer parents and loved ones their own comprehensive and individual therapeutic care. We schedule regular, weekly phone calls with the family members of our patients, keeping them informed on the progress their loved one is making while working with them to plan and enhance their own recovery.
It is absolutely crucial that the family members of addicted individuals learn to identify and alter negative behavioral patterns, and work through long-standing dysfunctions. Well-meaning friends and family members often get trapped in a negative pattern of codependency. On the other hand, they may become so accustomed to ignoring the issues and pretending as if nothing is wrong that they feel uncomfortable addressing the topic of recovery. Learning to communicate in a healthy and effective way is crucial, and doing so often takes a bit of professional instruction. Actively seeking out ongoing support and education is essential, because the emotional, mental, and spiritual consequences of active addiction take quite a long time to thoroughly heal.
Just as it may be exceedingly difficult for the addict to accept that he or she has a problem with drugs or alcohol, it can be difficult for the family of the addict to take an honest look at their role in the exacerbation of the disease. However, if long-term recovery is to be achieved, the family must heal comprehensively.
For more information on our program of recovery and on the crucial role the family plays in our program, please feel free to contact us today.