When a person is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, everyone in the family is affected. If your loved one is trapped in a cycle of substance abuse and addiction, you may feel helpless; you might even feel angry at your family member.
These feelings are normal. Addiction is often called a “family disease.” Fortunately, involving family in addiction recovery can have a major positive impact on their loved one. There are several ways you can help, which include attending family support groups, seeking social support and understanding relapse prevention.
Attending family therapy with your recovering family member can help them in many ways. Research shows that treatment programs that get the family involved experience better success rates than other programs that don’t encourage family involvement.1 Addiction can tear families apart and cause major rifts in relationships, but family therapy strengthens communication between family members and helps to repair the damage and restore healthy functioning in the family unit.
Therapy also helps family members gain a better understanding of addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. This insight can help inform family members as they work to figure out how to best support their recovering loved one.
A good social support system is essential during the early stages of recovery. A network of friends and loved ones helps to minimize the feelings of isolation and frustration that are not uncommon during this challenging period.
You can be an important part of your recovering loved one’s social support system. Try to maintain open communication with your family member; if your relationship has been strained by the effects of addiction, rely on the communication techniques you practiced in family therapy to defuse some of the tension and encourage open, honest dialogue. Spend time with your family member doing activities that support their recovery and keep them busy.
It’s important to keep your expectations in check regarding your loved one’s recovery. Addiction is a chronic condition, and there’s a strong possibility that they may experience a relapse along the way. The rate of relapse for addiction ranges from 40 to 60 percent.2
A relapse doesn’t mean that your loved one has failed in some way or will never be able to overcome addiction. It just means that they need more time to reinforce their coping skills and to learn how to handle triggers and urges. You can help your family member head off a potential relapse by being aware of the warning signs, which include:
- They stop going to their 12-step meetings or support group.
- They start spending time with people who they previously drank or used with.
- They’re struggling with stress or painful emotions that might lead them to self-medicate.
- They react in a defensive way if you bring up any changes in their attitude or behavior.
Family members can play an influential role in their loved one’s recovery. The early stages of addiction recovery can be challenging, but you can help your family member get through the toughest days with your love and support.