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How Substance Abuse Affects Families

Going through weeks, months or years of drug or alcohol abuse takes a huge toll on the person suffering from a substance abuse disorder. They need support and care and they need to give and accept forgiveness from those they love — but how can the people closest to an individual struggling with addiction cope with this new and distressing family dynamic? Relationships change, often for the worse, when addiction steps into play. The person you know and love may seem like a completely different individual when under the influence of addiction, and the result is instability in the family unit. Families dealing with addiction aren’t just dealing with psychological and emotional turbulence.

Being placed under the constant stress of trying to process and understand new and destructive behavior may result in strains on physical health, too, for children and adults alike. To get a good understanding of how addiction affects the family unit, we have to examine the effects on each part of the family structure and how family members may respond to the substance abuser as well as each other. Family politics are always complicated, but addiction increases the complexity of relationships far beyond what most people know how to deal with.

Addiction and the Family Unit

If your family is going through the changes brought on by addiction, you may see some unfamiliar and confusing dynamics begin to arise. Though they may not all arise at the same time, most families undergo six marked changes in the case of a family member struggling with addiction:

1. Parental Denial

Parents, as role models, tend to deny for as long as possible they or a family member have a substance abuse problem. If they themselves are the ones abusing drugs or alcohol, the parent may cling to the idea that “it’s not that bad” or their actions won’t do that much harm to their children and other family members. In the case of a son or daughter abusing drugs, a parent may feel this couldn’t possibly be true — after all, substance abuse can only be the result of bad parenting, right? It’s important for parents to remember this isn’t the case, and denying the existence of an addiction problem will only allow the problem to persist.

2. Parental Inconsistency

This manifests as a lack of structure in the family, leading to erratic rule-setting and enforcement, and often leads children to act out as an attempt to define unclear boundaries. In children and young adults, a lack of consistent reaction and consequences to behaviors results in confusion that may delay or unravel emotional development in the long run. Parental inconsistency is equally damaging when the parent is the substance abuser as when the son or daughter is the one struggling. Either way, the child is worse off for not receiving the behavioral scaffolding they need to grow as an individual.

3. Negativism

At some point, the stress of tip-toeing around addiction — as so many families do — catches up, and the atmosphere surrounding family dealings takes up an unmistakable air of negativity. The tide will turn, and mounting feelings of distrust will result in constant criticism, complaint, and other expressions of negativity, while any positive occurrences may get swept under the rug. For kids, this often means the only way to get attention is to initiate crisis, which may lead to a downward spiral of intentionally inflammatory behavior.

4. Misdirection of Anger

With all these feelings flying, it can be extremely difficult for family members to properly process their negative emotions. The lack of emotional tools available may result in children or parents funneling their resentment and anger into inappropriate channels such as further substance abuse or other harmful behaviors.

5. Unrealistic Expectations

When parents are addicted to substances, it often becomes the case that expectations are skewed either positively or negatively — but in either case, don’t bear much resemblance to reality. Parents of an individual struggling with addiction may create a hopeless situation for their son or daughter by dropping the bar for achievement through the floor, and thereby eliminating the drive and support necessary for success. On the other hand, children whose parents struggle with addiction may choose to overcompensate in school, sports or another pursuit due to the feeling that nothing will ever be good enough. It’s important to remember addiction is one aspect of reality, but shouldn’t overhaul all expectations going forward.

6. Self-Medication

All the dynamics listed above can prove overwhelming to any family, even in the best of circumstances. An unfortunate fact is when people deal with extended periods of stress, depression and anxiety may arise as a natural consequence. Sadly, many individuals choose to treat this natural symptom by unnatural means — often more drugs or alcohol. What began as an isolated case of substance abuse in a family may spread more quickly than most would like to admit. In fact, people whose parents struggle with addiction are 3-4 times more likely to deal with addiction themselves. That’s why it’s so vital to enlist the help of a substance abuse and addiction expert to help get your family back on track once addiction starts rearing its head.

How Families Can Recover Together

As complex as addiction is for one person, things get even murkier when the family unit is involved. Though many families have basic tools for coming together and working things out on a normal basis, most have no clue how to proceed when addiction is in play. This is primarily because addiction and its subsequent behavior patterns completely defy rationality. Most people approach family matters with the mind that family is the highest rung on the priority ladder, but addiction turns that notion on its head. Chemical dependency happens when the brain’s reward circuitry is overloaded multiple times by drugs or alcohol. These substances cause so much activity in the areas of the brain that process rewards that normal and necessary stimuli — such as eating, drinking, sleeping, and socializing — take a back seat to drug abuse when it comes to prioritizing.

For this reason, it’s incredibly difficult to get through to a family member who is addicted. They’ve simply been rewired by drugs or alcohol to respond minimally or not at all to things they used to view as high-priority — family relationships included. That’s why families with a drug- or alcohol-dependent member should really consider enlisting the services of a trained intervention specialist to help guide them through the intensity of an intervention. About 10 percent of Americans have recovered from addiction, and recovery has the best chance of success when the family is involved and supportive from the get-go. So follow these basic steps to intervention for your family member:

1. Gather Friends and Family

Before you do anything, it’s necessary to gather everyone of importance in the addict’s life. This is usually family and a few close friends. Work with the group to form a plan of action: who will speak in what order and what they will say. Try to envision how the person will react, and discuss how you will take those reactions in stride for a productive intervention.

2. Consult a Mental Health Professional

Once you’ve formed your taskforce and have a good idea of what you’d like to say and achieve, take your plan to a licensed therapist or intervention specialist. They will be able to help you eliminate ineffective aspects and bulk up the effective parts of your strategy, as well as rehearse the intervention beforehand to work out any kinks.

3. Choose an Appropriate Location

It’s vitally important you pick a location where the person will feel safe. In many cases, families choose their own home or the home of someone extremely close to the person. Interventions don’t work if you can’t make the person feel safe, so their comfort and security are of the utmost importance when choosing a place to hold yours.

4. Ask the Person to Confirm There’s a Problem

The whole point of an intervention is to get the subject to admit there’s a problem with their continued substance abuse. The mistake many groups make is trying to force accusations onto the person they’re trying to help. Even if the group is right about what they’re saying, the goal is to work with the person the intervention is aimed at. You don’t want to back them into a corner and force a confession. Instead, you want to show them admitting to their problem is beneficial to the family as a whole, including themselves.

5. Present Meaningful Consequences

Denial is a powerful and integral aspect of addiction. That means individuals will continue their destructive behavior even in spite of the natural consequences. Interventions are meant to jolt the person out of their addictive fog and back into rationality. You can do this by coming up with a list of fair and significant consequences you and the group will implement if the person continues on their current path of substance abuse. For example, a partner or spouse might make it known if the substance abuse continues, the person will forfeit their right to visitation or custody of their child.

6. Offer Immediate Treatment

The end goal of an intervention is to get the person to accept treatment. Even if they admit to their addiction, they may not want to go to rehab, so having a plan in hand to present can greatly boost your chances of getting through to your family member. Contact a reputable drug and alcohol rehab center and get the specifics of their drug and alcohol rehab program so you can answer all the questions your loved one has without giving them the time to reconsider and back out of the treatment they need.

7. End on a Positive Note

It may be difficult to retain positivity when you’re in the process of an intervention, but it’s still a very important aspect of fostering successful recovery. Take the time to verbally reinforce the group’s support of the addicted person, and make sure they really understand how proud you are they’re making hard decisions and taking tough steps that will eventually lead to a happy and healthy family life.

Families Participating in Treatment

A single look at most substance abuse counseling programs will tell you there’s one thing missing from the equation for success: family involvement. The Ranch PA understands removing an individual from their family for an extended period of time is more likely to hurt than help the recovery process, so the substance abuse treatment program embraces the participation of families in the individual’s treatment through a number of integrated program features.

Updates and Interaction

It’s stressful on everyone to be deprived of contact from family members, so clients in treatment at The Ranch PA have the option to have regular updates on therapy progress sent directly to their family. When the family knows about progress and changes in treatment, it makes it easier to grow and adjust with the process so everyone’s on the same page of recovery. The program even encourages family interaction through regular phone calls, on-site visits, and special events.

Family Day

Once per month, The Ranch PA invites the families of clients to come see what treatment is all about. Aside from the opportunity to learn more about the healthy habits and coping strategies their loved one is learning, Family Day gives everyone the chance to associate recovery with family and fun — helping to ease the transition back into day-to-day life after the family member completes treatment.

Family Counseling

Just as therapy is necessary for the addicted individual to unpack and understand their substance abuse baggage, it’s essential for families in order to understand the changes in their lives and how to move forward in a healthy and constructive manner. By bringing families to their loved ones in treatment, The Ranch PA fosters a uniquely inclusive environment where individuals can recover with the ongoing support of their families. Family therapy encourages each member of the unit to speak up about concerns they might not otherwise feel safe or properly equipped to voice. Though it isn’t without its share of painful moments and tension, laying everything out on the table with the guidance of a clinical professional is the surest way forward for a family torn apart by drug abuse and addiction.

Recovering Together

Addiction is a disease that often goes hand in hand with isolation. Withdrawing from friends and family is a defense mechanism that allows denial to remain intact, and for the individual to maintain the delusion that what they’re doing to themselves and others isn’t too dire of a situation. However, isolation is also one of the biggest predictors of failure in recovery. That’s why most aftercare programs provide a focus on creating support networks for life after rehab. For many individuals, family can prove to be one of the most invaluable sources of support available, but only if the family is willing to play an active role in the person’s recovery. That’s why it’s vital to enroll in a program that values the input and participation of family members in a person’s recovery. At The Ranch PA, our ultimate goal is to help you and your family find your way to recovery together, through family therapy and activities that encourage family bonding and continued education. If you’re ready to take the next steps to beating your addiction, it’s time to make the call. Compassionate intake specialists are ready to help guide you through the first days of recovery, and recovery professionals will be with you every step of the way. Don’t wait any longer to begin the life you deserve — contact The Ranch PA today.

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