The Role of the Family in Addiction Recovery
If you have witnessed a loved one suffer at the hands of a life-threatening addiction, you likely understand that the disease of addiction has the power to affect everyone that plays an important role in the life of the addict. Interpersonal relationships begin to suffer immensely under the overwhelming chaos and dysfunction that tends to go hand-in-hand with active addiction. Friendships become harshly compromised or entirely abandoned, classmates or coworkers must either pick up the slack or deal with a fair amount of unwarranted drama, and families are all but torn to pieces. When one individual within the family unit struggles with a substance dependency disorder, the entire family begins to change any pre-existing patterns of healthy functioning in order to adapt.
This same idea translates to the recovery process – when one member of the family enters into recovery, the family dynamics will need to undergo a significant change. When active addiction persists for a prolonged period of time, the family unit will typically become accustomed to living amidst the disease – even accommodating it. High-tension, disorder and hostility will become the anticipated norm. Every member of the family will (however unwittingly) adjust and modify their behaviors and routines in order to make room for the unpredictable madness that is addiction. When the addicted family member enters into recovery and begins living a life of sobriety, it is not uncommon for the family to be thrown completely off. In many cases, it will be crucial that each member of the family seeks outside help on his or her own. Returning to a state of healthy functioning from a state of extreme dysfunction and chaos can be quite difficult, and supplemental guidance and support can prove to be tremendously beneficial.
Living with a recovering individual requires a certain level of commitment. Below, we have listed several ways in which the family members of the recovering addict or alcoholic can help their loved one – and themselves.
Inform yourself. Understand that recovery is a process, not a “cure.” It is important to keep in mind that addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain disease – there is no quick fix, and there is certainly no cure. Because addiction is such a wholly devastating disease, expecting that things will “return to normal” soon after your loved one completes treatment is unrealistic. In many cases, the disease of addiction will cause immense financial wreckage, interpersonal problems, health issues and unemployment. Picking up the pieces can be strenuous and time-consuming. Because there is such great potential for ongoing hardships, the best thing you can do is inform yourself and remain supportive.
Stay supportive. It is imperative that, when a loved one returns from inpatient treatment, the entire family work together to implement a healthy lifestyle change. Those in early recovery may be triggered by presence of alcohol and drugs with-in the home. If family members are unwilling or unable to cease the use of chemical substances, a sober living home or halfway house may prove to be a better option. It is also important to bear in mind that early recovery can be a time of immense loneliness, seeing as so many bridges were burned over the course of active addiction. The best way to support a newly sober loved one is by lending an open and understanding ear. No judgment, no criticism, no advice; just compassionate and sympathetic encouragement.
Find additional support for yourself. You will inevitably find it hard to support your loved one if you do not first take care of your own emotional, mental and spiritual needs. Living with an addict does quite a number on the psyche, and it is unrealistic to assume that the damage caused will repair itself simply because the household is free of active addiction. When dealing with addiction, it is natural to want to find someone or something to blame – oftentimes, we blame ourselves, at least in part. Remember that you are only in control of your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors – you do not have the ability to change anyone else, for the worse or for the better. Take time and space for yourself and for your own healing. Look into joining support groups such as Al-Anon, and find yourself a professional therapist who will help you work through your resentments in a healthy and effective way.