When Family Goes Wrong: Family Issues in Addiction and Recovery

Angry couple fighting; family issues in addiction and recovery, Castle Craig rehab

Including family in addiction treatment is almost always considered a positive thing. At Castle Craig Hospital, it is highly recommended. Support is a key part of the recovery process. Having your family and friends on the same page will help avoid relapse in the future. It is also crucial to rebuilding damaged relationships, a common problem for addicted people. However, some people have extremely troubled relationships with their family. Perhaps their partner is addicted as well, and refuses to stop. Or perhaps they have an abusive parent, which has contributed to their ongoing problems with addiction. So what family issues in addiction and recovery should we be aware of and try to avoid?

The primary goal of treatment is recovery. In rare cases, patients and their treatment team might agree that family contact would have a negative effect on recovery. In such situations, it may be wiser to decline family involvement, or postpone it until a later stage.

The Role of Family in Addiction and Recovery

Many addiction treatment centres and rehabs now offer family programmes. There are two main reasons for this. First, therapy educates family on addiction, so they can provide the right support for their loved one in recovery. Second, addiction takes a toll of everyone who has to deal with an addicted person. Ultimately, when the treatment process involves family, the rates of dropping out of treatment and relapse decrease for the patient.

Family therapy is useful in a number of ways. It helps the family to bond, which can be particularly important if their loved one has lied to and betrayed them before. It also teaches valuable skills that can help in recovery – for instance, when to recognise signs of relapse. Family members discover ways they can help to be the best support system they can be.

Many people assume that once a person goes through treatment, it’s all over and done with. This is not true. Addiction is a lifelong disease that needs to be properly attended to at all stages.

Because addiction is tough on everyone, one of the goals of family therapy is to mend any damaged relationships. Family therapy gives people the opportunity to function together as a unit again. For example, they will learn how to avoid codependency or enabling their loved one. The family and their loved one will also learn how to more effectively communicate with each other. This helps promote a healthy and lasting recovery.

Family Issues in Addiction and Recovery

However, not everyone will have family that is supportive. In fact, some people

It may be a good idea to go through treatment without your family or friends involved if their presence will do more harm than good. Some examples of when to not include family are:

  • Family members are also users
  • There is a history of emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • The patient has PTSD associated with family
  • Family is manipulating, discouraging or invalidating
  • Family is in general a trigger

At the beginning of treatment, a patient is highly vulnerable. During this time, it is important to avoid adding extra stress which includes triggers. For some people, family can be a trigger for a number of reasons.

One example is feeling lack of support, or even straight-up discouragement from family members. If family members come to therapy only to blame and guilt-trip the patient, they are not doing any good. Insults and invalidation are a form of emotional abuse, and can push the patient to give up treatment.

Another trigger is associating family with past trauma. This can mean past sexual abuse or domestic violence. If a patient has PTSD linked to their family, having to deal with traumatic memories can hinder treatment. In this case, it is necessary to treat the PTSD first before adding family therapy to their programme.

Benefits of Family Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Including family in treatment usually benefits the patient greatly. This is especially important if, after treatment, the patient plans to reside with their family or partner. Addiction is not an illness one should go through alone, and it’s best to have everyone on the same page.

The fact is, addiction affects the whole family. The stress can build up a lot of negative emotions towards the addicted person. If not addressed, this can trigger relapse after the patient leaves treatment.

Often, family members say that they are glad they attended family therapy.  It helped them understand addiction better and discover a newfound compassion for the situation. It is quite common for family to hold a grudge against their loved one for being an alcoholic. Family therapy helps them understand that alcoholism is a disease where no one party is to blame.

Once a patient is sober and focusing on recovery, they can also see the situation with clear eyes. They may not even have noticed how much of a toll their addiction took on their loved ones. Going through treatment can help them bond and thus strengthen the recovery process.

Lonely woman looks off camera; Castle Craig alcohol and drug rehab

The Role of Family Issues in Women’s Addiction and Recovery

Addiction, recovery and relapse is often not the same for women and men. Accordingly, rehab or therapy aimed at women, like that we offer at Castle Craig, usually tailor the treatment programme with this in mind.

According to a study by Caron, the top contributing factors of addiction for women are:

  • stress from family obligations (such as motherhood)
  • poor romantic or family relationships
  • pressure from family or friends
  • traumatic experiences
  • general boredom

Many women start using after introduction to substances by a partner or family member. A significant number of women in addiction treatment were, or are, victims of domestic abuse. Finally, women are more likely to have codependency issues. Although men face these issues as well, women are more likely to have been the focus of abuse, violence and manipulation.

Because of this, the timing of any family involvement and whether it is appropriate needs careful consideration.

For female patients, therapy often needs to focus more on building self-esteem, addressing issues of stigma, and developing support. Forming a stable support system during recovery has shown to greatly improve chances of success for women.

However, rehabs such as Castle Craig will always try to include families in the process when possible. Women respond better to recovery programmes where social connection is a focus. In addition, about a third of women are reluctant to seek treatment due to the fear of abandoning their children or family during their residential stay. Thus, keeping in touch with family can help a female patient worry less about the situation at home. This allows them to build their support network and focus on their recovery.

To Involve or Not to Involve Family?

Ultimately, the patient and their therapist should decide how to approach their addiction treatment. The primary focus is getting better. While including loved ones in treatment is highly recommended, it is not a requirement. No one can tell you what to do. And if you think that your family issues will impact on your addiction and recovery, it is up to you whether to include them.

As an alternative, patients may consider asking their family to attend a family support program on their own. Or, invite them into treatment at a later stage, when the patient feels comfortable addressing personal issues with their loved ones. It is also perfectly fine to include only certain members of family in treatment.

At Castle Craig, family involvement often takes the form of a special family therapy session (or sessions) attended by the patient, their family and a therapist. In addition, families are encouraged to attend the Residential Family Programme that takes place at various times throughout the year.