Healing the Addicted Family

By Dr. Harold C. Urschel III, MD, MMA
Chief Medical Strategist

The Addict Isn’t the Only One Who Suffers

One of the most important things for families to understand about addiction recovery is that the person struggling with addiction isn’t the only one who needs help. The out-of-control and unpredictable nature of an addict’s behavior puts a huge amount of stress on family members, who often develop unhealthy coping skills to deal with this stress. These changes in behavior typically develop slowly over the entire course of the addiction, so many family members don’t even recognize that there’s a problem. However, after years of living with someone addicted to drugs or alcohol, families are usually feeling broken, angry and confused, yet still desperate for ways to help their loved one.

This is why, at Enterhealth, we urge families to simultaneously undergo treatment while their loved one receives the medical attention they need to get sober. Research shows that the family of an addict does need treatment – and without delay.

Developing Understanding through Education

It’s important for families to understand that their loved one is not purposely trying to cause the family pain. It’s also very common for family members to take their loved one’s addiction personally, meaning they start placing or accepting blame to justify their loved one’s struggle with addiction. These feelings of guilt and shame are what often stop the family from getting help. In the early phases of addiction, family members want to believe the addict will stop using drugs or alcohol on their own. 

As the addiction continues to progress, families often unknowingly enable their loved one’s behavior and can become so entangled in the addiction drama, they start losing track of their own well-being. Family members of addicts expend a significant amount of energy on caretaking and covering up the negative behaviors connected with addiction, and the attached stigma can put family members in a state of isolation. These new family dynamics, and the feelings that accompany them, are surprisingly destructive, and can cause any family to become dysfunctional.

Here are some common symptoms of family members affected by living with addiction:

·         Difficulty managing anger

·         Isolation or withdrawal from friends and family

·         Excess irritability

·         Insomnia or excessive sleep

·         A constant state of exhaustion

·         An increase in health problems

·         Depression, anxiety and mood swings

·         Lower or loss of self-esteem and self-confidence

·         Loss of interest in personal hygiene and appearance

·         Substance abuse in other family members

Treating the Whole Family for Better Outcomes

Most treatment programs only teach the family how to deal with the loved one experiencing addiction, not how to heal themselves. Family members must learn new stress management techniques for healthy interaction and coping, as well as how to address their individual issues or needs in order to heal as a unit. If the family is left untreated, the individual in residential treatment will return to the same stressful, unhealthy environment, making relapse more likely.

At Enterhealth Ranch, we engage the entire family as we’re treating their loved one, helping everyone understand the dramatic ways they are affected by addiction. For patients at Enterhealth Ranch – our residential treatment center – the following family treatment is included, averaging about five hours a week, and is geared towards helping the entire family to heal:

·         Individual family member therapy with a PhD- or master’s-level therapist – in person, or remotely via telehealth.

·         Family therapy with the patient.

·         Multi-Family group therapy.

For families who participate in individual and group family therapy, they can typically expect to see a healthier family dynamic within six months to one year. That may seem like a long time until you consider how long a family may have been living with the harmful effects and behaviors of addiction permeating their lives. Healing takes time, and Enterhealth wants families to know that we are committed to helping families through the recovery process at every step.