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Family Therapy in Addiction Treatment
Family Therapy During Opiate Addiction Treatment

When someone in the family becomes addicted to opiates, every other person in the family is affected. There are countless stories of families torn apart by addiction, and family therapy during addiction treatment becomes a cohesive way to educate everyone in the family about addiction. Additionally, families are able to explore the dynamics that perpetuate addictive behaviors.

Fortunately, many people are beginning to make the choice of entering a methadone treatment program because they’ve decided it’s finally time to kick the addiction. But, there are too many of those people who say that family members have no place in their treatment. They believe that this is a problem they brought upon themselves, and either shame, pride, or other emotions keep them from letting their loved ones participate in family therapy during addiction treatment.

Family Matters—Of All Kinds

Scientists have long recognized that addiction is a medical diagnosis. It’s not just willful behavior on the part of someone who lacks self-control and has decided they would rather be high than live a normal, productive life. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration outlines the two major purposes of family therapy as a facet of addiction treatment.

First, the therapy seeks to utilize the strengths and resources of the family to eliminate chemical dependency of any kind within the family. Second, it seeks to reduce the effect of the negative consequences of addiction for both the patient and their family. It is important to note that family may not comprise the typical family grouping—mom, dad, two children, grandparents, etc. Family, in the sense of those who participate in family therapy during addiction treatment, consist of those persons central to the addicted person’s life, including people who band together by choice and not by blood.

Initially, the members of the family who support the addicted person must become educated about drug addiction. People think they learn about drugs from watching television ads or even reading brief articles in popular magazines, but there are so many facts that they simply do not know. They do not understand that just about all drugs stimulate the brain’s reward pathway, making addiction a physical malady. But even beyond that, there is so much more to learn—here are just a few of the unknown factors:

  • How drugs affect the addicted person’s emotional development.
  • How drugs can impair the brain’s production of neurotransmitters.
  • How long the side effects of opiates can affect the addicted person.
  • The benefits of medication-assisted treatment for people addicted to opiates versus abstinence-based therapy.
  • That half of all people who use drugs are affected by emotional disorders of some type.
  • That abuse occurs more often in families in which there is a history of addiction.
  • That addiction is a family illness that often runs along many branches of the family tree.

There is tons of information available on these topics, but we’ll focus on specific aspects of family therapy addiction treatment for opiates. The counselor recognizes that emotions may run high within the family and that family members will bear resentment toward the addicted person for upheavals that have been caused by the addiction. When the family members agree to participate in therapy, they are invited to a calm place to address these issues. Family members will not lose their tempers and shout at one another when a therapist moderates discussion and keeps things on track, making the therapy more effective.

Two Little Words—Two Big Effects

Codependency and enabling are two words that are bandied about easily in addiction treatment centers, but many people really don’t know what they mean. Codependent behavior occurs when one person acts on behalf of another with a compulsion driven by their own inner needs. For example, there may be a person in the family who feels that the other people simply could not function without them.

Take Rob and Marcia, a married couple. Rob uses the rent money to score some heroin. Marcia calls the landlord and tells him that Rob spent the money taking their child to the doctor. But Rob doesn’t really thank Marcia for running interference, and Marcia is shocked that he isn’t a little more grateful. The truth is that if Rob stopped using heroin and he truly didn’t need Marcia, she might have trouble recognizing her own self-worth. There’s much more to it than this brief example, but this highlights how unhealthy relationships can develop.

Enabling takes place when one person’s actions allow the addicted person to keep using drugs without experiencing all of the consequences. Enabling is very often but not always tied to codependency. The father who keeps giving his daughter money, knowing that she isn’t really using it for food or gas but is really buying heroin, is enabling her. Many family members enable their loved ones feeling that they are keeping them safe, such as allowing them to stay in their homes to keep them off the street. These behaviors, over time, only reinforce the idea that an addicted person’s family will support and help them, no matter how bad their behavior may get.

Stop the Addiction

In many families, addiction runs rampant. One mother of a heroin addict came regularly for family therapy during opiate addiction treatment for her son, and she confessed that she was happy on the days when her husband drank only a six pack. Many people in treatment draw their family trees so they can recognize that addiction in various forms has existed in the family for some time. Now that your loved one is participating in opiate addiction treatment, you must realize that all drug or alcohol use within your home must stop, or the addicted person will not be able to maintain their recovery.

The children in the family should also participate in family therapy during opiate addiction treatment. Drug or alcohol use in the home impacts them tremendously, affecting their trust of other individuals, their progress in school, and their ability to develop emotionally. Ultimately, addiction in the family teaches them that it’s okay to give drugs a try. They must be included in family groups if the addiction cycle is to stop within the family.

Get Help Now

If you have doubted whether you should participate in family therapy during addiction treatment for someone you love, your hesitation should be over. Take a leap of faith and make the decision to participate. Even if the person you love has not yet begun treatment, you can call your local methadone treatment program for a referral to a mental health professional who can get you started. Healing for the whole family is possible.

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