The Therapeutic Necessity For Family Members To Become Part of the Recovery Process
Sunday, November 1, 2009 at 7:12PM

By Teresa Palmer, Family Counselor

Family members often question why they should become involved in the process of recovery. "I don't have the problem; he/she is the addict." Addiction is often referred to as a family disease. The family members living with an addicted person are affected by the addiction; as a result, the family itself becomes "sick."

There exists a tug of war: The addicted person desperately clings to the addiction while the family tries to diminish or stop it. Because of this unhealthy interaction, the family members need rehabilitation as much as the addicted person.

The family members are the primary focus of family treatment.

Individual members of the family develop maladaptive ways of handling the addicted person that lead to disappointment, depression, irritability, withdrawal and helplessness. Blame games begin to emerge. Shame or the inability to live up to expectations (one's own or others) lead to secrets, hiding, and exaggerated guilt. The interaction of all the family members is affected. Feelings of inner vulnerability and sensitivity are no longer tolerated. Yearnings for someone to rescue them and take care of them begin to dominate, with the resulting increase in dependency and anger. Sometimes the frustration is so great that the only way to escape is to join the addiction and become addicts themselves.

The family members have become sick and need recovery for themselves.

The successful treatment for the addicted person is very much enhanced when there is family treatment as well. The family environment must change. Family treatment focuses on the family members; without family treatment, the addicted person is the sole focus of treatment. The family's need to change is once again hidden; it is secondary and overlooked. It doesn't work!

Family members need to learn how to deal with their situation. The significant others need to learn to deal with their environment in such a way that they feel a sense of accomplishment. They empower themselves. They make good decisions that will give a sense of self-direction and reduce the dependency patterns of addiction. Family members need not be trapped in a bad situation. They don't need to cover up. They do need to learn how not to enable. They do need to learn how not to "protect" the addicted person.

An example of this is the spouse who calls in to work for the addicted person stating they have the flu when, in fact, they are sick with a hangover. With family treatment, the non-addicted person learns that these attempts at protection merely protect the addicted person from taking responsibility for their addiction-related behavior. Enabling refers to any "help" that facilitates the continuation of pathological addiction. Family treatment teaches ways not to foster the addiction. It allows the family members to make choices -- good choices -- that facilitate the genuine communication, enhance self-perception, reduce feelings of victimization, and stop the maladaptive patterns of support for the addictive behavior itself.

Family treatment provides the antidote to so many painful experiences. For individuals who no longer know what to do or where to go, the group process offers the protection and confidentiality of a safe haven. Sharing replaces hiding; communication replaces secrets; support replaces isolation. There is a positive blueprint for addiction-free living.

There is a way to heal and grow.

There is a way -- not to escape but to move ahead!

Family treatment works.

Article originally appeared on Kenneth Peters Center for Recovery (
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