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Family Therapy for Addiction Treatment

group therapy photo

Addiction is a cause of significant distress and disruption for affected individuals and their family networks. Many will feel a sense of hopelessness having tried what they think is everything to help their loved one recover. They may struggle not to make the person struggling with addiction a scapegoat which can compound the severity and consequences of the illness. Family therapy is not only effective, it is vital in helping individuals and family networks recover from addiction.

The involvement of family members, friends and colleagues in alcohol, drug and gambling addiction treatment helps to create strong support networks which are vital to recovery. The stronger the support networks after recovery, the better the outcome for the patient.

Re-Building Broken Relationships Helps Recovery

During family therapy patients and families to share their feelings of anger, hurt and shame; to communicate and rebuild damaged relationships.

We aim to:

  • Educate on the disease of addiction, helping the family to understand behaviours of addicts,
  • Guide the family to cope with the problem,
  • Support and assist family members in renewing their family life.

Why Involve Family & Friends?

Addiction can have a very damaging and traumatic effect on an addict’s family, friends and work colleagues. Prior to admission, we begin a process of family involvement carefully planned and conducted by a specialist therapist for the family’s unique needs. 

Sunday afternoons at Smarmore Castle also provide an opportunity for family members to visit and participate.

What Is Family Therapy?

Family therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps to initiate change and nurture development in intimate relationships between family members. To fully understand family therapy, it is important to first understand what a family is. 

A family is far more than a collection of people who share DNA and perhaps a physical space. The relationships within a family are deep, nuanced and multi-layered, based largely on shared history and members are tied to each other by multi-generational attachments. There is great diversity among families, but they have a common set of properties: a set of rules, ascribed roles, power structures, intricate forms of communication, and ways of problem-solving. 

Few families can avoid exposure to stress, bereavement, or traumatic events, but through such challenges, families can grow stronger and more resilient. Undoubtedly some families are more likely to recover from adversity than others. 

Addiction within a family can put a huge amount of stress on the family system. Each family and family member is uniquely affected by an individual struggling with addiction, including but not limited to having unmet developmental needs, impaired attachment, economic hardship, legal problems, emotional distress, and sometimes violence within the family. As such, addiction is seen as a family disease and the family needs to be treated as a whole for the individual struggling with addiction and other members to recover. 

There is a range of techniques used for family therapy.

 Systemic Family Therapy

Systemic family therapy approach considers the family as a unit, in which each member’s actions affect the other people in the family and the family as a whole. It gives all family members the chance to explore their feelings in a safe, non-judgmental environment where everyone has a voice. Systemic family therapy seeks to identify patterns within familial relationships, uncover how members communicate and behave within a system, and how these can be improved.

Structural Family Therapy

Structural family therapy is based on the idea that emotional and behavioural concerns in family members are often connected to dysfunctional family structures which can cause stress and mental health problems. Structural family therapy looks at how members of the family relate to one another to improve communication and relationships, creating positive changes for both individual family members and the family unit.

 Narrative Family Therapy

Narrative family therapy encourages family members to each tell their own story to understand how those experiences shape who they are. In narrative therapy, there is an emphasis on the stories that people develop, tell themselves and carry with them through their life, and by extension how they might affect someone’s view of the world, behaviour and relationships. 

Psychoeducation

Family therapy around addiction often includes opportunities to learn more about how the illness is affecting an individual member who is recovering. Generally, those struggling with addiction are misunderstood, marginalised, shamed and blamed for problems within the family which only perpetuates the problem. Research has found that when families have a better understanding of mental health conditions they are more able to support each other, the person with mental health conditions feels understood and there is less chance of relapse.

Strategic Family Therapy 

Strategic family therapy is a treatment sometimes used for families with children who experience behavioural issues. Strategic family therapy is based on the idea that the family plays the most important role in the life and development of a child and seeks to change the structural interaction patterns of the family. Addressing problematic family behaviours and interactions helps the family system function better and by extension improves child behaviour. 

The Impact of Substance Abuse on Family 

Those struggling with addiction can feel like it is a personal experience that doesn’t affect others. Because addiction can have devastating consequences for those struggling with the illness, partners, children, and parents may all be impacted by the addiction. 

Over time these consequences can have a devastating impact on families and the mental health of all involved. Family members might witness their loved one steal, lose jobs, end relationships, be arrested, see their health deteriorate, spend time in jail, and be admitted to hospital. They may fear for the life of their loved one. 

As such, conflict becomes normal, trust is eroded, and relationships may end which can all result in severe trauma or co-dependent behaviours. The latter sees family members becoming preoccupied with someone’s addiction (which can become an addiction in itself), trying to control it, monitor behaviour, even blaming themselves for the illness. Over time family members may start to experience the same level of unmanageability as the person struggling with addiction, which can lead to anxiety, depression, suicidality, a sense of hopelessness, functional impairment, and isolation. 

The effects of addiction on a family system may include:

  • emotional burden — family members may feel anger, frustration, anxiety, fear, worry, depression, shame and guilt, or embarrassment
  • economic burden — this may be caused by money spent on substances, or money problems associated with the loss of jobs or reliance on public assistance
  • relationship distress or dissatisfaction — families may experience high rates of tension and conflict related to the addiction and problems it causes in the family
  • family instability — this may result from abuse or violence, or family breakup due to separation, divorce, or removal of children from the home 
  • effects on foetal development and children – alcohol use during pregnancy can harm foetal development causing birth defects and problems in child development. Infants born to opioid-dependent mothers are at increased risk for neonatal abstinence syndrome, which can contribute to developmental or cognitive delays. Children of parents with SUDs are at increased risk for abuse or neglect, physical problems, poor behavioural or impulse control, poor emotional regulation, conduct or oppositional disorders, poorer academic performance, psychiatric problems such as depression or anxiety, and substance abuse
  • effects on parents — mothers struggling with addiction may show less sensitivity and emotional availability to infants. Parents of a child with a SUD may feel guilty, helpless, frustrated, angry, or depressed

How Does Family Therapy Work in Addiction Treatment?

The family of someone recovering from addiction plays a vital role in their addiction treatment and long-term recovery. The support given by a family can mean the difference between successful recovery and relapse. Family members can also benefit from participating in personal therapy alongside family therapy. 

Family therapy typically takes place during a ‘family week’ as part of an addiction treatment programme. Family therapy is conducted by a trained family therapist and involves the person recovering from addiction and all members of their family. Some sessions, such as psychoeducation, may be offered to family members without the recovering person present. 

During family therapy sessions, the therapist will guide and moderate conversations, creating a calm environment in which honest dialogues can take place to improve communication, begin to resolve difficulties, and facilitate familial healing. 

The goals of family therapy include:

  • helping the family to communicate again
  • rebuilding damaged relationships
  • educating the family about the disease of addiction
  • guiding the family to cope with the disease of addiction
  • supporting and assisting family members in rebuilding their lives

The Benefits of Family Therapy in Addiction Treatment

The involvement of family members, friends and colleagues in alcohol, drug and gambling addiction treatment helps to create strong support networks which are vital to recovery. Strong support networks can improve treatment entry, treatment completion and treatment outcomes for the individual coping with an addiction.

 For this reason, we involve families all the way through treatment, even prior to admission. Family involvement is carefully planned and conducted by a specialist therapist for the family’s unique needs. 

Contact us

If you recognised any of the issues raised above and are worried about a family member’s addiction, please feel free to contact our team at Smarmore Castle who can tell you more about our addiction treatment programme.

Get in touch today

To find out how we can help you, please telephone Smarmore Castle on our 24-Hour Helpline: 041 214 5111 or click here to arrange a free addiction assessment. You're almost there.

Last updated & clinically assessed 8 July, 2022