Whether it’s addiction or a mental illness, family support is often critical to successful, long-term recovery. When patients feel supported by even one close family member, they tend to do better in treatment. They also tend to achieve better long-term, health outcomes.
But family members need love and support, too—and can also benefit from being part of the recovery process. And, when families have the mental health and recovery supports that they need in order to exercise self-care, they are more able to extend healthy love and support to their loved one with addiction and/or mental illness.
On this page, you’ll learn more about the importance of supporting families and the types of supports available. You’ll also learn why we encourage families to take an active role in their loved one’s recovery.
Supporting Families in Mental Illness and Addiction
At FHE Health, we recognize the importance of supporting families through mental illness and addiction. When a loved one has an acute or sub-acute mental health condition and/or addiction problem, many family members feel helpless to know how to help. This is especially true when a loved one is in denial about their condition or refuses treatment.
The stigma of these conditions can also make it a lonely and isolating place to be. It’s not uncommon for families to feel alone in their pain, but you need to know you are not alone and that there is hope for healing. You also need to know where to turn for help. One of the ways that FHE Health supports families is through our 24/7 helpline at 1-844-335-8506. Whatever the mental illness or addction, families can call and get treatment advice and intervention support 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
We also emphasize the two-dimensional nature of “family support.” We strive to give family members support and education. At the same time, we invite them to be participants in their loved one’s recovery and key members of their support network. To learn more about how we do that, read on.
Mental Health Family Supports
Caring for a loved one who has a serious mental illness or addiction can weigh heavily on your mental health. That’s why family members need supports that can help them stay healthy and take care of themselves.
When patients are in inpatient rehab at FHE, families have the option of receiving weekly calls from their loved one’s therapist. These regular times for touching base allow families to hear how their loved one is doing in treatment and ask any questions. The time is also an opportunity, though, for families to receive support and advice regarding their own self-care and how to prepare for when their loved one comes home from rehab. Families can also get referrals to counselors or 12-step, support groups.
Families that desire this level of support from one of our licensed clinicians need:
- a consent form signed by their loved one that permits them to receive weekly calls from their loved one’s primary therapist
- to want to be engaged in the their loved one’s therapeutic process and to learn how they support their lovedo ne and become emotionally healthier themselves
- to have a loved one who is currently enrolled in our drug and alcohol treatment programs
The Importance of Family Support to Recovery
It is hard to underemphasize the importance of family support in recovery from mental illness and/or addiction. Consider recovery from addiction, for example. Research has shown that it is a family disease. It does not just affect the individual who is using drugs and/or alcohol but directly impacts immediate family members and close loved ones—often in highly dysfunctional ways.
While it may be true that anyone—from a colleague or employer to next-door neighbor—can experience the fallout of an addiction, usually those who suffer most are the addict’s immediate family members. Typically, parents, spouses, siblings and children also need help, guidance and encouragement on the path to healing and recovery. In fact, their recovery—and their capacity to participate in healthy ways in their loved one’s recovery process—can be a major factor in helping their loved one achieve lasting freedom from drugs and alcohol.
An abundance of research speaks to how critical this family involvement can be to positive recovery outcomes. For instance, we now know that even the involvement of just one actively engaged family member can dramatically improve recovery outcomes for someone with a substance addiction. When a patient in treatment has the healthy support of one or more family members, their motivation for recovery goes up. So does their retention in treatment—and greater retention in treatment is associated with lower rates of relapse and other positive recovery outcomes.
Wherever we can, then, recognizing there are sometimes limitations—patients can refuse to give their consent to their family’s participation and can even leave treatment “against medical advice”—we strive to include family in all aspects of an addict’s treatment program. This inclusion can begin as early as before a patient enters treatment and/or before a family feels fully ready to take on the responsibility of supporting their loved one’s recovery.
Sometimes, a family might be best served by participating in one or more of our regular educational sessions regarding the disease of addiction. Our counselors can prepare families for what to expect when their loved one is confronted with the real possibility that they must learn to live without drugs or alcohol. Families also learn about codependency and common enabling behaviors to avoid when encouraging their loved one to get help—the aim being to enable and empower their loved one’s recovery, not their addiction.
Family and Mental Health
There is often a strong and undeniable link between a person’s mental health and their family. Mental health problems, including addiction, can often run in families. That’s because mental illness, like other medical conditions, is often the result of a complex interplay between genetic and environmental factors that typically stem from one’s family of origin.
Mental illnesses can be genetically inherited. In fact, genetics can be a major risk factor for conditions like depression and other disorders. At the same time, environmental factors from one’s upbringing can also significantly impact mental health.
At FHE Health, our clinicians are intimately aware of these connections. They make it a priority to educate patients and families about the ways that mental health problems can run in families and healthy coping tools that support recovery. For example, sometimes healthier boundaries between family members can make it easier for a loved one in treatment to learn how to manage their condition.
Support for Families Affected by Addiction
Families affected by addiction need support in unique ways. Far too often, the needs of families get overlooked when the spotlight is on the addict and on keeping the addict alive (making sure they’re safe, answering calls from first responders, dealing with legal troubles, and so on). This reality means family members spend alot of time in survival mode. They’re often so busy attending to the needs of their loved one, that they are mentally, emotionally and physically drained. Nevertheless, getting their loved one out of harm’s way and into rehab often remains the center of their concern, at the expense of other priorities including their own self-care.
The strong, pervasive stigma of addiction also means that many family members suffer silently with their loved one’s disease. They may go so far as to keep it secret, feeling compelled—out of concern for how they and their loved one will be perceived—to hide the full truth from the outside world. This can cause families to feel very helpless and very alone. That helplessness and loneliness only further exacerbate the pain and suffering of living with and/or caring for an addict.
FHE Health understands this immense burden that falls on the shoulders of families affected by addiction. Our team is here to assure you that you are not alone, that you have our support, and that recovery is possible for both you and your loved one.
Family Dynamics of Addiction
One of the ways that we support you is by introducing you to the family dynamics of addiction and their role in your loved one’s treatment and recovery. Our caring and experienced counselors meet with families as a group and individually to provide therapeutic insight into what addiction dynamics may be at play in your specific context. Often family members take on different “survival” roles in an effort to cope with their loved one’s disease. Enablers, heroes, scapegoats, the lost child and the mascot are common examples of the dysfunctional ways in which various members of a family system will compensate for and adapt to active addiction in their midst.
Through ongoing weekly therapy sessions, families learn to identify dysfunctional role playing and ways of relating to one another. Our therapists treat the family unit as the “patient” needing treatment, with a view to guiding that patient through key stages of addiction and recovery. In that process, which is meant to be inclusive and collaborative, families together with their loved one develop invaluable recovery tools that strengthen their relationship and their recovery.
What Is Enabling?
In many cases, addicts grow accustomed to the enabling patterns of well-meaning loved ones, who give them money (which is then used to buy drugs) or offer them a free place to stay without expecting anything in return. Some codependent loved ones will even go so far as to drive the addict to their drug dealer. Such gestures only succeed in worsening a loved one’s addiction.
Enabling is one of the most common pitfalls that families face. An enabler is typically a parent, grandparent or spouse who believe they are helping the addict by showing concern and loyalty for someone who seems to be a “victim.” Enablers desperately want to avoid confrontation and will deliberately avoid confronting the addict, by giving in to the addict’s demands. In addition, enablers think that by preventing (avoiding) conflict, the problem will eventually solve itself.
Enabling is any form of positive reinforcement that encourages negative behavior in a drug addict. If an addict’s family member always give in to an addict’s demands for money, transportation, food, and shelter, they are positively reinforcing (essentially rewarding) the addict’s behaviors.
How Family Involvement Can Address Enabling and Other Unhealthy Behaviors
Our therapists use evidence-based, psychotherapeutic techniques when working with patients. These are skills we encourage families to become familiar with as well. In the therapeutic process, families can learn about:
- the differences between enabling addiction and enabling recovery
- practicing loving detachment from a loved one in active addiction
- the most effective ways to support their loved one in rehab and after rehab
- setting healthy boundaries and avoiding common codependent behaviors
- healthy communication and interpersonal skills
- how to cope with a co-occurring mental illness that may be contributing to their loved one’s substance abuse
- how to allow a loved one to experience the consequences of their addiction (without stepping in to rescue them)
- what to expect during the first year of a loved one’s recovery, including how to help them plan for aftercare and manage relapse triggers
How Family Therapy Supports Long-Term Recovery
At the core of psychotherapy is the foundational assumption that individuals suffering from addiction and/or a co-occurring mental health problem will benefit from talking about their concerns and fears with an objective yet compassionate psychotherapist. Psychotherapy has successfully helped millions of people deal with addictions or addicted loved ones by placing them in a safe environment with a professional therapist to “talk out” their innermost thoughts, feelings, disappointments, and desires.
Counselors skilled in psychotherapeutic techniques gently but firmly position people for effective conflict resolution, the processing of painful and/or traumatic events, and/or the exploration of self-esteem, self-identity and unfulfilled desires.
A common form of psychotherapy used by counselors at FHE Health is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT emphasizes the connection between thoughts, emotions and behaviors— and, in particular, the fact that how you perceive an event can directly influence your mood, emotion and attitude. CBT teaches people ways to correct faulty patterns of thinking that tend to distort the reality of a situation.
Our therapists also apply principles of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), an offshoot of CBT that shows people how to take control of their emotions and thought processes by identifying certain “triggers.” Triggers lead to overly reactive behaviors caused by negative thoughts that ultimately lead to the person making irrational decisions. Through DBT, our counselors teach family members and their loved ones how to apply appropriate coping skills to avoid acting on unproductive thoughts and emotions.
Instead of promoting the view of the therapist as an authoritative figure, DBT encourages acceptance of counselors by family members as allies instead of adversaries. Accordingly, DBT therapists refrain from critiquing a person’s assertions, and instead aim to validate and accept a person’s feelings or thoughts at any given time. However, therapists trained in DBT will not hesitate to inform clients that some of their decisions, behaviors or emotions are maladaptive, and will show them through DBT that there are better, more rational decision alternatives.
About Our Family Dynamics Classes
FHE Health also offers several educational classes for families of outpatient/residential patients. These classes address the inter-relational dynamics of a healthy family and what families can do to change beliefs that may be obstacles to healing.
If you are the parent or grandparent of an addict, our “Family Dynamics Class” is essential for helping you get through the pain, confusion, and sense of hopelessness you may feel about failed past attempts to get help for your child or grandchild. The class provides the support, encouragement, and education you need to be there for your child/grandchild when they need you the most, without resorting to enabling behaviors or anger.
Siblings have also benefited from participating in our Family Dynamics Class. When the disease of addiction impacts a family, siblings often feel as if the trust and deep love they felt for their brother or sister is irrevocably broken. We can help restore that trust and love by teaching siblings why addiction is a disease and not a behavior problem, what to expect from a recovering addict and how to help a sibling recover from their addiction.
We also encourage our patients in substance abuse treatment to take our Family Dynamics Class, because of the lessons it imparts regarding the family dynamics of addiction and tools for repairing family relationships and letting go of the past.
The Importance of Healthy Interpersonal Skills in Recovery
One big point of emphasis is the need for healthy interpersonal and communication skills within families. Addiction only really thrives when lying, manipulation and dishonesty are the default mode of communication. Recovering addicts therefore need to learn a whole new way of being in relationship with their family.
It starts with healthier, interpersonal skills. People in early recovery must learn how to express their thoughts and emotions in socially acceptable ways and achieve healthier relationships with friends and family. Strong and healthy communication skills are an important coping tool and life skill for anyone, but most especially those in recovery. Family therapy can help to facilitate these therapeutic learning opportunities, with the ultimate aim of strengthening family relationships and your loved one’s recovery.
During their time in treatment, patients are equipped with a set of tools for long-term recovery. One factor that they have little influence on, though, is their environment. By providing support for our families, we are able to equip everyone who is part of the recovery process with the necessary skills to improve long-term outcomes.
A loved one’s addiction or mental illness can be devastating. You don’t have to face it alone. Getting help is one of the best ways to take care of yourself while showing your loved one that you care. For more information about the family supports available through FHE Health, contact us today.