Supporting the loved ones of individuals with substance-use disorders
Everyone knows of a family or family member struggling to deal with a loved one with a Substance-Use Disorder (SUD). Friends and acquaintances may watch, sometimes with judgment and confusion, as family members try to navigate this stressful situation. Years may pass and despite the family’s best efforts to address the unhealthy family patterns and facilitate change, somehow the individual with the addiction manage to control the family dynamics. Many families have given unlimited access to finances, rewards, repeated chances and unconditional love- but the addict still remains sick.
The Holidays can often be a window into the lives of family members who you may not spend much time with or have avoided these individuals the rest of the year. This time of year can be like adding “Miracle Grow” to an addictive issue. It is also a hard time emotionally for families alone to address their loved one with a SUD.
Family therapists specializing in addictions teach their clients how best to support their loved one. This can be confusing, scary and counterintuitive in that the way a family would demonstrate caring towards a healthy member of their family is NOT the way that they should behave towards an active alcoholic. Many families show caring through trying to help their loved one to feel “happy”. This may work well for those without addictions, but loving those with addictions requires a different skill set and often involves a new road map. Families often struggle to find this map, and that is why so many additional resources are needed for guidance on this journey.
Fear is a driving force in the way that families relate to a loved one’s active addiction: fear of loss, fear of causing pain and discomfort, fear of illness and death, fear for safety, fear of opinions, fear of the unknown and fear of guilt. These fears are real, and legitimate, for any number of them could come true. However, the “addicted” part of the individual may count on their loved ones being ruled by these fears and may try to capitalize on that reality. When families are taking a stand and setting limits, they are targeting the addiction, not their loved one. By allowing negative consequences to naturally occur as a result of their addiction, they are helping to speed up the “cause and effect” connection for that individual.
No one expects a family to instinctively know how to appropriately care for a loved one with a SUD, but there are resources out there to help with this process. The In-Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) Institute is training addiction professionals in an innovative model that supports and integrates family systems work. Each family is set up with a family therapist and therefore, has additional support while their loved one is receiving care. Additionally, the IHAT treatment team is trained to educate and support the family in a home-based setting. This is such an important time of year to have social and clinical network needed to enjoy the Holiday Season, instead of facing it with fear.
By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC