Addiction Support for the Family System
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By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC
Many families struggle to cope in a healthy way with a loved one who has a Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Friends and observers may try to understand the experience of the family and may watch, sometimes with judgment, 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 individuals with the SUD seems to control the family dynamic. Families may struggle with setting limits around finances, rewards, repeated chances and how best to show love. The best way to support loved ones with SUD is often counterintuitive and this can be confusing and scary. Often, the best way for a family to care for a healthy member of their family is NOT the way that they would operate for a loved with with an SUD
Many parents show love through trying to help their child to have a “happy” life. This may work well for those without addictions, but parenting those with addictions requires a different skill set and often involves a new road map. Partners may also try to “fix” their loved one and try to best accommodate their needs. Families often struggle to find this road map towards healing, and that is why family education and family systems therapy are so important during this process. The In Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) model includes these support services because the models centers around treating the whole family and not just the client.
The IHAT Institute is training healthcare professionals how to deliver services to clients in their home environment that address the entire family. Their unique Family Education Program curriculum meets families where they are at both physically and emotionally. This, in turn, can better the prognosis for the client.
Fear is often a driving force in the way that families relate to a loved one’s addiction issues: fear of loss, fear of causing pain and discomfort, fear of illness and death, fear for safety, fears 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 “addict” 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 the active alcoholic to experience natural consequences 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 an SUD, but the IHAT model is designed to help navigate this process. Families can role model asking and remaining open to receive help just as they would want for their loved one- because it truly takes a village to help individuals and families to heal from addiction.