Addiction in the Family System

When our office receives a call about someone struggling with addiction or substance abuse, it is most often from a concerned family member. Their loved one’s addiction has gotten to the point where it is not only affecting his or her wellbeing, but also the wellbeing of the family system.

It’s only recently that we’ve begun to understand and treat addiction for what it is: a family problem. In previous generations, addiction was not openly discussed or addressed in families. It was most often viewed as a character flaw or a lack of willpower. Thankfully, we’ve made strides in addiction medicine and research that prove otherwise. We now know that addiction is a complex brain disease that alters the brain’s chemistry and changes a person’s behavior.

Risk Factors for Addiction

Research has also shown that there are both biological and environmental risk factors that increase a person’s chance of struggling with addiction. Environmental risk factors include trauma, peer pressure, stressful living situations, and the negative influence of family members.

These environmental factors are commonly present in individuals who experiment with drugs and alcohol in their adolescence. This makes sense when you consider that the average human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25. Abusing substances before 25 can create long-term changes in the way the brain functions. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that our children are not using drugs, and when they are, we must offer immediate intervention.     

Genetic variations also greatly contribute to the progression of addiction. Addiction has an inherited component, so it can run in families. Genes can determine how someone responds to and metabolizes drugs, as well as the types and numbers of brain receptors they have.

Family Recovery – Breaking the Cycle

While there are many factors that can contribute to addiction, what we know for sure is the importance of a family’s role in the recovery process. Addiction is a family disease, and when it’s treated that way it affords individuals and families a chance to create long-term healing and lifelong recovery. 

The best way to address the root cause of the addiction is to conduct a comprehensive assessment with the person of concern and their family. We review both sides of the family history to get a better understanding of what the pattern has been. For example, we want to know if there is a family history of alcohol or drug addiction or trauma (physical abuse, sexual abuse, generational trauma, etc.) that hasn’t been treated.

The overall goal is to get a detailed, holistic view of the environmental and biological factors that have led a person toward drug or alcohol abuse so that we can determine the most appropriate plan for treatment and recovery.

Through this process, it’s common for uncomfortable feelings to arise within families. We’re asking families and certain family members to shift certain behaviors and mindsets, which can create resistance. Sometimes, people can even feel shame. What we stress to them is that addiction is not an isolated disorder. No one person is to blame, and it impacts every part of the family system.

Through interventions, treatment recommendations, and family coaching, we invite families to play a big role in their loved one’s recovery because it greatly reduces the chance for relapse. For individuals that do not have a family that is willing or able to support them, there are many other support systems in the community that can help individuals sustain their recovery. We don’t encourage individuals to stay in toxic relationships that do not contribute to their recovery. Instead, we work with them to find healthy and meaningful connections through other avenues.

If you have a loved one who is currently struggling with addiction or substance abuse, take the first step today to get the help you and your family deserve. We’re equipped to support families at every point in the addiction cycle: from early intervention to post-treatment recovery and beyond.

Recovery is a journey that can lead to many destinations. Being able to customize rehabilitation and treatment plans for our clients is how we ensure we give families the best chance for real hope, healing, and peace of mind.

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