Dealing with families and addiction can often be one the most complicated pieces to your recovery. Your family has likely had a huge impact on your substance use disorder or disease of addiction both good and bad. A person’s family involvement may have been the cause of addiction, while others have those who are there and rooting for their success. Most of you likely have members on both sides of the spectrum. There are different approaches and family programs to those who are supporting you through this process and those who may be hindering your success.
At Live Rehab, we use a holistic approach to addiction and recovery which means focusing on family relationships is a priority in our program.
The Concept of Family
You don’t get to pick and choose who you’re related to or what family you belong. With that being said, you do need to recognize the different approaches you may take with each and every family member you have.
There’s a specific bond that most people have with certain family members – these bonds are unique in that even when the relationships are put through the wringer the desire to repair and continue a strong healthy relationship is always there.
You may not know where everyone stands and the nature of those relationships may come with a lot of gray areas as you start to think about them but just know that while you are taking care of yourself, you might need to make some hard choices in order to protect your sobriety. Sometimes it’s hard to spot certain characteristics or behaviors in the midst of addiction but once you start your recovery you will start to see things in a very sobering way. These choices can range from taking a break from toxic family members to owning up to your mistakes with those who love and support you – neither are easy.
There is a strong relationship between family and the success of your recovery.
How to recognise good behaviors
Recognizing good family can often be clouded. Maybe while you were addicted your family cut you off or didn’t agree to enable. That doesn’t mean that their love for you was any less – it just means that their love was so strong that they couldn’t continue to watch your destructiveness.
What I want you to do today, is to make a list of those who have been there for you through all this – emotionally, physically, etc. Don’t confuse this though with not enabling. This should be a list of those who you want to make amends with, those who you know would be there for you through thick and thin.
Once you’ve made this list, start working on repairing relationships. The easiest way to start the conversation is to send a text – let them know that you appreciate everything they’ve ever done for you and if they know about your addiction you can let them know that you’re working hard on your recovery. From there – see where the conversations take you.
It won’t be easy but it’s a start. You do have to be prepared for people to be suspicious of your trust and that’s okay! Repairing relationships doesn’t happen over night. Some family members may want to see you in action – and this takes time.
For now, just send the text.
How to recognise abuse and toxicity
Let’s now talk about those who are “not so good” and when I say not so good I’m talking about not so good for you. Not saying they’re not good people because that would a little disingenuous for me to presume. Millions of family members struggle a lot with this and part of this is how the definitions of family abuse and dynamics of family can be quite subjective as there are lots of things to consider such as genetics or environmental factors.
What I am talking about though is that some of you may have family relationships that have put so much pressure and strain in your life that it causes you to have poor emotional health and continue to want to use or partake in your addiction. Maybe you have suffered child abuse or trauma as a child and not had a chance to work through that.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA, states: Research has shown that traumatic experiences are associated with both behavioral health and chronic physical health conditions, especially those traumatic events that occur during childhood. Substance use (e.g., smoking, excessive alcohol use, and taking drugs), mental health conditions (e.g., depression, anxiety, or PTSD), and other risky behaviors (e.g., self-injury and risky sexual encounters) have been linked with traumatic experiences.
These could be those who use or partake in the same addiction as you and just not ready to get help yet. We do know that alcohol addiction and drug addiction is a chronic disease and oftentimes addiction is a family disease so if their drug or drinking behavior is affecting you, it’s important to recognize this. Or maybe there could be family members who abuse, belittle, or cause so much drama that it triggers you, affects your health, and puts your recovery in jeopardy. It’s important that you understand a toxic pattern so you can protect. yourself.
For now, just make a list of who those family members are. Don’t hold back on the list or second guess this – nobody’s going to see this so you don’t’ have to worry about hurt feelings or needing to take action. This is for your eyes only so trust your gut.
What to do and how to treat those who are genuinely there to support you
When looking at your list, there’s a reason you put those family members in the helpful bucket. Maybe it’s because they have always been there for you as a child and even now through your addiction or understanding the nature of substance abuse treatment. Maybe it’s because they have shown you tough love or maybe it’s just a feeling you have about them, knowing that their presence will help guide you through your recovery path. It gets highly complicated when dealing with all aspects of addiction and substance use disorders so sometimes it’s important to try and look at things through a different lens. There are many benefits of family support and involvement.
Whatever those reasons are, it’s important to hold onto and cradle what you have. At first, things will be complicated. They always are. But now is the time to start working towards rebuilding those relationships and being careful not to push anyone away while doing so.
You have to open your mind and your heart and try to put yourself in their shoes and not get offended if things don’t go exactly how you’d want them to.
For example, let’s say your dad is on the list because you just know deep down your dad loves you and no matter what happens he’ll always be there for you. However, you also might know that you’ve hurt your dad over the years so his trust may not be there. So, let’s say you call up your dad to ask a favor – maybe it’s borrowing money or time. If your dad says no right away, that’s okay and it’s normal. There’s no reason to get upset or mad or expect your dad to just brush off everything that’s ever happened. You’re going to need patience and time to prove yourself reliable and honest again. Now replace dad with whoever else is on your list – the same applies. Mom, aunt, brother, sister.
The best thing you can do is be present, be kind, and always follow through with your word. If this family knows about your addiction and knows you’re getting help then let them in on your path – your hopes, dreams, and even your daily struggles. But whatever you do, don’t get upset with them, don’t try to defend your position, just try to be present and calm. I know this is easier said than done but it’s what needs to happen in order for you to not lose the family who is and will be there for you no matter what.
If you are taking part in individual therapy or have a substance abuse counselor, talk to your therapist or counselor about how you can approach certain situations in regards to relational patterns.
When to walk away
There are times when a person’s family life is toxic and distancing one’s self is nearly impossible which creates a high risk factor. If this is your case, you might have to make hard decisions like walking away.
Here’s how to know when you have to walk away:
- If that family member doesn’t allow you to reach a state of sobriety. For example, let’s say you’re trying hard to quit your addiction and your cousin is coming over every day exposing you or asking you to partake in your drug, alcohol, or behavior; not respecting your substance abuse treatment.
- If that family member causes you to want to relapse. For example, let’s say you have quit your drug of choice but a family member is emotionally abusing you so much that you feel like you have to use or partake in your addictive behavior just to escape the reality you’re living in. Or perhaps they minimize your substance use disorder or other health concerns such as chronic diseases and refuse to engage in any sort of family program.
If you have a family member that meets either of these two scenarios, it’s important to cut ties and walk away. Now I’m not talking forever because everyone has the ability to change but cut ties for a time that allows you to gain sober moments. If you’re unsure of how long that time is – it’s different for everyone – start with a minimum of 30 days.
Part of a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous requires you to make amends with those who you have done harm to. This is good in theory but if you are trying to make amends with someone and they are not ready it’s not a good idea to keep pushing if it’s causing things to get worse such as making you feel unworthy of forgiveness or unable to change.
If it reaches this point, it’s critical – I would call this a crisis – and you must do whatever it takes to walk away. If you have to leave your home – take that leap and do that. If you have to kick someone out then do that. AT the end of the day your sobriety should come first. Without your sobriety you can’t live and function in a way that is healthy, happy or productive.
I know and realize this is much easier said than done. But make plans now and follow through. Whatever your situation is, always know that your success will be much higher when you take your own self seriously and distance yourself from those who aren’t good for your or your sobriety.
Regaining their trust
Now know what to do with your good family members and know when to walk away from toxic family members. Now, for those who are left, the ones your are opening your hearts to, the family that you trust and know will support you through just about anything – how do you regain their trust?
The creator of My Child & Addiction, Steve states, “When your child is struggling with a substance use disorder, there’s shame and blame, and situations that often involve illegal behavior, lying, and stealing that wound deeply.”
Regaining trust with those who you have lost trust with, doesn’t happen overnight. It’s going to take time but more importantly, your family is going to want to see actionable progress not just hear you say you’ve got this or i’m sorry. Poor communication will only hinder the process.
There are two main ways to regain trust.
The first way may seem too simple but really it isn’t. It’s also the way that take the most amount of time. It’s simply not partaking in your addiction. If you are in active addiction, this step will take a bit more time as you strive for get more sobriety time under your belt. Your family wants to see you present wants to know you’re there, ever single day and the only way to do that is to not use or partake in your addictive behavior. Now there’s no timeline for this as every family is different and there are too many factors that play into this such as history, the family process and so on. Family and friends of alcoholics are sometimes burned out so be patient with them. But if you don’t partake in your addictive behavior then that part of it will slowly start to dissipate over time.
The second way is to have a good attitude. This may also sound simple but in reality it’s much harder when there are so many things thrown your way day in and day out. But if you’re just not using but still treating your family like shit – that’s not going to do anything. So if you really want to regain your family’s trust, the fastest way is to be positive, polite and courteous with them. Step up and help when you can, be kind when meeting them in person and don’t complain about things even if you’re agitated and there’s stuff to complain about. Think before you say things and know when to back down. Every time you’re angry, upset, or rude it’s just another dig which will then take that much longer to get the trust you need and deserve.
Working towards healthier relationships
Now what about everyone in between? Maybe those who have just been there; neither good nor bad.
Part of your recovery process and a way for you to come out even stronger is going to be working towards positive healthy relationships with everyone you come into contact with; especially your entire family. So here are some tips that you can start using today to strengthen family ties or bonds.
- Understand that it’s not always about you. While yes, you’re the one going through the addiction it’s important to also understand that everyone has their own struggles. A good way to strengthen a relationship is to be genuinely interested in what other family members are up to. So actively listen, ask questions, and have input on their lives too.
- Be present. Whenever you’re with a family member, make sure you are really there. Not just in the room but there and engaged. A lot of people miss stuff that’s going on around them by simply being somewhere else. To do this; the best thing you can do is to put your phone down and take in whatever’s going on around you. Showing up is half the battle.
- Give back. When I say give back, I’m talking about being the helpful person. Offer to help someone move. Offer to babysit, offer to give someone a ride. Do all of these things with no expectation that the favor will be returned to you; meeting them where they are right now. Now I say this and I want to be clear about something. We talked about toxic family members earlier and that would be someone who is trying to take advantage of you. So for example, if you have a brother who is constantly asking you to babysit even though they know you’re going through a tough time or maybe you have a cousin is always asking you for rides but doesn’t care to ask about you or be involved in your life then that would be someone you need a break form or someone you at least need to set boundaries. When I talk about giving back, I’m talking about helping out with those who are genuinely there for you each and every day and you know that if you were ever in a pickle they’d do the same for you.
Family Therapies or a Family Program
Another option is to engage in a family program or family therapy sessions with a mental health professional. The benefits of family programs such as Al-Anon Family group or a family therapist are great. Substance abuse counselors often involve family and friends as part of treatment of substance abuse or addiction for people in recovery.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states:
Family Behavior Therapy (FBT), which has demonstrated positive results in both adults and adolescents, is aimed at addressing not only substance use problems but other co-occurring problems as well, such as conduct disorders, child mistreatment, depression, family conflict, and unemployment. FBT combines behavioral contracting with contingency management.
There are other treatment providers such as a health care professional that could offer similar sessions or even online meetings. The important thing is to communicate – if your patterns of communication are not clear then it might be helpful to seek alternative family treatment. When it comes to family therapy programs you deserve high quality of treatment for addiction or substance abuse.
Your Road to Recovery
We know you can’t choose your family but we also know that you are free to make things stronger or to walk away. Understanding family roles is part of the process especially for people with addiction. This is why treating your substance abuse such as alcohol use disorder or addiction and finding a high quality family program at the same time is important. A person’s family unit is always complicated and things are definitely more challenging when there is a substance use disorder involved. Your family education play a big part when it comes to treatment providers and treatment options, your quality of life greatly depends on your treatment outcome. A domineering family member or maladaptive patterns can be problematic and affect your quality of treatment. Your road to recovery is not going to be simple so it’s important to look into platforms that have a family program. At Live Rehab we have additional resources for families who struggle with drug abuse, alcohol abuse, or addiction. The process of recovery is challenging but long-term recovery is possible. Recovery from addiction takes time so that’s why getting the right substance abuse treatment or addiction treatment is so important. Your recovery journey is worth it.
If you are here, reading this, you have a strong potential for recovery and deserve a high level of care. Live Rehab is a platform designed for people who need to kick their addiction from home; where a traditional rehab center won’t work. Millions of people struggle in silence but you don’t have to. If you have questions about treatment or need assistance for you or someone you love, please send an email to email@example.com or check out LiveRehab.com for more information.