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The “Family” and Drug and Alcohol Treatment

wife and son telling their husband dad to stop drinking while holding bottle to try and stop him at table

Why involving family members is vital

Not including those that are dependently drinking it is estimated that in England alone 9 million men and 5 million women are drinking at harmful levels. Drug related deaths are the highest since records began in 1993 and hospital attendance due to cocaine use and cannabis induced mental health issues are at an all-time high. It is therefore no surprise that most individuals with problematic alcohol or drug use are in some sort of romantic relationship, are part of a family or have close friend associations.

A problem drinker or drug user in the family

Problematic alcohol and drug use are not a one-way street. When a person compulsively uses drugs or alcohol, their behaviours do not exist in a vacuum. The negative behaviours—of which there are many—carry outward in a capacity that heavily, and often dramatically, affects the people that care about them. It can be exceedingly hard to be in this role, as a friend or family member of a person who is using alcohol and drugs problematically or who has got to the stage of actual addiction. The unfortunate truth is, due to the fact that most drug and alcohol using individuals are heavily steeped in denial, people who use often do not understand the full impact of their actions on themselves, let alone the ways they affect those they care about. They become blinkered to how their drug and alcohol use affects the family, partners, children, close friends and parents – all who witness them struggling with the psychological damage, as well as financial, physical and other damages created from their use.

The effects of problematic alcohol and drug use can be both short-term and long-term. Calm, loving and fun homes can be divided by the strain caused by drug and alcohol abuse. Conflict becomes normal as those seeing the person, they care about fight to engage them in realising that their use has got out of hand. Trust begins to erode as deceit from the person using becomes the norm. Partners, families, and friends become more guarded as the person they care about acts out with anger or tries hides their disorder in secrecy. Relationships can end due to changes caused by someone’s drug and alcohol use. Children are traumatised.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug or alcohol problems, then we are here to talk about this. Call us now on 0208 191 9191 or email us.

What is a family

This is difficult to define. Different cultures and belief systems influence definitions, and because cultures and beliefs change over time, definitions of family by no means are static. While the definition of family may change according to different circumstances, several broad categories encompass most families:

  • Traditional families, two parents and minor children all living under the same roof, single parents, and families including blood relatives, adoptive families, foster relationships, grandparents raising grandchildren, and stepfamilies.
  • Extended families, which include grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and other relatives.
  • Elected families, which are self‐identified and are joined by choice and not by the usual ties of blood, marriage, and law. For many people, the elected family is more important than the biological family and this case can be close friends

Either way the idea of family implies an enduring involvement on an emotional level and can be defined according to the individual’s closest emotional connections.

The family and its involvement in treatment

It is important to understand the complex role that families can play in drug and alcohol treatment. They can be a source of help to the treatment process, but they also must manage the consequences of the individual that has the drug and alcohol problems i.e. their behaviour.  Individual family members are concerned about the person they care about whose using drugs and alcohol, but they also have their own needs, goals, and issues. In particular many just don’t understand why the person they care about just can’t stop.

Fortunately, these situations don’t have to continue. Providing services to the whole family and the individual that has the drug and alcohol problem can, and does, improve treatment effectiveness for all concerned.

With this in mind it should be vital that an effective treatment programme has an integrative family element and that the needs of the family and the individuals with the drug and alcohol problem are both met. This can be difficult for in the realm many drug and treatment programmes just focus on the person in the family with the presenting drug and alcohol problem. Thus, the treatment goals are individualised and focused mainly on the person using the drugs and alcohol. This reduces the opportunity to include the family’s perspective in goal setting, which could facilitate the recovery process for the individual and the family as a whole.

By just focussing on the needs of the person with the drug and alcohol problems this neglects to highlight the impact these changes will have on other people in the family system. When the person with the drug and alcohol problem starts to make changes, they are often not prepared for the reactions of other family members to the changes they experience and are often unprepared to cope with these reactions. Conversely the family has been so used to the person they care about act in a particular way they have built up whole entire coping strategies for this, sometimes over many years, so it can also come to a bit of a shock for them that the person they care about is no longer acting to type and don’t know how to react. For example, now that the drugs and alcohol are clearing, a person suddenly become more capable, dependable, and now wanting to assume more authority and there becomes a shift in the balance of “power” within the family. All of this has to be negotiated and dealt with and a family programme is an ideal place for this.

Drug and alcohol treatment programmes that have a family component address the interdependent nature of family relationships and how these relationships serve the individual with the drug and alcohol problem and other family members for good or ill. The focus of a family programme is therefore to intervene in these complex relational patterns and to alter them in ways that bring about productive change for the entire family. As such, changes in one part of the system can and do produce changes in other parts of the system, and these changes can contribute to either problems or solutions.

Next Steps

Research has shown that involving families in the treatment is very important in helping the treatment succeed and in meeting the needs of family members and the individual that has the drug and alcohol problem. It is also especially important that the problems in the relationship be treated; these problems do not go away because the drinking or drug use has stopped.

Programmes like Help Me Stops Dayhab incorporates conjoint couple sessions as well as offering a seperate family programme for partners and family members.

New methods of drug and alcohol treatment are changing that. If you or someone you care about wants to stop the issue before it gets worse, there are options for you. Help Me Stop’s intensive non-residential Dayhab programme costs only £2,500 for 5 weeks and offers accessible aftercare and family support options to minimise the risk of relapse and to maximise the support of friends and family that is so important to long-term success.

Our evening online Digital Dayhab programme is even more affordable, being £1,750 for a 6-week programme. It’s an excellent choice for adults who may have a smaller budget and are working and can’t access services in the day. Families can also access evening support online.

We’re here to talk about this if you’d like to learn more. Call us now on 0208 191 9191 or email us.

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