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The Family’s Role During Substance Abuse Treatment

If you’re the family member or loved one of someone with a substance use disorder, that person undoubtedly tells you that they got themselves into this trouble and they will get themselves out of it. However, family therapy and substance abuse treatment go hand-in-hand because addiction is a family disease. Are you helping or enabling?

Why Does the Addict Say It’s Their Problem?

You may feel bewildered or even angry at the addict’s insistence that the alcohol or drug addiction is their problem and they will resolve it themselves. The fact is that the addict wants to be left alone to figure things out for several reasons—or possibly a combination of them.

First, he or she feels some embarrassment about the negative behaviors they have exhibited when abusing drugs or alcohol. Second, they feel a stigma of shame, because they don’t realize that experts recognize addiction as a diagnosable medical condition. Third, on some level the addict wants to be left alone because there may be some reluctance to stop using. If they can just take that line of coke or bottle of liquor down into the basement where nobody will see them, they can feel okay and nobody will be much the wiser. Well, we all know that’s not quite true.

Responsibility for Seeking Substance Abuse Treatment

The addicted person absolutely can take control of their life. It is incumbent upon them to take the steps necessary to reach out for the help they need. Sometimes a person arrives at that decision on their own, but often it takes an ultimatum—from a judge or from a family member—to make them choose treatment over addiction. It’s the nature of the illness.

If you are the family member of a person who is addicted, what are your options? Some people deliver that ultimatum we mentioned, but that doesn’t always work. It might be better to look into yourself to discover what your role has been in the addicted person’s illness. Have you made excuses for them or covered up their negative behaviors? Maybe you quietly ignore the elephant in the living room, as therapists often analogize, and clean up the mess that the elephant makes without doing anything about it. What would your relationship with the addicted person be like if they didn’t abuse alcohol or drugs? There may be a component of codependency going on in the home, and at some point after the person begins substance abuse treatment, the therapist will help you address it.

The Therapist, the Family, and Confidentiality

You will be anxious to talk to the therapist and ask questions about your role in the addicted person’s recovery. However, the therapist works primarily with the addict at the onset of substance abuse treatment.

Because they must be the one to reach out and ask for help with recovery, that is who the counselor must deal with, at least initially. They have to respect the confidentiality of the person they are serving, their client. Confidentiality will prohibit them from communicating with you until the person in substance abuse treatment signs an authorization allowing them to exchange information with you. It’s legally binding and the counselors risk their licenses if they break it.

For example, if you drop off your loved one in front of the substance abuse treatment center while you park, and then you go in and ask where they are, the person at the front desk cannot even admit to you if they know whom you’re talking about. It’s simply to protect the client’s privacy, and you should not be offended.

In the meantime, rest assured that in due time the counselor will be eager to include you. Family therapy during substance abuse treatment carries a great deal of importance, because you are one of the people most important to their client who is struggling with addiction.

Your first job is to put the information about local substance abuse treatment programs in front of your loved one who needs help. Your second job is to become educated about addiction, and be patient. And rest assured, your participation will carry absolute importance when the time comes.

Turning Point has a Letter to Families as well as an Interventionalist to assist you as you deal with addiction as a family.