Addiction: the family illness
Claire Rimmer, Lead Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Altrincham, discusses the impact that addiction can have on the whole family.
“Why?”; “Is it my fault?”; “I don’t understand how this has happened”; “What can I do to help?”
These are just some of the questions, thoughts, and concerns that family members and loved ones may have about an individual with an addiction.
In most cases, the family and friends of our patients have been greatly impacted by the disease of addiction. They are impacted mentally, physically and emotionally in their efforts to overcome the many difficulties that arise from living with someone in active addiction. They too are often in great distress and need help themselves. Years of living with addiction can lead to family members developing anxiety, feelings of isolation and fearing the repercussions of stigma.
The burden on loved ones
The impact and reactions to addiction in the family are vast and can change from day-to-day. Many of the family members we work with report feeling:
- Denial and disbelief – “this cannot happen in our family”
- Fear – constantly worrying about what is happening or what is going to happen
- Guilt – “is it something I have done?”
- Anger – with the individual and/or with themselves
Addiction treatment is about supporting the whole family
Our addiction therapy team understand that entering treatment is not just overwhelming for the individual patient, but also for their family, friends and loved ones.
That’s why we invite family members, friends and loved ones to be part of the patient treatment process. They have the opportunity to join the therapist and peer supporter-led groups, which provide education about addiction. These groups are also an experiential way of exploring family dynamics and the illness of addiction itself, which we believe is very much a family illness.
The family group is designed to encourage and support family members to cope with their own problems and concerns, learn more about the disease and take positive measures towards recovery – not just the recovery of their loved one in treatment, but also their own.
It is key for family members to learn to accept that they have not caused this situation, and that they cannot control their loved one or their addiction.
It has been our experience that when both parties, the patient and their close family members, are participating in a recovery programme, prognosis for the recovering alcoholic/addict is better, and the personal freedom to develop relationships, friendships and mutual happiness in life can be achieved.
At Altrincham, we look at onward treatment planning for all, providing our family group as part of the 28-day inpatient programme and as part of the 12-month patient aftercare, which is free of charge and tailored to individuals’ needs.