The Family's Role in Addiction Recovery

*Editor's note: Please note that Reclaiming Futures does not endorse New Beginnings Recovery Center.
As young people suffer from addiction, their families suffer too. Just watching the decline of people they love and feeling helpless to stop it is bad enough, but they probably also feel angry, hurt, and frustrated with the addict. There are a number of things family members can do to help in a child’s recovery as well as steps they can take for themselves.
The very first thing to be done is to have a talk with the child. This needs to be done when he or she is not under the influence of drugs and it needs to be presented as supportive. A child who feels under attack will withdraw and nothing will be accomplished. When the child denies the use of drugs and parents still suspect they are an issue, the parents need to press forward and seek help.
Choosing treatment options

A professional health evaluation can help determine if drug addiction is a problem. An intervention program is also an option, one in which the entire family gets involved and learns how to help the drug user to get the help they need. The kind of drug treatment chosen will depend on the child and the addiction, specifically the length of the addiction, the type of addiction, and the personality traits of the teen.

  • Inpatient treatment typically lasting about 30 days requires the patient to remain at a hospital or treatment facility for the entire period, staying overnight and receiving treatment during the day.
  • Residential treatment keeps the patient in residence for 30 to 90 days, or even longer.
  • Partial hospitalization treatment is for teens who have a stable home environment in which to live. They go to the hospital three to five days per week for four to six hours at a time to undergo medical monitoring and treatment.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment does not require residency or extensive hospital visits. The teen usually meets at the hospital three days per week for two to four hours at a time, hours that are scheduled around school and work.
  • Medical treatment involves the use of medication to ease the symptoms of withdrawal.

Within these approaches are varying combinations of medical monitoring, medication, individual therapy, counseling sessions, a 12-step program, and perhaps other types of therapy, such as group therapy. As family members decide on an approach, they should ask about those details.
Academic considerations during treatment
When choosing a program, parents need to be sure to include academic education among the criteria. They should make sure the program includes certified teachers and that they assess the teen and provide an educational program tailored to their needs. There should also be additional services available, such as remedial programs, if required, and parents should work with students to ensure that they develop good study and learning skills.
Parents must make certain that the educational program will work with their teen’s school to ensure that all credits earned while in treatment will be transferred to their transcript. A teen who completes rehab with a new commitment to education improves his or her chances of success in recovery.
Accepting that addiction is a disease
In order to be as helpful as possible, family members need to take care of themselves. The first thing they can do here is to understand and accept that addiction is a disease. It doesn’t matter how much the addict loves his family, and it has nothing to do with willpower. He or she simply cannot stop without serious help.
In light of this, family members should educate themselves on addiction. They must understand that it is not their fault. Family members can also find and attend meetings of support groups in their area, where they can get the help they need to deal with the situation.
Next is perhaps the most important thing family members can do to help the addict and themselves: They can stop enabling the young addict. It is completely natural to want to protect a loved one, especially a child, from suffering the consequences of their actions. Family members make excuses for the addict and avoid talking about the addiction. However, these actions only make it comfortable for the addict to keep on abusing drugs. Instead, family members need to practice detachment with love, which means allowing the addict to feel the brunt of their mistakes.
Options for counseling
Family members can often benefit from counseling, both as individuals and as a family. This can help families learn better methods of communication, allow them to express their feelings in a safe environment, and help bring balance back to family relationships. Financial counseling might also be a good idea for families coping with a loved one’s addiction. Getting debt under control and making up a budget can help to relieve stress.
Finally, relatives of young addicts should try to maintain open communication with one another and try to engage in normal, everyday family activities. Eat dinner together everyday, go to the movies once in a while, attend family functions and other events. Families shouldn’t stop living life, because they need to take care of themselves and they need to show the teen addict that there is something worthwhile waiting for them once they begin their recovery.

Johnny Patout is the CEO of New Beginnings Recovery Center in Opelousas, La, and has been working in the field of addiction for nearly three decades. He earned his graduate degree from Louisiana State University and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Over the years, Johnny has provided training for substance abuse counselors and is a sought-after public speaker. As a recovering drug addict, Johnny draws on his education, training, and past experiences to help other addicts toward recovery.
*Photo at top by Flickr user o5com

Updated: March 21 2018