The Benefits Of Family Counseling When Dealing With Substance Abuse And Addiction
When someone in the family uses substances, whether it is drugs or alcohol, their substance use affects everyone in the family. The whole family suffers and plays different roles for the substance user. Whether they are enabling or in denial that there is even a problem or trying to just get through each day, everyone is affected.
Oftentimes it takes many occurrences and many things to happen before the substance user comes to the point of truly wanting or being forced to get help. It may come to their spouse leaving with the children, the children being removed from the home by Child Protective Services (CPS) or for some other legal issue to arise like jail time. Everyone has their own rock-bottom point.
In the case of the substance abuser being a teen, parents may have the feeling that their child does not have a problem, or the parent may be using as well so this is deemed normal. Additionally, the parents may be in total shock and not sure what to do. The family members may be trying to figure out where to get help and how to get help not only for the substance user but for the family as a whole.
The bottom line is the substance user is at the point of needing to seek counseling or other avenues of treatment. They may even have it forced on them by the judicial system, mandated by the courts to seek counseling for addiction. Usually this happens after the user has gotten in trouble with the law in regard to drug or alcohol use.
Coming from the point of view of Family Systems Theory, the whole family needs to be involved in the counseling process of those abusing drugs or alcohol. There are reasons their family member is using these substances and those reasons affect each member individually as well as the family as a whole unit. These issues need to be worked out in therapy not only for the substance user but the individual members of the family who have been affected.
If it is the case of a parent with substance use problems, the children and spouse are probably very hurt and angry. There are most likely issues of trust in the family because the substance user has lied or manipulated other family members. These are topics that need to be addressed in family counseling. Children need to be able to express themselves to their parents in a safe place and bring to light what they think and feel.
Counseling For The Family
Part of my caseload is working with the children and teens of substance users. These children are hurt and angry. They know what their parent is doing is not okay, but they are children so they don’t know what to do about it. They feel stuck. In some cases children are taken away from their substance-using parent and end up living someplace else because their parent or parents just can’t get it together to take care of adolescents properly. These children get placed in foster care or go live with another family member.
Some children end up with the sober parent and they are trying to figure out what to do next. They again know what their parent is doing is not okay, but yet their parent still “chooses” alcohol or drugs over their family or children. Children feel neglected, angry, scared, and frustrated.
The spouse needs to be able to express their feelings about how the substance use has affected the family. Counseling the family as a whole is an important part of restoring the family unit. For some couples the best thing to help is marriage counseling to help figure out what to do and how to handle the substance use and other issues. For a couple to have marriage counseling to help restore the relationship and help support the substance user is just as important as overall family counseling.
Addressing Teen Substance Use
In the case of teens who use, parents need to take a step back and realize that their teen is in serious trouble. The teen needs support and love in order to recover from their substance use issue. Parents need to realize their role in their teen’s recovery and what parents can do to help. This could be a change in rules, more effective consequences, or in general, holding the child accountable for his or her actions.
Teens usually have reasons to use, like any substance user. They usually are trying to cover some kind of hurt or pain in their lives. If this is the case, your teen needs counseling not only for the substance use but also for the detrimental feelings which they are attempting to smother.
When I counsel teens, I include the parents in the counseling process. I, as a therapist, can only do so much to help a teen in my office once a week. They need tools they can use at home as well. Then they need parents who will help them when they want to use in order to cope with a stressor.
Many believe the reason teens use is peer pressure. While this is true to a point, teens develop a substance use issue to cover some kind of trauma, divorce, abuse, low self-esteem, bullying and so on. Teens want to fit in and pretend that everything is “normal.” The job of a counselor is to help them with their underlying issues and hopefully help with the substance use issue as well. The most effective way to do this is to involve the parents and other family members.
Family Treated As A Whole
While counseling for individual family members is important and needed, counseling for the family as a whole is also needed. The family needs to talk all together about issues and work through these problems as an entire unit. There may be emotional hardships that the substance user isn’t even aware happened that need to be worked out or family dynamics that are not healthy that need to change to make the family function better.
Siblings need to be able to express to their substance-using sibling how they feel about their use. A parent needs to hear the hurt that was caused by the parent to their child during, perhaps, a drunken fit. A parent needs to hear from their substance-using teen why they use, even if that reason is because their parents got a divorce.
In order for the family to be made whole again, the family in its entirety needs to talk through issues that lend to substance use. They also need to communicate in regard to the issues caused by the substance use, such as divorce, financial problems, fighting, neglect, hurt feelings and so on. Until this happens, there will continue to be problems in the family.
The key to success in healing family issues of substance use is finding an appropriate therapist or group of therapists who can work with the individual family members as well as the family as a whole. Helping the family to plug into resources in order to have complete care and recovery for every family member is also a part of the process. Finding a therapist that not only understands substance abuse and addiction but also has experience in addressing family dynamics is what would work best.
As frustrating as it may be to have a family member who abuses substances, still understand your family as a whole needs help and do not be afraid to reach out to get the help that is needed.