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Why Do We Need Family Therapy?

When you enter treatment for drug addiction, your family members and other loved ones need to participate in the process of your recovery. This is often accomplished through group, family, or marriage therapy.

The theory of family counseling is that the family is the context in which a person developed his drug problems, and the family is the context in which he must recover. Every family has its own set of expectations, alliances, rules, and roles for each member. When one person changes, the entire family changes. Unless the family allows for such change, the person will not successfully recover from drug addiction.

While you are in treatment working your to overcome your drug addiction, you will be experiencing profound and rapid changes, but that will not be enough to keep you off drugs. No one can get sent away and come home “fixed.” Your entire family has to integrate the changes you make and change the way the unit functions, or you are likely to find yourself being pushed back into your old unhealthy habits. Without these changes, there will always a momentum for a family to return to the old ways of relating to one another.

That may sound hard to believe, because it may often feel as though your family members have been giving you a hard time about your drug use. In fact, family members often believe that if the addict just stops using drugs, the arguments and fights will stop too. However, this is often not the case. Instead, what happens is that once you stop using drugs, your family has difficulty adjusting. For the first time, family members have to look at their own problems, not just yours. Often the drug user has been a scapegoat, the one who takes the blame for family dysfunction.

A family’s old habits and ways are hard to break. Your spouse or partner may have been “covering” for you at work and among your friends. Family members may have become isolated within the community in their attempt to keep your drug use secret. Often families have two ways of functioning: one when the addict is using, and the other when he is not. If the user stops all drug use, the family has difficulty functioning.

If you are in a committed relationship, it will be very difficult to stay away from drugs if your partner uses them. Both of you need to find new drug-free ways to relieve tension, stress, and boredom. Some couples benefit by becoming involved with support group, such as Recovering Couples Anonymous.

If you are a parent, one of your main goals may be to become a better mother or father to your children. Before this can occur, though, you and your children have to work through remaining emotions relating to your past so you can make that fresh start together. Emotions such as the resentment that your children may still be holding onto, the expectations they have, and the guilt you carry over your drug-related behavior are what therapists call the “field of emotions.” These emotions are complex, but they will undermine your future progress unless you work them out in a therapeutic situation.

Achieving long-term recovery from drug addiction depends upon improving your relationships with your partner, children, and other family members. You need their love and support to stay drug-free, and you need to live without the stress of arguments, criticisms, and anger.

Family and marriage counselors identify patterns of family interactions and help change the ones that do not work. They help family members better communicate with one another, and find activities they can enjoy together. Having fun and enjoying one another’s company makes the family more cohesive and functional.

Family therapy is particularly necessary if the drug abuser is a young person. Often, parents are either overly involved or under-committed, which means they may need to give their child either more space or a greater degree of supervision. Parents need to repair the broken trust that accompanies drug addiction, especially if their child has a history of violent or aggressive behaviors, sexual acting out, legal problems, and related problems.

With effective treatment, drug addiction can be overcome, and dysfunctional family dynamics can be improved. The process may be challenging, but the rewards are truly life-changing.