When considering the various treatment options for those in addiction recovery, focusing on the individual is imperative. Still, it is also essential to remember that each person does not exist in isolation. Each individual lives within an ecosystem; we all live within a community of others with which we interact on a daily basis. These environments and communities have the potential to influence the recovery process considerably. For this reason, integrating family therapy with substance abuse treatment can be helpful.
The focus of family therapy treatment is to step into these intricate relational patterns and, if necessary, help alter them in ways that bring about positive changes for the entire family. Families can play a complex role in substance abuse treatment. Individual family members may be concerned about the patient’s substance abuse and can, therefore, be a source of hope and help to the treatment process. However, they may also be managing the consequences of the patient’s addictive behavior along with their own goals and issues. This is why providing services to the whole family whenever possible, may improve long-term treatment effectiveness.
Keeping an open mind is important when defining what family means. For every individual, it may mean something different. Therefore there is no single definition of family. Many cultures and belief systems may influence individuals’ definitions and can change over time. However, there are broad categorizations of what may be considered “family.” Some may include:
- Families including a couple with children, single parents, families including blood relatives, adoptive families, foster families, stepfamilies, grandparents raising grandchildren, etc.
- Extended families, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
- Elected families, those who choose who they call family, including individuals who are not biologically related but are emotionally bonded.
Family Therapy Models for Substance Abuse Interventions
Family therapy in substance abuse treatment may help families become more aware of their own needs as a group and individually. It can be an opportunity to provide genuine, enduring healing for people. According to a 2004 treatment improvement protocol on substance abuse treatment and family therapy provided by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), there are four primary family treatment models used today:
- The family disease model is based on the idea that substance abuse is a disease that affects the entire family. Family members of the people who abuse substances may develop codependence, causing them to enable the family member’s substance abuse. This model aims to treat the entire family through modification in behavior and environment.
- The family systems model is based on the idea that families become organized by their interactions around substance abuse. In adapting to substance abuse, the family can maintain balance or homeostasis despite its consequences. For example, a man with a substance use disorder may not be able to express his feelings unless he is intoxicated. Using the systems approach, a therapist would attempt to adjust maladaptive communication patterns or family role structures that require substance abuse for stability. This model aims to teach the family how to build healthier organizational habits and correct any maladaptive behaviors.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that maladaptive behaviors, including substance use and abuse, may be reinforced through family interactions. Behaviorally oriented treatment tries to target behaviors and interactions that trigger substance abuse, to improve communication, problem-solving, and coping skills. It aims to correct destructive thought patterns and behaviors that may contribute to addiction.
- Multidimensional family therapy integrates several different techniques to emphasize the relationships among cognition, emotion, behavior, and environment. These factors that can contribute to addiction may be approached from different perspectives in this multi-faceted approach.
Although integrating family therapy into substance abuse treatment can pose some difficult challenges—such as it is more complex, and family therapy requires more training beyond those typically required for substance abuse programs—it can be rewarding.
Because of this challenge, some substance abuse counselors may focus on the individual needs of people with substance use disorders, urging them to take care of themselves while neglecting the impact these changes may have on other people in the family system. The patient can often be unprepared for the reactions of other family members. The family members may also not know how to deal with the changes they experience and can often be unprepared to cope with these reactions. On the other hand, family therapists may sometimes hope that bringing about positive changes in the family system might improve a substance use disorder when this outlook can minimize the occasionally overpowering addiction process.
An integrated substance abuse treatment model based on family therapy can play an important role in the addiction recovery process. This approach aims at attending to both family functioning and individual functioning to bring about positive change. How people define “family” may be different for everyone, but finding the most important people in your environment and including them in the recovery process may prove to help long-term treatment effectiveness. Sometimes it can be easy to feel alone in your suffering, but it does not always have to be that way. Being open to others helping you and being there for you might just be the motivation you need for change. At Alta Centers, we provide a safe community environment where you can develop a newfound sense of stability and belonging in your recovery process. For more information on our family therapy and family support services, reach out to us at (888) 202-2583.
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