Prevention & Support

Addiction Support for Families and Loved Ones

By Mark Reynolds, Addiction Specialist

It can be difficult watching someone you love struggle with addiction. As the person suffering from addiction becomes changed through the illness, they may become withdrawn, angry, volatile, aggressive, or depressed. It can feel as if the person you love has become someone else. Addiction affects not only the addict, but also his or her family and loved ones as well. If someone you love is suffering from addiction, he or she needs support, but so do you. Addiction is truly a family affair.

Drug treatment programs vary widely. Medical detox programs, outpatient treatment, aftercare programs, individual counseling, group counseling, and court programs all exist to help those coping with drug addictions. Family therapy programs also exist to help support families of those with drug addictions.

Crystal methamphetamine addiction, like other addictions, can have a profound effect on everyone it touches. While it can be easy to focus solely on the crystal meth addict, the best treatment approach is one that incorporates the entire family as a whole. Family support treatment can be beneficial in several ways.

First, a family support program helps the relatives learn to provide a positive, supportive environment for the person battling the addiction. Families often fall into negative coping patterns that not only do not help the addict, they can actually worsen the addictive behaviors. Addiction support groups for families can help them alter the coping patterns they have developed in order to survive the months and even years of addiction their loved one has experienced.

Family support treatment secondarily educates the family about the role and consequences of addiction. Addiction is a disease that can pass from generation to generation as the harmful coping patterns learned begin to promote addictive behaviors. Support and treatment for the family can work to prevent this from happening.

Finally, supportive treatment for the family can be therapeutic. Families often suffer from the legal, physical, and financial consequences of the addictions of one of its members. Crystal meth addiction takes a heavy toll on addicts, leading them to behave in an uncharacteristic fashion. Some meth addicts turn to crime to support their habit, others neglect their children, and some have violent mood swings and abuse their loved ones. Families need the support of outsiders, to learn that they are not isolated.

Even if the addict him or herself is not yet willing or able to seek treatment, the family and loved one can still benefit from supportive services. Learning how the family adapts to sustain and enable the addict can help them stop the damaging or dysfunctional behavior and learn new, more effective adaptive behaviors.

The emotional toll of crystal meth addiction can be enormous. Family support and therapy can help open the lines of communication between the person suffering from addiction and the rest of the family. Loved ones may take on various roles to create a more normal-feeling family and to hide the addictive behavior and dysfunctional patterns. Family members may lose themselves in the addiction. Common roles include the following:

The Addict The addict is necessarily the center of attention and the family, and although this person is the key to recovery from drug addiction, he or she is not necessarily the most important person when it comes to the recovery of the family. The family members must change their pattern of coping behavior before recovery can be considered complete.

The Caretaker
The caretaker or enabler keeps the family balanced. The caretaker provides support and financial, emotional, and other resources to the rest of the family. The caretaker makes excuses for the behavior of the addict and will attempt and encourage the rest of the family to present a positive, united front to the rest of the world. The caretaker often feels inadequate and helpless.

The Hero
The hero is a perfectionist who works hard to present the family in a positive manner. The hero is often the "success story" of the family, a classic overachiever. The hero struggles with feelings of guilt and shame.

The Jester
The jester is a joker, full of dark humor, and while he or she is certainly funny, it is hurtful humor, doing more damage than good. The jester can interrupt the healing process and hinder recovery. The jester experiences anger and embarrassment.

The Scapegoat
The scapegoat is a rebel, often being blamed for the family's problems. The scapegoat may even be called the "black sheep" of the family. The scapegoat may often get into scrapes, perhaps even engage in criminal activity, and succeeds in diverting attention from the addict. The scapegoat may feel emptiness and guilt.

The Lost Child
The lost child exists on the fringe of the family; he or she stays out of the way and is afraid to make waves. The lost child may be quiet and reserved. It is important in a dysfunctional family for the lost child to suppress his or her needs in order to maintain the sense of normalcy. The lost child is lonely, neglected, and often very angry.

Because so much shame and secrecy is involved in drug abuse and addiction, the denial of the addiction becomes a heavy burden on each member. The entire family must analyze their individual roles within the family unit and seek help for themselves and supportive treatment for the family as a whole before the recovery process can be considered complete. The family may go through a natural grieving process before healing can take place. As your loved one begins to emerge from the cycle of crystal meth addiction through drug treatment, you may find he or she is a new person, someone you may not have expected. Being in a supportive environment and being aware of these changes in advance will help arm and prepare you. You will be ready to help your loved one on the road to recovery. More importantly, you will find that you are not alone in your battle against addiction.

When the entire family is involved in the recovery process, the odds of recovery are much higher. Family support therapy can be obtained through counseling, educational programs, or even group or individual sessions. Family support is a powerful method of taking control of the addiction. At the same time, family addiction support may not be appropriate in every situation. If physical abuse is involved, the abuser should be isolated from the family and the members should be treated separately from that individual.

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