Addiction is often referred to as a family disease because addiction not only impacts the person who is misusing drugs and/or alcohol, it impacts the entire family. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, 46 percent of American adults have experienced substance misuse problems in their family. Active addiction typically prompts families to make slow, incremental changes over time in an effort to adapt to the steady progression of the disease. Unfortunately, those changes tend to magnify family dysfunction.
The family program at Recovery Ways allows patients and their family members to take an honest look at the disease of addiction and examine the effect it has had on each person individually, and on the family as a whole. “Addiction is not simply about substance misuse, it is primarily about unhealthy relationships,” says Kyle Kone. As the clinical lead at Recovery Ways, Kone oversees various clinical and administrative programs, including the family program and its ongoing support for patients and their family members. “It’s not about one person and it’s not about one substance, although both play an important role in the addiction.”
Many addicted people numb themselves of the pain and discomfort of formative and influential relationships. Kone remembers a client who relapsed and went into a supermarket to buy alcohol. He told Kone he was triggered by “feeling down,” but when they explored the event in therapy, they realized the reason for the mood change was a relationship breakdown.
According to addiction expert, Terence T. Gorski, the relapse process includes 11 distinct steps beginning with “unhealthy emotions” in step one. The actual substance use is the tenth step and its aftermath, the eleventh and final one. Additional steps in Gorski’s relapse process include denial, compulsive behavior, and external turmoil. “Most people [in] a physical relapse already had a mental and emotional relapse,” says Kone.
Relapse stages are typically driven by relationship conflicts. “If you track it down, you’ll find that it is 100 percent about unhealthy human relationships,” says Kone. People react to the relational breakdown by “intensifying what they consider insufficient or they are numbing what seems overwhelming,” often with drugs and alcohol. And it doesn’t have to be blood relatives: while it can be the parents or a sibling, it can be anybody who has a significant influence in their life.
Kone is not suggesting that the family as such is responsible for the addiction or the recovery of their loved one but the family can play an important role and become a great asset in the recovery of the addicted individual and the health of the whole family.
For that they require help: families usually do not know how to repair the damage caused by addiction. Often, substance misuse has been going on for a long time with devastating consequences for the relationships within the family. Family therapy is not about assigning blame but about opening up clear and honest communication among family members. Many studies show that the chance of sustained recovery from a substance use disorder improves dramatically if the family participates in the treatment process.
“We have a theme at Recovery Ways,” says Kone, “a kind of mantra, if you will, that we want them to hear as often as possible. That is, we want the families to experience a parallel process.” It is a very effective way to analyze, heal, and resolve unhealthy relationships that may impede recovery.
NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face engagement with family members may be limited or restricted, and will resume as soon as it is safe to do so.