You may have heard it said, “Addiction is a family disease.” This phrase often refers to the impact of the symptoms and behaviors that a substance use disorder has on the family members and friends of the identified ‘addict’. The physical and emotional struggle is often overwhelming, associated with the stress, loss of control, enmeshment, and other such factors frequently present in a co-dependent relationship. Sometimes overlooked, and often misunderstood, are the emotions family and friends feel which are associated with their loved ones recovery process. There is an impact, at distinct phases of recovery, that family and loved ones appear to experience for themselves. It is for this reason that the family is strongly encouraged to participate in the formal and social aspects of the treatment program. Attendance at Al-Anon, other 12 Step groups, seeking individual counseling, and other family supports become essential to the family’s recovery. Families in recovery can become part of the solution and learn to also focus on healing themselves. This is very supportive for the addict too, as it may relieve some of the guilt and shame that may drive the addiction.
Although the following phases are often distinct and take place in a similar sequence as presented, it is important to note that a recovery process is not a linear event. Some of these phases may appear out of order, or not surface at all. There may be overlap between these phases, as well. Each individual and his or her healing process is unique. Individual family members may frequently experience different phases at varying times, this can cause further tension and stress within family relationships.
D: Despair. The loved ones often feel despair when the addict first decides to enter a treatment program. Many fear loneliness, loss of control, failure, financial stress, embarrassment, and shame. It is often at this point that the family is most desperate for help and seeking resources.
R: Relief. Several days to weeks after the addict has been in treatment, there is a welcome feeling of relief. Constant worry about the safety of the addict subsides, there is reduced tension in the home and a feeling, sometimes for the first time, of a possibility of hope for the individual’s future.
A: Anger. Individuals experience different awareness levels and modes of expression of this anger. On the one end of the spectrum are those that overtly feel and express their anger toward the addict, whereas others may express it as complaints about physical ailments in themselves, idiosyncrasies of the treatment program, or deny having any negative feelings at all. Some family members displace the feeling of anger toward others and experience the addict as the victim.
F: Fear. Fear is almost always about the future. Loved ones fear relapse, financial burdens, job loss, exposure, and long-term effects the disease may have on children and other family members. Fear can be realistic or it can be exaggerated. Regardless, it can be immobilizing to the family member.
T: Tolerance. In time, the family and loved ones learn to tolerate the diagnosis of substance use disorders. This phase can be misinterpreted as acceptance but it is the beginning of the recovery journey. Family members who have established their own supports have a better understanding of the disease and more tools to assist them with coping.
D: Disappointment. Family members expect sobriety to bring along with it an absence of earlier “personality defects” with the recovering addict returns home. When they realize that their loved one’s personality is virtually unchanged, and problem behaviors persist, it can be very upsetting. Families with realistic expectations of the addicts recovery process can reduce the impact of disappointment.
R: Reality. The recovering family realizes that life goes on, with new commitments and challenges. Recovery becomes an accepted part of the family rhythm. Family may change traditions or rituals to incorporate a lifestyle and attitude of recovery.
A: Acceptance. The recovering addict and their family begin to feel comfortable sharing their history of chemical dependency with others. The emphasis shifts from shame and guilt to self- forgiveness and gratitude.
G: Growth. The family members and loved ones may experience a thirst for more knowledge, a greater ability to focus on themselves, and a deeper connection with the recovering addict. This is also the time they may take the opportunity to offer support and give back to helping others in a healthy way.**
It is again important to remember that guidance by professionals through the above steps and transitions is important to the success of the person struggling with the addiction, as well as the family. It is for that reason that family sessions, and often family groups (education-based), are part of treatment.
At Center For Wellness, a strong emphasis is placed on the role of the family for this reason. Our Intensive Outpatient Program utilizes the family support, as well as the opportunity to educate the family, to create the best outcomes for those seeking help.
Visit us at www.centerforwellnessnj.com for more information.
**The information regarding the above phases was modified in part from the article, The Disease of Addiction: Origins, Treatment, and Recovery, by Daniel H Angres, MD, Kathy Bettinardi-Angres, APRN, CADC
This article was written by Susan Busfield, LPC, LCADC – Clinical Coordinator of the Substance Abuse program at Center For Wellness, with input from Dr. Gagandeep Singh – Owner/Executive Director