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How Family Support Helps in a Patient’s Recovery


When someone is working with a treatment center for mental health or addiction, family involvement is an important part of the recovery process. “Families are important in the treatment process from the very beginning because it is typically loved ones who identify there is a problem in the first place,” says Matt Brown, founder of Freedom Interventions, which provides drug and alcohol interventions and continuum of care services to clients and families.

“As we go into the recovery process, the family is going to be that first line of support and that first line of accountability,” Brown says. “Families need to understand how to properly support the addicted individual without enabling behaviors that might have been present before recovery began.” Here are ways families can provide addiction support in the recovery process:

Get Educated

Resources like Al-Anon can help loved ones understand steps to recovery and what their role should be. “If they don’t understand what’s needed for an individual to recover, then they’re very likely to step in at the first sign of struggling to make that suffering stop,” Brown states. “Sometimes the pain, whether it’s financial or emotional, is part of the growth process.”

Avoid Enabling Behaviors

“There are two people who have to get fired: the banker and the janitor. The banker is the one who usually finances the mess, and the janitor is the one who cleans it up,” says Brown. Families often supply both roles. If patients are allowed to clean up their own situations, they learn they can handle the responsibility and that they have the tools to get through a tough day. This way, family members can stop enabling and go back to fulfilling their roles as parents, spouses or siblings.

Be Available for Counseling

Being available for family counseling can help in the recovery process, but it has to be at the right time. The treatment team can advise when counseling can be helpful. An individual undergoing treatment needs to figure out who they are and what their value system is before work on the family and relationships can occur. “A lot of times early in the recovery process everyone is so quick to smooth the waters that the family work can happen too soon and disrupt other work,” Brown states.

Avoid Passing Judgment

To help in the recovery process, families should avoid passing judgment and instead work to understand the struggles their loved one is experiencing. Family members should ask, “What makes that behavior make sense?” A different point of view can help families see things differently. “And that’s not to say that we don’t need to be concerned when we see some things,” Brown says, “but if we try to seek to understand rather than judge, I think we’re always going to put ourselves in a better position to be compassionate and helpful.”

Write Letters and Visit

If a patient is staying in a residential treatment center, letters and visits from family members can help with addiction support. Letters can help remind patients they have loved ones who care about them and are concerned enough about them to put thoughts down on paper. In addition, treatment center staff can advise when family visits would be the most beneficial.

Don’t Open Old Wounds

If there has been damage to a relationship because of substance abuse, family members should learn how to cope with their feelings and anger. That is how relationships move forward. “There has to be some forgiveness and a process for both people to really work through the resentment,” Brown says. “That’s why I think that Al-Anon is important for the family and the support side of the relationship.”

Be Positive

Hope is a powerful tool in helping someone recover. “Families can help someone have hope that life can get better and that treatment can be a part of that,” Brown says. “Hope is powerful. It’s so much more powerful as a motivator than fear or guilt or shame.”

Substance abuse and mental illness are chronic illnesses that patients deal with for the rest of their lives. “But having that hope — that a person can experience joy, have fulfilling relationships or look in the mirror and love the person they see again — there’s something really powerful about that, and it’s got to be maintained.”

Families wanting to provide addiction support to a loved one in treatment should get professional guidance because every family is different and every dynamic is unique. “Getting a professional involved can help clear up what might be some really muddy waters and help a family understand what’s appropriate and what’s not, given their own specific set of circumstances.”

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