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By Nicky Adams, Programme Leader (Families and CPD) at the Centre for Addiction Treatment Studies
You don’t have to be addicted to suffer from addiction - it is becoming widely known that substance misuse affects the whole family, not just the individual. We have long recognised the value of involving family members, friends and partners in the treatment and recovery of individuals – we also understand the importance of offering support and therapy to family members in their own right.
The impact of substance misuse on family life can be devastating. The stigma of addiction can lead to families becoming isolated and increasingly perplexed and frustrated; despite their best efforts to help their loved one, the problems only seem to get worse. Addiction can take its toll in the form of stress, worry, deterioration of physical and mental health, financial strain and damaged relationships.
That’s why we offer specific support for families and friends of a loved one in treatment.
Our Brief Residential Family Programme is for individual family members in their own right.
It is not necessary for a family member or friend to have a loved one in treatment in order to benefit from this programme and a formal evaluation has shown that this short intervention can make a significant difference to the recovery process for the whole family. We first developed the programme more than 30 years ago and continues to deliver it several times a year.
Participants invariably need a safe place where they can speak about their difficulties with others who share similar experiences; we invite them to spend four days (three nights) with us and experience a healing respite from home. Each day there are educational talks and workshops, therapeutic groups, guest speaker events and opportunities for relaxation. Comfortable full bed and board is provided with nurturing home-cooked meals. Group work is facilitated by experienced family counsellors who help participants to acknowledge the difficult feelings that arise around addiction. These might include non-acceptance and denial, feelings of guilt and shame, rejection, resentment, lack of trust, loss and anxiety.
The team of counsellors takes a systemic family therapy approach to helping individuals affected by substance misuse, see family behaviour as inter-related. Once individuals begin to see how active addiction creates problems in the family system and relationships, they can begin to develop more compassion for themselves and for the addicted member of the family.
They will learn some of the ‘dos and don’ts’ about dealing with people with substance misuse problems and find out how to put appropriate ‘boundaries’ in place. With new information and insights they begin to find healthier ways of coping and looking after themselves at home. In addition we encourage all family members to share their experiences and receive support from others in similar situations by accessing mutual aid groups such as Al-Anon or other recovery networks. The value of peer support can’t be underestimated.