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The importance of family in addiction recovery

Relatives and friends of a loved one with an addiction are central to recovery, although it’s important that they don’t become overly responsible for that person

An estimated two million people in the UK are fighting an addiction. Addiction is a strong, uncontrollable need to take drugs, drink alcohol or carry out a particular activity, such as gambling.

When a person is struggling with an addiction, their behaviour can have an impact on multiple people, especially their loved ones and those they live with. It is estimated that an individual’s addiction has a significant impact on at least six other people. It can be a natural instinct for family and friends to want to help their loved one. However, this can lead to them becoming overly responsible for that person, also known as ‘enabling’, as this type of behaviour enables the addict to avoid taking responsibility for themselves, which promotes denial.

Angie Cullen (Federation of Drug and Alcohol Practitioners (FDAP)), the psychiatric nurse who runs our family support sessions at Manor Clinic, explains why this doesn’t actually help in the long term: “At The Manor Clinic, we try to encourage families of the patients we work with to take responsibility only for their own actions – not those of their loved one with the addiction. The addict needs to learn to take responsibility; this is an important part of recovery and helps in rebuilding self-esteem.

“We often find that relatives look for reasons why the addict turned to their addictive substance or behaviours in the first place. However, it is important that everyone focuses on how to help them move forward rather than dwelling on the past. In the early days, focusing on the present is most important. As recovery progresses, then individuals find that with the help of the programme, the past will be addressed.”

Families often find it helpful to learn about the illness and share experiences

Our family sessions at Manor Clinic are available to those who are closest to the patient. We find that people come to us to learn about the illness and find it useful listening to and sharing experiences with others in a similar position.

Angie adds: “As the illness develops, families and close friends can feel very isolated, so attending these sessions enables them to understand they are not alone. Many begin with the view that the addict is the problem and that no-one else needs to change but quickly learn that everyone is affected. Coming to terms with addiction can be an emotional experience for those concerned. Families have often experienced huge stresses as well as guilt, shame and denial. At our family sessions, they are often relieved they can finally be open about what they have been going through. Some attend more than one session and we also offer 24/7 telephone support. One-to-one therapy can be arranged if needed.

“Many alcoholics find it difficult to manage stressful situations and find that alcohol works instantaneously; other coping strategies are not so quick. Whilst they are here, patients learn how to manage stress, what their triggers are, and the healthier alternatives to addictive behaviours.

“We encourage patients to tell all their family about their addiction. It is important that they are aware of how they can help in the recovery process during and especially after treatment.”

Family involvement can help break through denial

Addiction treatment at Manor Clinic typically takes place as part of our intensive, 28-day Addiction Treatment Programme. At the start of this, patients are encouraged to ask their families and/or friends to write and send a letter to them, where the family/friends detail the impact that the patient’s addiction has had on them. This can be a painful and illuminating process but can help to break through any lasting denial and enables everyone to open up.

We send all nominated family members a family pack and invite them to contact us and attend one of the support meetings, which are held fortnightly.

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To discuss how the Manor Clinic team can help to support individuals and families dealing with an addiction issue or for further information on treatment and rehabilitation programmes, please call: 023 8046 4721 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. 

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