Support for the Family in Addiction
Alcoholism is also known as a family disease. Alcoholics may have young, teenage, or grown-up children; they have wives or husbands; they have brothers or sisters; they have parents or other relatives.
An alcoholic can totally disrupt family life and cause harmful effects that can last a lifetime. Each member of the family may be affected by alcohol differently. In the area of addiction treatment, the therapist must be sensitive to these differences.
Families of alcoholics and addicts need a solid support network that consist of friends, therapy, and 12-step programs. Research has indicated that therapy combined with 12-step meetings can be particularly effective in healing families impacted by addiction.
Al-Anon Family Groups
Al-Anon is a 12-step program that addresses the needs of friends and families of alcoholics. Originally designed for the spouses of alcoholics in the 1950s, attendance now includes friends, family, and even business associates of the alcoholic.
Nar-Anon is a similar 12-step program for families and friends of people addicted to drugs. Treatment centers and psychotherapists often encourage family members to attend Al-anon and/or Nar-Anon.
Al-Anon in conjunction with coping skills training (CST) has been shown to relieve depression in the partners of alcoholics. With CST, a psychotherapist tries to strengthen coping skills during high risk situations. CST is also used in the treatment of alcoholism. Harvard Medical School has performed a number of large scale review studies into the effectiveness of couples counseling and Al-Anon in the treatment of the alcoholic and their family.
Family and Couples Therapy for Addiction
A 2003 study at Harvard reviewed several studies on marital and family therapy (MFT), Al-Anon, and psychotherapy and determined that when used together by family members, the combination was predictive of the alcoholic’s success in staying sober. The researchers recommended behavioral couples therapy (BCT), a type of marital and family therapy used in alcoholism treatment.
According to the authors, marital therapy combined with BCT “is clearly more effective than individual treatment at increasing abstinence and improving relationship functioning. BCT also reduces social costs, domestic violence, and emotional problems of the couple’s children.” In response to the needs to children and adolescents in alcoholic households, a great number of resources are available, including the 12-step program Alateen.
Children of Alcoholics Counseling
Extensive research has been done with the children of alcoholics (COAs) to determine their incidence of alcoholism and other psychiatric problems. COAs have an increased risk for depression, substance abuse, and personality disorders.
Other research has revealed that COAs have increased communication apprehension, more difficulty coping with stressful events, and magnetic resonance imaging has shown that they respond differently to emotional stimuli.
The combination of psychotherapy and Al-Anon is important in dealing with the effects of living with someone with a substance-related disorder, even if the events were long ago. To learn more about how I can help or to make an appointment, please call my office.