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Importance of involving family in addiction treatment

By Vernon Hartshorne

Vernon Hartshorne on the importance of family in addiction treatment.

One of the major benefits of running a Dayhab programme is connection with family members who can quite often be the instigator of treatment. They are often the 1st point of contact to our service, coming to us for support, education and advice. Family members are frequently within travelling distance of one of our centres as we are community-based. Families are living in closer proximity than ever before, with millennials waiting longer to buy their own homes and move in with partners. A new report finds that many are also putting off moving out of their parents houses. Nationwide 35% of people aged between 18 and 35 still live with their parents.

Because they live with the problem, Families are often the ones who persuade the client to come for treatment. Personally I have never agreed with the saying “you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink” I've seen plenty of people forced to attend treatment and 12-Step meetings who came to scoff and stayed in long term recovery.   

Family members need professional support 

Everyone in the family benefits from gaining a greater understanding of the dynamics of addictive processes. One of the priorities in the family programme is shame reduction. Shame is to addiction what oxygen is to fire. By educating families in the latest neuroscience and helping them truly understand that addiction is never a choice, that it’s not a moral failing or a lack of motivation or intelligence. But that it is in fact an illness, and should be treated as such. Compassion and connection are the tools we should use to save lives and heal families.

Addiction is like dropping ink into a fish tank it covers every aspect, nothing is untouched. Recovery is like a dropping bleach into the fish tank everything needs to be cleaned. Addiction hurts the whole family everyone gets hurt in different ways. Addiction takes the whole family hostage everyone gets trapped by this insidious illness, and part of the healing process is telling the truth, finding a voice and sharing what it’s been like living under the cloak of addiction.

If someone has travelled a long distance for treatment it may be impossible for family members to attend the service, unless they can financially manage this, and they have the time for this commitment. There is overwhelming evidence to support addicts have better outcome if families are part of the recovery process.That’s why we’ve developed a 20-hour family programme that runs at weekends, making it easier for families to be involved.

Someone once said, “people will not remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel” Working with alcoholics and addicts and family members within an experiential group process cannot but change the dynamics of the family, hopefully for the positive. When addicts get into recovery all the good qualities of humanity shine through in a consistent way. By Learning about the disease have an opportunity to talk about it, to share feelings, worries and concerns, developing self-care and coping strategies ways to stay safe, celebrating our goodness our beauty our gifts, families heal.