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Does My Family Need to Know?

Some people who are thinking about getting help at a drug and alcohol treatment center worry about telling their family and friends. They have reached the stage at which they know they really need help, but they think they can do it alone. “I got myself into this, and I’ll get myself out,” someone will say. That is just so wrong! Addiction treatment is a family issue. When you leave the rehab center, you will go back to the household you came from. Something besides you needs to change.

Most people who are fearful or ashamed about involving their families really don’t need to worry. Family members and friends of addicts generally feel relieved that someone has at last taken the steps to get help. Although you may have some fuzzy memories of the things you’ve done in the past while you were intoxicated, the people close to you remember those things clearly.

The counselor assigned to coordinate your treatment will initially concentrate on you, and a short ways down the road that will include questions about your family members. The questions will help you both to recognize and think about the other people in your family who also abuse substances, the people in your family who have used or abused you, and also those who enable your poor behaviors through codependency. Let’s explore each of those issues in turn:

  • Family members who use can include grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, or siblings. The counselor is going to take a look at the branches on your family tree that run immediately above or alongside your own perch. You may not think that a grandparent’s or great-grandparent’s use could affect you, but there is some evidence that both genetic and environmental influences come into play where addiction is concerned. In a family with one addicted person, you are likely to find several others.
  • What kind of abuse have you been subjected to? Some people come from a history of sexual, physical, or verbal abuse. Even financial or social deprivation can foment the right atmosphere can trigger substance abuse in a person. Often, abuse goes hand-in-hand with emotional or mental health disorders, for both the abuser and the abused, and statistics show a direct connection between mental health disorders and addiction.
  • Codependency is a term that means someone has been making excuses for you, taking care of you, and generally enabling your poor behaviors. When someone is codependent, it generally is because of their own personal insecurities. They don’t feel worthwhile unless you need them, and they ensure that you need them by taking care of every big and little thing.

Just as your counselor will ask you a series of questions when you are ready to enter a drug and alcohol treatment center, he will at some point want to meet the people closest to you and ask them questions. He will be trying to understand family dynamics, meaning how you all relate to one antoher. He will want to know if one person takes responsibility for someone else’s addiction or, conversely, if that one person likes to blame others. He will look for secrets and splits within the family. He will also explore generational and cultural themes and beliefs within the family.

Once the counselor has conducted a review of the people that you and he have identified, he will help you to gain an understanding of healthy familial boundaries. From this process you will learn how to resolve family conflicts and how to improve communication within the family. Your family members will likewise benefit, and negative codependent behaviors will be redirected.

Your closest loved ones will be encouraged to participate in Al-Anon or Alateen groups. There is even a Co-Dependents Anonymous organization. Both group and individual family counseling sessions will be take place so that when you leave rehab, your family structure will be a healthier one that will foster your continued recovery.  You should not go on this journey alone—let your family be with you. 

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