A Healing Path for All: The Importance of a Family Aftercare Program

family sitting in a fieldAddiction is a family disease. It doesn’t affect just one person in the family; it affects everyone in the family. You’ve probably heard this statement many times or perhaps you’ve never thought of addiction in this way. Well, it’s very true and although the other family members are not addicted they still experience pain, loss, and turmoil.

Addiction has a way of creating tension and conflict that leads to problems for family members about how to cope with the person’s addiction and the effects on the family unit.[1] An American study was conducted on over 25,000 family members of someone with substance use disorder (SUD), matched to family members of someone with diabetes, asthma or a control group of family members where there was no SUD  nor chronic physical illness. The results were that in the year prior to diagnosis of the main patient, family members of those with SUD were more likely to themselves be diagnosed with mental illnesses including depression or trauma than those in the diabetes or asthma groups.[2]

Most people have trauma as a result of living with someone that has an addiction. Dealing with violence, emergencies, police and ambulance situations, verbal or physical abuse, mental abuse, worrying about someone else’s life or death all the time without the power to change it, being lied to or being blamed are all experiences that can create distress and leave people emotionally overwhelmed.

What starts off as trying to help your family member who’s struggling with drugs or alcohol (because it feels like it’s the right thing to do) often ends up becoming a life’s mission. Susan Barnes, Addiction Counsellor and Supervisor of Volunteers at Bellwood Health Services agrees, “Family members may not realize it because they are so focused on the addict.”  Loved ones dedicate every last breath and strength towards managing the unmanageable. They feel the need to fix everything. Resentments grow, isolation becomes the norm and boundaries become a thing of the past.

Support is Necessary for Family Members Too

Trying to change the behaviour of a person who’s been struggling with addiction takes time, support and professional treatment. So why wouldn’t it be the same for a family member? Family members take on roles and responsibilities as a way to cope with the chaos that comes with addiction. At Bellwood Health Services, family members are encouraged to attend the Family Program. The Family Program is designed to help family members understand what addiction means and how change is possible; there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The Family Program is the first step towards recovery for family members. Think of the Family Program as the renovation of a building that holds new skills, education and goals. The Family Aftercare Program is maintenance for that newly renovated building.

Susan Barnes believes it’s important for family members to continue to receive support once their loved one has completed an addiction treatment program, “Family members need to heal from the trauma and the after effects of living with the addiction. It’s a long term process and it requires all parties to heal first before they are ready to heal the relationship.”

Research by the University of Birmingham states that “Good quality social support, in the form of emotional support, good information, and material help, is an invaluable resource for affected family members, supporting their coping efforts and contributing positively to their health.”[3] Bellwood’s aftercare program is just that according to Susan Barnes, “Family Aftercare has always been an integral part of the Bellwood Treatment Program. Addiction is the disease of the addict which can only be healed by the addict. However, the family can play a significant role by supporting the recovery behaviours and not enabling the addictive patterns. This requires education, a lot of practice and support for the family members before they are able to provide the healing environment.”

Providing a Healing Environment

Susan Barnes states that the healing environment has many layers. During family aftercare, loved ones learn facts about addict behaviours and addictions. Family members begin to comprehend how their own participation in the dynamic develops. Essentially, loved ones will learn about what is helpful and not so helpful in recovery.

There is something very powerful and healing that can come from a group of people that share the same experience. The following are some of the reasons why Susan Barnes believes group aftercare for family members works:

  1. Being with people who understand you.
  2. Being able to talk about things they normally hide.
  3. Non-judgemental environment.
  4. Hearing about experiences of others so they can learn from them.
  5. Finding hope and support.
  6. Finding self-esteem and confidence again.
  7. Developing your own voice.
  8. Learning to take care of their emotional needs.

 

Bellwood Family Aftercare Program

It doesn’t matter if you have a loved one in any of Bellwood’s substance abuse treatment programs or not, anyone is welcome to attend the Family Aftercare Program. Bellwood’s Family Aftercare Program can run up to two years facilitated by an addiction counsellor. Years 3, 4 and 5 are self-facilitated groups as they have much more insight and experience with addiction recovery. Group fees decrease with each year.

Whether it’s through a Bellwood family aftercare program or Al-Anon, participating in a continuing support program is important to move forward in your own recovery and to support your loved one.

If you’d like to learn more about this program or are interested in registering for this program, please call us at 1-800-387-6198 or email us.

[1] Copello, A., Templeton, L., Orford, J., Velleman, R., Patel, A., Moore, L.. . Godfrey, C. (2009). The relative efficacy of two levels of a primary care intervention for family members affected by the addiction problem of a close relative: A randomized trial. Addiction, 104(1), 49-58. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2008.02417.x

[2] Copello, A., Templeton, L., & Powell, J. (2010). The impact of addiction on the family: Estimates of prevalence and costs. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 17(s1), 63-74. doi:10.3109/09687637.2010.514798

[3] Copello, A., Templeton, L., Orford, J., Velleman, R., Patel, A., Moore, L.. . Godfrey, C. (2009). The relative efficacy of two levels of a primary care intervention for family members affected by the addiction problem of a close relative: A randomized trial. Addiction, 104(1), 49-58. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2008.02417.x

 

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