Family Systems Help Heal Addictions

Family Systems Help Heal Addictions

Written by Linda Jennings Wilk, MA, QMHP

In her book, Disentangle, When You’ve Lost Your Self in Someone Else, by Nancy Johnston, she gives a definition of the word disentangle as “to create enough emotional space between yourself and another person that you are better able to see the realities of your situation and make healthier decisions about it.”[1]

If you are a family member who has been dealing with addiction or alcoholism for a long period of time, there’s no doubt you can relate to this idea.  The issues surrounding the person’s issues, problems and crises get so compounded and are constantly laid in your lap to solve, until the chaos is more like a constant and it is impossible to tell what is a crisis and what is not.  Chances are that your own needs and wants have been lost and vacations, plans and career goals have been buried beneath the weight of the wish for your family member’s recovery. But what do you do when you feel pressing needs, but your family member just isn’t ready to accept help?

If your loved one has been in treatment, you’ve no doubt been called into the family education program, which has offered what you consider too little, too late.  If treatment has been a revolving door, you have heard the same things over and over, to no avail.  If you have been smart enough to become involved with 12-step recovery for yourself, then you may have at least preserved your own self esteem and self confidence for this long road.[2]  You can still feel overwhelmed and over-tired.  Do you feel like you just can’t take another step?

Treatment has over the years made amazing strides.  We have learned the truth about things we used to only theorize about.  We now know that brain chemistry and nutrition play a huge factor in the individual’s recovery and that without specific attention to the dopamine receptors in the brain, we are short-changing the addict’s ability to get and stay recovered.  We know that exercise, diet and supplements play a huge factor.  We also understand that education in behavioral coping techniques will significantly impact the addict in early recovery’s ability to function adequately in relationships, business and social function.

When families come to treatment, the recovering addicts’ chances of staying in recovery increase!  Doesn’t it make sense, that the family and friends who have been impacted by the addict and alcoholic would also gain from treatment and intervention in the same way?  In fact, studies are now showing that both the family and the recovering person both gain in this process.  When years of living with active addiction have eroded the family system, healing must happen for everyone, to promote healing the addict.  Family systems theorists had been saying this since the 1980’s, but there was a problem in cross-delivery of services.[3] 

Now we find that more and more people are entering the field with multiple levels of training and interests, and it is becoming easier to provide a cross-section of services in one place.  Bridging the Gaps is prepared to do just that!  We are near unveiling a weekend program that is geared to families of addicts.  This program will focus on a systems approach to strengthening families.  We will look at a personal approach to help families to define boundaries, face illusions and denial, develop spiritual principles and learn clear communication.  Families will find their center again and emerge feeling refreshed and rededicated to their unity as a family. 

Sometimes hard decisions will need to be made regarding treatment options or living situations.  BTG will potentially provide support or referrals for that.  Sometimes it will be a matter of supporting a family member coming out of treatment into aftercare, and the weekend will help build the supports for that.  Other times, a family weekend can be a boost in on-going recovery.  When you apply for the weekend, we will help you define your entry goals.

Think about it — could you use some space from your busy life to reset your priorities, rethink the way things are going, get some much needed balance?  Do you need time to talk about your goals?  Let Bridging the Gaps help you find your way through.

[1] Johnson, Nancy L, Disentangle, When You’ve Lost Your Self in Someone Else, Las Vegas: Central Recovery Press, 2011.


[3] Kaufmann, Edward, MD and Yoshioko, Marianne, MSW, PhD Consensus Co-chairs, Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy (A treatment Improvement Protocol – 39), USDHHS: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Svc Admin.: No. SMA-5-4006, p. 75.

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