Recovery - Addiction and the Family

Educational materials not only provide you with information about what you are going through but help to normalize your experience and show you that you are not alone. Millions of people have been where you are right now, and there are probably hundreds in your area, or nearby, who are going through it at the present time. Feelings of guilt and shame usually run rampant in a dysfunctional family, and the simple knowledge that you are not bad, peculiar, or crazy can be very helpful.

Most alcohol and drug treatment centers provide an onsite educational program for family members. This usually includes videotapes and lectures given by a licensed addiction counselor who can answer questions and provide support. If you are not presently in contact with a treatment center, as is often the case, you can inquire at local centers to see if they provide a family program for people in the community who are living with an addict not currently in treatment. Some nationally based facilities that provide services for families can be found in

appendix B of this section. Some useful books are listed there as well, along with Web sites of interest. Be a little leery of the Web sites if you are “surfing”; some are excellent, some are very informal, and some are misleading.

Group Support
Meeting regularly with a group of people who are in similar situations and developing long-term, supportive relationships is a must for family members. This usually entails devoting some evenings to 12-step meetings. You will have to find someone to watch the kids, get yourself up and out, find the place the first time, go through the whole procedure of getting to know people, and make a commitment to come back. But just do it.

In all my experience of working with addicts and their families, I have found that there is simply no substitute for this aspect of treatment. You may read all the books on the shelf and go to all the classes you can find on addiction and still not make any real progress if you don’t get involved with a support group and stick with it no matter what. You may even go through extensive individual counseling and not make the kind of progress you make with a support group.


I can’t emphasize that enough.

Individual Support
In 12-step support groups, members are encouraged to choose a sponsor - a person who is further along in recovery and who is willing to take some time to talk with you on an individual basis. Sometimes this will involve looking at the different steps and “working” them. Sometimes it will mean simply sharing your mutual experiences and looking for more productive ways to cope with problems as they arise. Going to a 12-step group without using a sponsor is rather like going without a guide to a country where you don’t speak the language.

Support group meetings, however, are not places where you’ll want to talk about sensitive personal information. Even though most groups insist on anonymity and confidentiality, it’s not the same thing as the kind of confidentiality you are entitled to in a professional relationship with a counselor or a therapist.

Individual counseling or therapy is not a must for everyone, but it’s an important adjunct for many people in recovery. You can find a good therapist by asking for referrals from a treatment center, from other support group members, or from professional associations in your area.

Appendix B lists some resources to help you with this. Do be sure that your counselor or therapist is familiar with addiction and recovery.

Psychiatric Help
You may also need to consult with a psychiatrist for problems with depression or anxiety, or if you are feeling overwhelmed. A psychiatrist is a good resource person, too. A comprehensive psychiatric assessment with a review of your activities in recovery can be very helpful. The psychiatrist might be able to make suggestions or useful referrals. On occasion, medications are prescribed for symptoms if they are beginning to interfere with your functioning or coping skills.

Seek out a psychiatrist who is familiar with addiction and recovery, preferably one who is board certified in addiction psychiatry. You can check the

appendix for ways to locate a qualified psychiatrist in your area.

If you have picked up this section because you have a family member who is addicted, I urge you to get started right away with your own recovery. Let me conclude this section with a little story about a woman I know who has been active in Al-Anon for a number of years and is one of the happiest people I know.

Kathleen’s husband was alcoholic, as was her father. Their marriage was in serious trouble, and, when it looked as if her husband would lose his job because of his drinking, she began going to Al-Anon meetings. She told the group how, one day, she had finally realized what it was all about. Her six-year-old had been playing with a toy truck, and one of the wheels had fallen off. He brought it to her, and, while she was trying to fix it, he kept reaching up to help. When she saw that she couldn’t get the wheel back on with his little hand in the way, she told him to sit nearby. It wasn’t long before the truck was fixed. She realized, suddenly, that this was what she had been doing for years when it came to her husband’s drinking. She would ask God to help, and then get in the way because she wanted it fixed now, although she was afraid it really wasn’t fixable. She learned in Al-Anon that she didn’t have to fix it, that she couldn’t fix it. She could sit nearby and let God work. She said, “I don’t get into triangles anymore.” Although it took several years, her husband eventually went to treatment and is now in recovery.

There is hope.

Elizabeth Connell Henderson, M.D.


Appendix A: Regulation of Addictive Substances

Appendix B: Sources of Additional Information

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