The Power of Family in Helping an Alcoholic Loved One
The common narrative surrounding alcoholism is that nothing can be done to help an alcoholic until they decide to stop drinking. This belief is echoed by many treatment providers and centers, creating a sense of helplessness among family members. However, it's time to challenge this notion. As someone with 20 years of experience as an addiction counselor, I firmly believe that family members significantly influence their loved one's journey toward sobriety. In this blog post, we will explore why family members have such a crucial role and how they can effectively use their influence.
The Disconnect Between Treatment Providers and Families
In addiction treatment, a disconnect often exists between treatment providers and the families of those struggling with addiction. This divide can be attributed to several factors:
1. Overwhelming Pressure: Family members frequently inundate addiction treatment providers with phone calls detailing every action of their loved one. This constant pressure to "fix" the addict can lead to stress and burnout among treatment professionals.
2. Frustration and Mistrust: On the other side, family members often grow frustrated when they perceive a lack of progress. They may believe their loved one is not being honest with counselors, leading to mistrust in the treatment process.
3. Isolation: This mutual frustration can lead to treatment professionals distancing themselves from family members and vice versa, creating a divide that impedes progress.
Uniting as a Team
To bridge this gap, family members and treatment providers must work together as a cohesive team. This collaboration is essential for successful recovery. As a family member, you may wonder how to get your loved one to consider addiction treatment. Let me share a story that illustrates how this can be achieved.
David's Story: A Turning Point
Several years ago, a guy named David's wife contacted our treatment center for help. She was at her wit's end as David's alcoholism spiraled out of control. They had a vacation planned, and she feared he would go into withdrawal during the trip. She wasn't sure how to get him to seek help.
Instead of pressuring David to stop drinking immediately, we took a different approach. Before the vacation, we offered to connect his wife with a family therapist, Campbell. This allowed her to understand her role in the recovery process better and set the stage for David's eventual treatment.
David didn't immediately embrace sobriety. He was a challenging client, reserved and resistant. However, through a coordinated effort between Campbell and me and his wife's positive reinforcement, David eventually agreed to detox and continued with a 30-day treatment program.
Over several months, David transformed. He maintained sobriety and rebuilt his life – his business thrived, he rekindled his love for hobbies like softball and fishing, and he improved his relationship with his children.
The Family's Influential Power
David's story illustrates that family members possess incredible power to influence their loved one's journey toward sobriety. While treatment professionals can provide support and guidance, the family member controls the framework within which change is possible.
The Family's Role in the Process
Here is a step-by-step guide to help family members positively influence their loved one's recovery:
1. Build Credibility and Trust: Steer away from power struggles and conflicts. Instead, aim to establish trust and credibility with your loved one.
2. Let Them Try Their Way: Allow your loved one to try their approach, even if it's likely to fail. Be their ally in this process.
3. Wait for the Moment of Clarity: Recognize when they realize their current approach isn't working. This is the ideal moment to suggest an alternative path.
4. Offer Support and Resources: When right, provide information about addiction treatment, counseling, or recovery programs.
Contrary to the belief that nothing can be done until an alcoholic decides to change, family members can play a pivotal role in helping their loved ones on the path to recovery. By building trust, offering support, and fostering a collaborative approach with treatment professionals, families can significantly impact their loved one's journey toward sobriety. Don't let anyone tell you that you can do nothing – because there's much you can do to help your alcoholic loved one find the path to a healthier, sober life.
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