Addiction in Families
You’ve talked to friends, read articles on the Internet, and maybe even attended Al-Anon, ACOA, CODA or another recovery group and you are still not sure if there is a problem or not. You have noticed an increase in feeling confused about the situation and are seeking clarity:
Please consider the following questions:
Do you feel like most of the time your loved one follows through on their commitments to you and others in their life?
Does it feel like your loved one is able to be fully responsible most of the time? Are they accountable for their words and actions?
Do you feel like you can speak honestly and openly with your loved one about their alcohol or drug use and can you speak honestly and openly with people you trust about your love one’s alcohol or drug use?
If your loved one hurts you while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are you able to openly express your feelings to them and feel heard?
Do you trust what your loved one tells you most of the time?
Do you feel like you are able to successfully focus on other activities, commitments, and relationships outside of your relationship with your loved one?
If it was difficult to answer YES! to most of these questions, you may benefit from individual, couples, or family addiction counseling. You will receive a healing space to process the depression, disconnection, anger, fear, disappointment, and other emotions which can often accompany addiction. You will also gain valuable tools for how to relate and engage with your loved one in ways that do not compromise your health or other relationships. You will learn how to effectively support your loved one and dislike their disease versus unintentionally supporting their disease and disliking your loved one. Please contact Cambium Counseling to learn more.
A Family's Story
The story that follows is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. The story is intended to be informative about the types of issues people bring to counseling and how those issues are effectively addressed. This story reflects real themes and treatment processes used by the counselor in her work with real clients.
Elaine, 62 was stuck and did not know what to do. This feeling of complete stuckness was new to her. Throughout her life she had excelled at problem solving in her primary roles of Vice President for a telecommunications company, mother, and wife. Most everyone in her personal and professional life acknowledged her uncanny ability to take complex, layered problems, break them into smaller problems and effectively work through them until the entire problem was solved. Her direct and methodical approach to situations created an environment that felt calm and under control to everyone around her. And yet, she felt helpless and out of control. She reported to her counselor at the first session that she could not believe she was seeking help and yet, she had tried everything and nothing had worked. She sadly exclaimed there was a real possiblity she could loose her son to drugs and alcohol.
Three years ago, Erik dropped into addiction to alcohol, marijuana, and benzodiazepines. Erik had always had his ups and downs throughout life, yet his current down might actually kill him and possibly, Elaine from the stress of it all. Erik was a precocious child who was kind, loving, and creative when things were going well, but became mean, hateful, and destructive when things were going poorly. Three and half years ago it seemed Erik was on a good path. He was in college studying outdoor education, had a job as an outdoor educator, and had just started his first serious relationship. All in all, life seemed to be going well for him.
However, Elaine and Erik’s lives changed forever when Elaine’s husband and Erik’s father, Bruce had a massive heart attack and died. Bruce and Erik had a complicated relationship. During Erik’s childhood they had been very close, engaging in all types of outdoor activities, and yet as Erik grew up their values had clashed. Bruce did not approve of Outdoor Education as a career path because he did not believe it provided security and stability. Erik was hurt and confused because it had been his father who taught him to love exploring in the outdoors and yet his dad did not support his life path. The two had not spoken for a couple months when Bruce died. Elaine was distraught over Bruce’s death but she was even more distraught over Erik’s spiral of self destruction. Erik began frequently calling her drunk, yelling at her, and then breaking down into tears. Although Elaine could understand Erik’s pain, she found herself becoming resentful of these emotionally abusive phone conversations.
Within a few months, Erik had dropped out college, broken up with his girlfriend, and had moved back home. Elaine and Erik were in constant conflict. While Elaine was at work, Erik would get drunk and high. When Elaine returned home she would either experience a screaming match with Erik or she would find him passed out and she would be forced to clean up his messes from the day. She felt like not only had she lost her husband, she had lost her son as well. It felt like hell on Earth. Elaine tried to reason with Erik, she cut off his access to money, removed all alcohol and marijuana from the house, and sent him to see a psychiatrist. Erik reported to the psychiatrist the reason he was using alcohol and marijuana was because of extreme anxiety which had always been a problem for him. The psychiatrist prescribed Klonopin to use as needed. Erik began abusing Klonopin with alcohol and marijuana which exacerbated the situation. Elaine continued to lecture and try to intervene to help Erik but he seemed on a self-fulfilling prophecy of destruction, so Elaine decided to seek counseling for families impacted by addiction.
Based on Elaine’s self report regarding the severity of the situation, the counselor met with Elaine three times the first week of counseling. During their meetings, the counselor hypothesized that Erik was likely at a 3.3 or higher on the ASAM criteria. The counselor recommended an interventionist immediately because of the potential medical risks associated the severity of Erik’s disease. The counselor, family member, and interventionist worked together to create a plan to address Erik directly about his substance abuse. The team created a list of possible treatment centers which would work with their insurance, and a couple contingency plans should Erik reject help. They were able to identify three other family members and friends who could lovingly address Erik about the impact of his addiction during the intervention and would also be good supports in recovery.
Fortunately, while angry at first, Erik opened up to the idea of support and relief and agreed to inpatient treatment because of the loving and caring way his family and friends had approached him. Erik and Elaine toured three treatment centers on their insurance list and selected one which had several step down options because the counselor and interventionist recommended a step down approach to successful recovery treatment. Throughout the process, Elaine continued to meet two to three times a week with her counselor to receive support and guidance. Once Erik was in treatment, Elaine began to allow herself to explore the impact addiction had on her life. First, she learned to recognize and accept the trauma she had experienced. She came to understand she had been living with PTSD symptoms since her husband had unexpectedly died and those symptoms had worsened once Erik moved back home. She was exhausted by her need to stay in survival mode while at home. Work had been her only reprieve from the stress.
Elaine attended counseling twice a week for six months and Codependents Anonymous (CODA) once a week. She reestablished safety at her home by removing all items in her house affiliated with addiction. She worked to reestablish safety in her body through massage therapy and yoga. Journaling became her way of reestablishing safety in her mind. A meditation group near her home became her spiritual support. Eventually, Elaine found herself gaining emotional, mental, and spiritual strength. It became easier to set boundaries with Erik and talk about rebuilding trust between them. She came understand and practice the 3Cs of addiction: she did not cause addiction, she cannot cure it, and she cannot control it.
Erik’s progress with his addiction was slow and he experienced minor relapses. Each relapse felt like they were back at square one and it was helpful for Elaine to receive support and perspective from her counselor during the relapse. After a year of working on the trauma of addiction and establishing healthy recovery for herself, Elaine finally felt ready to explore the grief around her husband’s death. She attended grief support groups, continued to journal, and processed her process in bimonthly 90 minute counseling sessions. After another six months of bimonthly counseling, Elaine and her counselor agreed it made sense for her to enter into maintenance mode. Elaine had created helpful health and relational habits, a network of support and care, and was able to speak openly and directly with her son.
In the addiction field, the disease of addiction is called a family disease because it significantly impacts everyone it comes into contact with and those impacted by it need their own treatment and recovery to heal and move on. If you or your family find yourselves trapped by addiction, there is hope. Please contact Cambium Counseling.