We have characterized addiction as an all-consuming relationship with a substance or behavior that is driven by a conscious or unconscious urge to feel something different, which becomes self-perpetuating despite a range of harmful consequences.

It is clear that you do not have to be addicted to a substance or behavior to suffer from addiction.

As a family or family member, you can find yourself in a similarly consuming relationship. This too is based on an urge to experience something different. In this case, it is to be achieved by somehow getting the addicted person to change; to stop their addictive behavior and therefore all the harm associated with it.

Families can live on what has been called “hopium”; the belief that they can find that one thing which will bring about change in the other.

As with an addiction to a substance or behavior, life can begin to reduce to obsessive, consuming preoccupation with what is happening with the addicted person. This is a struggle. It is the family version of trying to control the uncontrollable.

Families come to feel disempowered but rather than facing up to this and what it means, very often the struggle is intensified. This may be borne of desperation – understandable in many ways given the nature of addiction and its potential fatality.

Families and family members experience chronic stress with a measurable effect on their psychological and physical health.

They may experience anxiety, depression, emotional volatility, and low self-esteem. They may experience a loss of mental capacity, be distracted and be involved in conflict. There may be physical manifestations such as aches and pains, nervous tension, energy loss, stomach upset, injuries, and the immune system may be compromised.

Families and family members find ways of coping either as individuals or as a system. Very often the ways of coping are counterproductive. Addiction becomes the organizing dynamic, re-setting and determining the norms of behavior within the family.

“Coping” may include denial, cover-up, and even collusion. Families can experience shame much like the addicted person, especially given the hold that stigma still has over addiction in the public mind. It may also include twisting out of shape to accommodate the demands of addiction with an increasing inattention to the family’s own needs, individually and collectively.

At Clinic Les Alpes, we recognize the needs of families and individual family members. They will have an important part to play in the treatment of their family member and, subject to the agreement of the patient, will be invited to participate in the treatment process. This will include Family Conferences where the members of the family get a chance to explore and understand how addiction has emerged and taken hold and how they might help each other and the family system as a whole to recover.

Also, we recognize the need for families and family members to be offered help in their own right rather than simply in relation to the patient with the addiction. It is usually the case that so much focus has been placed on the family member with the addiction and often in a counterproductive way that the needs of others become neglected. They suffer as a consequence. We help them to retrieve and recover themselves from addiction, restoring their health and wellbeing in the process.

Clinic Les Alpes has a Family Therapist available to the family members, and the Clinic offers a specially designed six or ten-day program for family members, including a residential option.

Interestingly, when family members begin to turn their attention to looking after themselves, the addicted person often benefits. They may find the space they need to take responsibility for their own recovery.

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