The Importance of Family Support for Opioid Addiction
Opioid addiction is a chronic disease with biological, psychological, and environmental factors that affects millions of Americans and their families. Oftentimes, those closest to individuals suffering substance abuse struggle the most, and for numerous reasons. Family and friends uncomfortably watch their loved ones transform in harmful ways, lost to the grip of dangerous substances. Because of this, family members could benefit from support groups.
Family members, coworkers, and friends witness the mind and body of their loved ones change. They endure difficult home situations where moods change. Trust and communication become compromised. Parents may unfortunately lose their children to the streets as they fuel their opioid habit and endanger their relationships, careers, education, mind, body, and health. As she fuels an opioid habit, she also endangers her body, health and family relationships. Misunderstandings and arguments become normal methods of communication. Eventually, a happy home becomes a place of confusion, hopelessness, and despair.
Family members often begin to display symptoms of co-dependency as a coping method for the unpredictable behavior of their addicted loved one. Often, family members do not realize when they are enabling their loved ones when their intentions are to help them.
The Importance of Family Support Groups
Family members with a loved one abusing drugs may feel alone and angry at themselves. They may also feel as if they have failed as a parent and seek reassurance in their suffering. Finding support is essential in understanding a family member’s substance use disorder, as is easing parents’ anxieties and frustrations.
Addiction is often referred to as a family disease, as one family member’s addiction ultimately affects the entire family. When family members attend support groups, it inevitably affects the family as a whole. It can be highly beneficial in helping a family heal from the dysfunction that addiction causes. It also increases the chances that their loved one will seek help and maintain long-term recovery.
Support groups can also allow parents to be vulnerable as they seek community in losing a child to opioid abuse. Members facilitate the group as a whole by sharing common experiences, strength, and hope with each other. Lastly, family members can gain insight on coping with anxiety, shame, depression, and anger arising from a family member’s substance use disorder.
What to Expect in Family Support Groups?
Support groups will have many people in one room sharing struggles with a family member’s substance abuse. Groups can be held in offices, hospital rooms, online, or in a building shared by members of the community. Family members may reveal difficult stories and memories of seeing family members under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
New members are encouraged to introduce themselves in the beginning of the meeting when the chairperson of the meeting asks if anyone is new but are not required to do so. By raising one’s hand and stating your name, along with any optional brief information you’d like to share, you are allowing others the opportunity to approach you after the meeting for additional support.
Eventually, members may choose to open up and become comfortable speaking in front on several people. There is often privacy offered while engaging members in support groups. A major positive element of support groups is the feeling of community and safety. Families can be encouraged to practice forgiveness by expressing and releasing hard feelings (among other practices) to live a peaceful life.
Available Support Groups for Families
There are many available support groups for families with members addicted to opiates to ensure all families have several options. Some family support groups for parents include 12-Step practices for healing families who are depressed.
Nar-Anon is a support group for families of addicts, because the family needs recovery as much as the addicted loved one does. It is a safe and confidential place where families can openly share their experience, strength, and hope, and know that they are not alone. Nar-Anon is a 12-step support group where each member is encouraged to obtain a sponsor, which is someone who has completed their 12-steps and is working on step twelve, which is carrying the message to others. 12-Step support groups for families of addicts are not affiliated with any religion but are spiritual in-nature. By attending support group meetings, family members will learn about the disease of addiction, as well as learn to implement an honest and consistent approach, as well as firm boundaries, toward their addicted loved one.
Similar to the SMART program for people surviving substance abuse disorders, a program is available for families in need of support. SMART Recovery Friends & Family is a science-based, secular alternative to Nar-Anon and other 12-step-based programs. Their method is based on the tools of SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training) and CRAFT (Community Reinforcement Approach & Family Training). CRAFT aims to teach family and friends self-protection and non-confrontational skills to help their addicted loved one find recovery. SMART Recovery Friends & Family is different than 12 step programs, such as Nar-Anon, because it works as a 4-point program. Each program provides plenty of education, communication and coping tools.
Other Support Groups
Parents of Addicted Loved Ones is an active group dedicated to providing peer groups, and Adult Children of Alcoholics combines 12-Step themes for treating trauma children have faced.PAL, Parents of Addicted Loved Ones was founded in 2006 and offers hope to parents and address issues like co-dependency. Support groups solely for siblings exist, spotlighting the strained relationships and focusing on repairing them. There are also programs available online for support of family members of addicted loved ones.
Additionally, grief-centered support groups like GRASP (Grief Recovery after a Substance Passing) allow families to receive compassion if mourning a family member who has passed due to opioid overdose.
Online Support Groups
Online support groups are becoming an easily accessible way for people to gain support. Family members can also opt for this method if finding time to attend an on-site support groups is a challenge. Online support groups range from large to small in number and allow members community interaction and guidance or support. This method may benefit members who are uncomfortable with face-to-face vulnerability. Online support groups are available at different times for people with different schedules.
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Things to Consider When Choosing A Support Group
Finding an ideal support group can be overwhelming. First, being vulnerable and confronting difficult emotions in front of others can be challenging. It’s important to consider the value of support groups while understanding there are many to choose from. Consider the following when choosing a support group:
- How often does the group meet per week?
- What is the structure of this support group?
- Are there programs for other relatives? (e.g. siblings, children, uncles, and aunts)
- Does the group include spiritual of health-based coping mechanisms?
- How long does each meeting last?
- What are the financing options for each meeting (if necessary)?
While group meetings take place, it may be helpful to consider the following group dynamics:
- How do you feel in terms of expression?
- Do other members make it uncomfortable?
- Are my concerns addressed?
- Are members able to connect with privacy?
- Is the information provided in each meeting effective?
It will always feel uncomfortable in the beginning when someone steps outside of their comfort zone and tries something new—especially a support group. Participants need to know that they should attend a meeting 3 times (at least) before deciding whether they like the meeting or not. They need to know to be open minded and to look for similarities with others, not differences. They need to know the importance of reaching out and being non-judgmental or comparing oneself with others. It is about relating to emotions not experiences.
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Finding support is an important step in coping with a loved one’s substance use disorder, but what the struggling individual needs most is treatment. Contact a treatment provider today to find out more about what treatment options are available.