Since the inception of the modern liquor store, society has fabricated an inaccurate image of alcoholism. The stereotypical depiction often features a male figure: he wears a trench coat, sports a long, unkempt beard, and lives underneath a bridge. In one hand, he holds a bottle which is not-so-secretly nestled in a brown paper bag. While some of our fellow humans have, indeed, resorted to seeking shelter under bridges, this portrait of substance misuse is a caricature at best. Those who struggle with alcohol and addiction issues often live right next door. They are our neighbors, our coworkers… and our family members. The distance between the stereotype and the reality is one many find difficult to reconcile. This lack of understanding – which lends itself to the creation of a deadly stigma – is just one of many reasons family support is such a vital component of addiction treatment.
When an issue fails to infiltrate our personal lives, it’s easy to dismiss the need to learn about it. Most of us, for example, don’t use algebra in our day-to-day life. After High School, the majority of graduates don’t strive to expand their algebraic horizons. Alcoholism and addiction are not unlike algebra in this sense. Some people tell themselves that Substance Use Disorder is not relevant to their lives and, therefore, they don’t need to expend any mental energy considering it. Substance misuse is a problem for someone else to solve. Unfortunately, alcoholism and addiction – in sharp contrast with algebra – can strike out of left field. Suddenly, learning about substance misuse becomes a matter of life and death. For this reason, education is at the heart of a comprehensive family support program.
Providing Family Support Through Psychoeducation
Psychoeducation sounds a little intimidating, but it is merely a term that describes the provision of information regarding diseases or disorders that have an impact on one psychologically. While addiction is a brain disease with environmental roots, it doesn’t just affect the afflicted individual. There is nothing more psychologically distressing than watching a loved one suffer from substance misuse. The purpose of psychoeducation is to help family members understand their loved one’s condition, and to support each family member to maintain his or her own wellbeing. The health of the overall family unit leads to better outcomes for the suffering loved one, and protects other family members from susceptibility to substance misuse and/or mental illness. Psychoeducation is most commonly provided by clinical professionals who are credentialed in their field, but most peer-led support programs also incorporate an educational element.
An educational approach answers frequently asked questions such as:
- How do I help my loved one?
- What is co-dependency?
- Am I enabling my loved one?
- What does it mean to “detach with love”?
- How is addiction a “family disease”?
- What are “family roles”?
- Does my loved one need to attend meetings? Do I need meetings?
- Is there a cure for addiction? How is it treated?
- What is the disease model of addiction?
- What causes addiction?
- How do I get my loved one help?
- My loved one doesn’t have insurance. What now?
- Where else can I find family support?
Peer-led v.s. Clinical Family Support
It’s one thing for a professional in addiction treatment to provide education and therapeutic family support interventions, and another thing altogether for someone who is experiencing the same challenges to share stories and solutions. Many family support programs use a peer-led model. According to medical journal authors, Tracy and Wallace, “peer support can be defined as the process of giving and receiving nonprofessional, nonclinical assistance from individuals with similar conditions or circumstances to achieve long-term recovery from psychiatric, alcohol, and/or other drug-related problems”. These programs often have a formal structure – and even peer led facilitation – but are not professional in nature. Examples of peer-led family support programs include Al-Anon and Learn 2 Cope.
A clinical support group, in contrast to the peer-led model, is facilitated by a professional. In a recovery oriented clinical support group, an expert in addiction treatment will typically provide both education and space to “process” therapuetically. This simply means that the facilitator conducts a structured check-in during which family members are given the opportunity to share about their challenges (or successes!) and receive feedback.
The non-professional nature of peer-led support does not detract from the overall merit. According to Tracy and Wallace, “active engagement in peer support groups has shown to be a key predictor of recovery, and sustaining recovery. In addition, evidence demonstrates that one’s belief in their own ability can increase…There is a mutual benefit between the members and facilitators of peer support groups…Benefits for the peer worker include increased self-esteem, confidence, positive feelings of accomplishment, and an increase in their own ability to cope with their challenges”.
Having read all of the aforementioned, perhaps confusion still abounds. Family members may continue to wonder: “What does recovery have to do with me?” Recovery is simply defined as restoration to health. One of the primary goals of any family support group is to establish that the loved one struggling with substance misuse is not the only one detrimentally impacted and, therefore, not the only one in need of restorative healing. A secondary benefit is that when the family heals, the individual struggling with substance misuse is more likely to seek and maintain his or her own recovery.
Family Support in Nashua, New Hampshire
In the pilgrimage toward wellness, there is no such thing as “too much” support. A comprehensive family recovery program may contain both peer-led and clinical support. In the Greater Nashua region, families have access to Al-Anon, Learn 2 Cope, and F.A.S.T.E.R. (Families Advocating Substance Treatment, Education and Recovery). For a list of Al-Anon and Learn 2 Cope meetings, please follow the links below:
In addition to these resources, the Process Recovery Center’s clinical director, Traci Weaver, MS, MBA, MLADC, LCMHC, has chosen to give back to the local community by offering a clinical family support program called “Families in Recovery”. Traci’s family support group is guided by an inclusive philosophy; she will employ both educational and process interventions, and her program will remain open to the entire community. “Families in Recovery” starts on Thursday, July 12th, 2018 from 5:30-7:00 p.m. It will be located at Revive Recovery Resource Center – 263 Main Street, Nashua, New Hampshire – and will run the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month. The first forty-five minutes will be education-based and the second half will be allotted for structured processing and discussion. Traci’s priority is to help group members feel safe and to assure family members that they are not alone.
For more information about family support in the Greater Nashua, New Hampshire region, please call (888) 649-1149 or contact us here.
Autumn Khavari is the Process Recovery Center’s in-house writer. She received an education in Substance Abuse Counseling from Beal College in Bangor, Maine.
Tracy, K., & Wallace, S. P. (2016). Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 7, 143–154. http://doi.org/10.2147/SAR.S81535