For Families of Addicts


Principles of effective addiction treatment

Every addiction treatment program aims to help clients stop using drugs or alcohol, stay sober, and become productive members of society. However, this doesn’t mean that all treatment programs are the same. If you’re considering addiction treatment for yourself or someone you love, it’s important to be aware of the basic principles that an effective treatment plan should be based on.

Addiction Is a Disease
Addiction isn’t a moral failing. It’s a disease that affects both brain function and behavior, with many studies indicating that addiction can be linked to specific genes and inherited personality traits.

Effective addiction treatment should stress empathy and compassion. Just as you wouldn’t chastise a patient for being diagnosed with cancer, people with drug and alcohol addiction don’t need to be judged for their past mistakes. They need treatment that heals their mind, body, and spirit.

Treatment Doesn’t Need to Be Voluntary to Be Effective
Ideally, someone suffering from addiction would realize the need to seek treatment and make positive life changes. However, treatment can still be beneficial even if an addict is in denial about the severity of his addiction.

Involuntary treatment can be court ordered or it can be arranged by a concerned family member, such as a spouse or parent. For young people in particular, early intervention can prevent an addiction from destroying a promising future.

Treatment Requires a Personalized Approach
When it comes to treating drug or alcohol addiction, there is no single treatment that’s right for everyone. Some people respond well to talk therapy individually or in a group, while others prefer to explore the issues surrounding their addiction in art therapy, music therapy, or other experiential therapies. There may also be special concerns, such as anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder, that need to be addressed in addition to drug or alcohol addiction.

Part of the personalized approach to addiction treatment requires that care plans be periodically reevaluated to ensure their effectiveness. For example, a counselor might determine that a client who is experiencing difficulty transitioning back to work may have moved through the steps of their plan too quickly and would benefit from additional time to develop positive coping skills for handling stressful situations.

Detox Is Just the First Step
Addiction treatment typically begins with a detox to help clients remove drugs and alcohol from their system. During this time, clients are monitored and given medication to help minimize painful or potentially dangerous withdrawal systems.

While detox is a necessary part of the treatment process, the initial experience of getting clean is just the beginning. Multiple studies have shown that people who receive no treatment following detoxification typically resume their drug or alcohol use a short time later.

Behavioral Therapy is Key
Behavioral therapy is a cornerstone of any effective addiction treatment program. Behavioral therapy aims to help substance abusers modify their attitude towards drug or alcohol use, increase healthy life skills, and provide the motivation necessary to persist with a long-term treatment plan.

In the early stages of residential treatment, clients may be scheduled for daily sessions. However, as they graduate to outpatient treatment, sessions will gradually become less frequent and focused on building an independent recovery.

Medication Can Help
Medication can be very effective when combined with behavioral therapies. Medications can be used during the detox process or to help prevent relapse, as long as their use is carefully monitored by trained professionals. For example, Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose), naltrexone (Vivitrol), and buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex, Probuphine) can be used to treat opioid addiction.

When substance abuse is linked to a desire to self-medicate a mental health disorder, medication can be used to get these underlying conditions under control. For example, antidepressants can stabilize the mood swings associated with depression and thus help reduce cravings for drugs and alcohol.

There’s No Quick Fix
Treating addiction takes time. Nobody develops an addiction overnight, so it’s unreasonable to expect that a treatment center will be able to work miracles in a few days. An addiction treatment program typically lasts at least 30 days, with extensive follow up care afterwards.


A person who struggles with drug and alcohol addiction won’t be “cured” when they leave a treatment facility. Addiction is a chronic illness that requires vigilance to prevent relapse, much like diabetics must pay careful attention to their blood sugar each day. Someone in recovery will still experience cravings and be faced with the temptation to use, but the skills they learned in treatment will allow them to make positive choices and set the stage for a brighter future.

By Dana Hinders

Causes of alcoholism

Many of the people who seek alcohol addiction treatment have parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or siblings who’ve also struggled with alcohol abuse. However, alcoholism isn’t inherited in the same way you’d inherit blue eyes and blond hair. Addiction develops as the result of a complex interaction between genes and environmental risk factors.

Genes That Affect Alcoholism Risk

There is no single gene responsible for developing alcoholism. However, research does suggest that certain combinations of genes are responsible for increasing the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. For example:

Personality traits: Genes linked to personality traits such as impulsivity and disinhibition are also associated with an increase in substance abuse disorders.

Predisposition to mental health disorders: The same genes that are linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders are also associated with an increased risk of alcohol abuse, but this is often attributed to the tendency of people suffering from mental health disorders to try to self-medicate.

Changes in how alcohol affects the body: Some gene combinations create changes in the body’s dopamine reward systems, leaving people to experience greater levels of reinforcement or reward from alcohol use and thus increasing the likelihood of problem drinking.

Race: Genetic variants in people of different races have been linked to an increase in alcoholism, with Native Americans have the highest number of alcohol use severity phenotypes.

Although the average person doesn’t have access to sophisticated genetic testing, you can reasonably determine your genetic risk for alcoholism by counting the number of blood relatives who also suffer from alcohol use disorders.

Environmental Factors That Affect Alcoholism Risk

Certain environmental factors can increase the risk of a child developing an alcohol use problem, even if there are minimal genetic risk factors at work. For example:

Societal acceptance: Regularly seeing television shows, movies, and music that portray drinking as a harmless way to have fun normalize the behavior.

Parental modeling: Seeing parents deal with everyday stress by becoming intoxicated sets this behavior up as normal in child’s mind.

Peer pressure: Friends who encourage regular drinking promote a pattern of overindulgence.
Exposure to outside trauma: Children who are exposed to verbal, physical, or sexual abuse are more likely to experiment with alcohol.

Age at first drink: Multiple studies have shown that the younger you are when you take your first drink, the more difficulty you’ll have regulating your alcohol intake. These studies proved instrumental in setting the legal drinking age to 21.

Genetics Aren’t Destiny

When discussing the causes of alcoholism, it’s important to keep in mind that many diseases are caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. For example, someone with a parent, grandparent, or sibling who suffers from Type 2 diabetes is considered genetically predisposed to the condition. Even with this added risk, a commitment to eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular physical exercise can drastically reduce their risk of becoming diabetic. Lifestyle changes made after a diagnosis can also be beneficial, sometimes creating enough of a change in blood sugar levels to allow diabetics to reduce or discontinue their insulin all together.

Children of alcoholic parents have two to four times the risk of becoming alcoholics as adults. This risk factor remains even in cases where the child is adopted and raised in a family where neither parent has an alcohol use disorder. However, despite this increased genetic risk, less than half of children with an alcoholic parent grow up to abuse alcohol themselves. Some protective environmental factors that can prevent alcohol abuse include:

Receiving education on the negative effects of alcohol use: Having a full understanding of genetic risk factors and the health effects of alcohol abuse is associated with lower levels of problem drinking.

Developing strong social connections to family and friends: Feeling loved and supported by the people around you makes you less likely to want to turn to alcohol for comfort.

Developing positive ways to cope with stress: People who use exercise, meditation, music, art therapy, or other stress-relieving activities to handle everyday pressures are less likely to abuse alcohol.
Seeking help for mental health disorders: Counseling and support from a trained mental health professional reduces the desire to self-medicate with alcohol.

You can’t control your genetic makeup, but genetics alone won’t determine your fate. If you’re ready to break the cycle of addiction, help is available. St. Joseph Institute’s addiction treatment facility can address the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual issues underlying your alcohol abuse and set you on the path to a lasting recovery.

By Dana Hinders

 

To learn more about our programs or for a campus tour of St. Joseph Institute, please visit our website.

adult children of alcoholicsAdult children of alcoholics are often described as “co-victims” who develop many of the same characteristics associated with alcoholism, even if they’ve never taken a drink themselves. If you’re struggling to come to terms with the trauma you suffered due to a parent’s drinking, read on for tips about how to begin the healing process.

1.Realize That It’s Not Your Job to Save Anyone but Yourself

Many adult children of alcoholics feel an intense need to “save” others. Growing up, they may have been forced to comfort younger siblings, cook meals, and handle other adult responsibilities while a parent was struggling with addiction—leaving them to feel as though the weight of the world rests squarely on their shoulders. They also fear abandonment, which makes them stay in unhealthy relationships instead of moving on to find someone who treats them with the respect they deserve.

Change can be scary, but you are worthy of healthy relationships. It’s okay to cut ties with friends or family members who are using their toxic negativity to prevent you from taking the steps you need to be happy. These people don’t support your desire to change because they’re not emotionally ready to take a step forward in their own lives.

2. Accept Your Emotions

The majority of adult children of alcoholics struggle to express their emotions, especially the anger they feel surrounding their childhood trauma. One of the first steps in the healing process is giving yourself permission to express how you feel about your past as well as your current circumstances.

One way to become more emotionally honest is by writing down your thoughts in a journal. Then, gradually work on opening up with others in your day-to-day life. Instead of pushing down your irritation when a friend stands you up for your planned movie night, tell her it upsets you when you make plans and she abandons you at the last minute. If your spouse promises to help with the laundry and spends the night watching TV while you do all the chores, tell him you feel unappreciated when he ignores your request for assistance.

3. Use Affirmations to Stop Self-Criticism

Growing up in a home environment filled with dysfunction can lead you to believe that you’re somehow flawed. Young children often blame themselves for family troubles, creating patterns of self-criticism that last long into adulthood.

Affirmations are a form of self-suggestion. Choose a few positive statements that reflect your new outlook on life or specific goals you want to work on, then repeat them to yourself several times per day until they become your new truth. If desired, you could also write your affirmations down and place them in locations throughout your home where you’re sure to see them.

Some affirmations that may resonate with adult children of alcoholics include:

  • I am choosing to be proud of myself and all that I’ve accomplished.
  • I can find inner peace within myself as I am.
  • I deserve wonderful things.
  • I am in charge of my own life story.
  • I am worthy of love and respect.

4. Give Yourself Permission to Have Fun

Adults who grew up with parents who struggled with addiction often complain that they find it hard to relax. Their brains are programed to expect stress and drama, leaving them constantly on edge.

Developing hobbies and special interests is an important part of being a well-rounded human being. Take the time to explore whatever personal passions you’ve always thought were too frivolous. Enroll in a dance class, learn a foreign language, take up oil painting, or plant a garden of fresh produce to add to your gourmet home-cooked meals. No matter what sparks your interest, strive to find at least a few hours each week to devote to the pursuit of fun.

5. Know You’re Not Alone

The stigma surrounding addiction may make you feel like your experience is unusual, but you’re not alone. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency estimates that about one in eight people in the United States is an adult child of an alcoholic. Finding a network of support through Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) can help you work on building a brighter future for yourself. ACoA’s support groups are based on a modified version of the 12 steps for addiction recovery used in Alcoholics Anonymous. Al-Anon Family Groups are another excellent option to consider, since they have groups for spouses or partners, teens, and adult children of alcoholics.

 

By Dana Hinders

To learn more about our programs or for a campus tour  of St. Joseph Institute, please visit our website.

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