In working with alcoholics, substance abuse addicts and those suffering with mental health issues, the most dangerous time of their treatment is when they go home to their families. Whether it is leaving the mental health facility or substance abuse treatment facility, when patients return home they are at the most risk for relapse.
Why is this the most dangerous time for the addict/alcoholic? Because nothing has changed there. Just walking through the door into the family home can create the familiar old anxieties and dread of what created their severe anxieties in the first place.
I often hear from my clients who have just gotten out of inpatient treatment that it doesn’t take long to realize nothing has changed in how the family dynamic works. The level of expectations is high on both sides of the equation.
Alcoholic/Addicts returning home to their spouse and children are no more ready to take on the stresses of everyday life than when they first left, supposedly hitting their ‘bottom.’ When the late teen, early twenty-something sibling returns back home, each member of the family has his or her own opinion of the one returning; from the parents on down.
When working with the entire family as a unit, my goal is to open everyone’s eyes to what part EVERYONE plays in what is happening. Father’s sit slumped in the chair with deadpan looks on their faces and the mothers sit up tense and are crying. Siblings range from acting disinterested to confused and petrified.
Our need in society is NOT one more ‘harm reduction’ technique as in Suboxone, Methadone or Narcan. They don’t work and it is finally being acknowledged as such. Narcan does NOT save lives, it prevents death as has been discussed in previous blogs.
If substance abuse and mental health issues are expected to be sustained and consistent post inpatient treatment, the entire family must go into therapy together. They must go into treatment if any success is to be hoped for. Not one person in the family is to blame; yet, each person has played their part and will continue to do so.
Father’s (on average) attempt to control everyone and everything while mother’s end up rescuing the one most vulnerable. That actually starts very early on when the kids are young and impressionable. As the family grows and stress rises parents become more ‘strict’ or ‘controlling’ doing the most damage as youngsters are starting to form their own worth and value. Sons are shoved off to football camp and baseball tryouts straight out of the womb and daughters are (still) watching every Disney movie that has the ‘ever after’ outcome. Even if the female character is strong and fights her own battles, the outcome seems to be that love, marriage and children will be the end result. Since we know there is no such thing as control or perfection, we also look to the many other areas of ‘life goals’ that are destroying families.
Once the children enter their teen years, there is only one choice that parents can make, stop attempting to control everyone and everything; get your own help. The teens are NOT listening to the long-winded lectures of what parents think is best for them. Teens are watching what the parents are doing…watching how they treat one another for the most part, and then, how the parents treat the teens. As a nation and as the entire world plummets toward an ever increasing opiate and alcohol epidemic, the best course of action after inpatient rehabilitation is NOT returning home and doing outpatient. It doesn’t work.
Let’s work toward establishing facilities that attend to the patients directly after their initial stay at substance abuse and mental health facilities. A place must be available for sustained and consistent care for those struggling with these deadly situations and (for the first time) programs for the entire family to go into treatment together.
The alcoholism/drug addiction is the outward sign of what is going on in the family unit that needs to be healed.
Let’s talk about it.
Debra Whittam is the author of “I'm I Going to be Ok?" For any media inquiries or questions please contact: Contact@DebraWhittam.com