Alcoholism is known as a ‘family disease’: if one person suffers from alcoholism, everyone in the family suffers as well.
Though we tend to focus on helping the person who is addicted, family members often need therapeutic intervention as well to help them break patterns of denial, enabling, and codependency. The Al-Anon family group is a world-wide fellowship in which family and friends of people suffering from addiction can heal from the effects the disease has had on their lives. Studies also show that when the family participates in their loved one’s recovery, there is a greater chance of that person maintaining long-term sobriety.
While the person suffering from addiction works to transform their physical, mental, and emotional health, the family must work to change the way they relate to their loved one.
For example, if a family member has been playing the role of the protector (e.g. covering up for their loved one or making excuses for them), that role must shift to one that offers loving support without enabling or trying to control everything for the person. Loved ones are often left wondering where recovery leaves them – and what role they are to take on. Al-Anon encourages families to move the focus from the loved one on to themselves. It’s often been said that many enter the rooms of Al-Anon to learn how to help their loved one recover, but they stay to learn how THEY can be happy whether their loved one gets treatment and enters addiction recovery or not.
Family participation in addiction recovery can often be a beautiful experience. Within recovery, each family member heals their own wounds, making the family a more cohesive and healthy unit. When the person in recovery fully works the steps in AA and their loved ones work the steps in Al-Anon, dynamics will begin to change for the betterment of everyone.
Remember: perfection is not the goal – it’s all about the wonderful progress you’ll make!