Family Systems Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Just as an individual’s addiction affects other family members, the interactions of those family members may have also have an impact on the individual’s addiction. Family systems therapy in addiction treatment addresses the interdependence, healthy or otherwise, of each member of the family.

The Importance of Family Members

Researchers emphasize the importance of involving family members in the treatment of addiction, recognizing that it can have a positive impact on client engagement as well as on psychiatric functioning and the potential for relapse. It’s been found that family discord, stressful parent-child interactions, or living with a partner who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can result in a substance use disorder in the individual experiencing these situations.

Understanding these factors, especially the importance of family member interactions, can enhance the effectiveness of addiction treatment. Family systems therapies work on the premise that changing the family interaction model through improved communications and a renewed connection through a sense of loving care can result in improved patterns of interaction. This can then lead to effective treatment for an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Family Systems Therapy

Family systems theory was developed by Dr. Murray Bowen, a psychiatrist, who included eight interlocking concepts based on his research. These concepts include topics such as differentiation of self, emotional cutoff, and sibling position that can impact an individual and their family members. The theory is essentially one of human behavior. It views the family as an emotional unit and describes the unit’s complex interactions.

Although people can feel distant or disconnected from their family, it is probably more feeling than fact, according to Dr. Bowen. A family’s nature is that the individual members are intensely connected emotionally. The connectedness and reactivity of each member of the family makes all the members interdependent. As a result, when one person’s functioning experiences a change, it is typically followed by reciprocal changes in the other members’ functioning.

Addiction and the Family System

Family systems therapy in addiction treatment can help the individual understand how his family has impacted him, as well as how his addiction has affected other members of his family. Dr. Bowen’s family systems perspective describes addiction as the “outcome of a system having exhausted its capacity to manage anxiety and stressors.”

Even though the individual who is addicted is the one who is “symptomatic,” the substance use disorder is viewed as a family symptom, as all of the significant members in the family system play a part in the way each one functions in relation to the others. When anxiety is elevated within the family, the symptom of addiction will erupt. In turn, the individual’s addiction will increase the level of anxiety in those family members who are dependent on that person. As Dr. Bowen stated, “The process of drinking to relieve anxiety, and increased family anxiety in response to drinking, can spiral into a functional collapse or become a chronic pattern.”

Focusing on the Challenges of Being Human

The family systems theory does not simply focus on what causes issues for one individual, but rather on the bigger picture of the patterns within the family system. The theory is concerned with the challenges of being human within these family relationships instead of being focused on a mental illness. There is no room within family systems therapy for seeing victims and villains in relationship networks.

The individual is invited to see the world through the lens of each family member within their system. This helps them to move beyond blame so they can see the relationship forces that have set each family member on their own paths. They will help them avoid the attempt to find fault and instead work toward a unique path that will enable them to move forward in a mature and healthier life.

Addiction and Mental Health Support for Men

At PACE Recovery, we optimize your recovery success with integrated treatment that will address both your addiction to drugs or alcohol and your mental health issues. We address your whole person, including your spiritual, medical, psychosocial, and relational facets.

The professionals at PACE understand the challenges you are facing during this period of isolation and uncertainty. We’re here to help. Our men’s-only programming has transformed hundreds of lives over the years, and we believe that you can recover. To learn more about our mental health and addiction services, contact our Admissions team.