When one member of a family is suffering from the disease of addiction, everyone in the family is adversely affected.
When parents use drugs that create aggression in the household, the children are sometimes unable to process their own emotions at the most basic, human levels. They are also more likely to use drugs themselves later in life.
Considering the overall family effects of drug addiction, some individuals choose to address their addiction issues through family system interventions that establish a connection to each member of the household, rather than creating a target on the individual who is suffering from the actual disease of addiction.
The Benefits of a Family System Intervention
The idea of treating entire families through a system of meetings is not a new one. Originally developed in 1948 by a physician named Henry Richardson, the concept was studied by the National Institute of Health. The study involved entire families living on the grounds for up to two years while they implemented regular meetings to discuss their issues. Simply holding the meetings regularly was shown to have a dramatic effect on the way the families communicated and how well they relieved their stress.
The idea that family therapy is a valid means for intervening in substance abuse was studied further when a group of psychologists involved 84 youths and their families. The teens or young adults were either assigned to family therapy or an alternative education model where the parents were simply given parenting classes. When the entire family was involved in actual therapy, the alcohol and drug use was significantly lower.
What Is the Difference Between a Classical Intervention and a Family System Intervention?
When an individual is the subject of an intervention, the entire process can seem a lot like a verbal attack.
The classic manner in which an intervention takes place includes “tricking” the addict into attending some kind of staged event and then hurling accusations at him until his rock bottom has been raised high enough that he hits it without even trying.
Another point of difference is the “identified patient.” When there is a professional intervention specialist involved, the addict is designated as the identified patient, while in the case of family intervention, all family members are identified patients, rather than the addict alone.
Planning and carrying out the intervention is also vastly different in the family setting. The intervention specialist meets with the whole family at once, at a predetermined time and place, and the addict is fully aware of why he/she is attending the first meeting. There is no surprise or “ambush” in this type of intervention.
During the intervention process, the focus of the attention is on everyone as a family unit and as individuals, and the addict is removed from the “hot seat,” so to speak. The immediate goal is to have the person suffering from addiction agree to enter a treatment program, of course, but it recognizes that the others in the household may have issues that need to be addressed as well.
The typical intervention using the family model includes a series of meetings over the course of two or three days, while a traditional intervention may last for only a few hours.
Finding the Right Intervention Specialist
When you are dealing with delicate issues for your entire family, you want to make sure that you have a qualified professional in your midst.
Have the proper certifications and verification of good standing
Carry malpractice insurance
Complete a specialized 14-hour course on interventions above and beyond related fields of study
Work for two years conducting interventions
Have three peer evaluations in addition to supervised practice sessions
Pass a written/oral examination
Obtain five continuing education credits per year
These requirements will allow a practicing interventionist to be certified by the AIS as a first-level member, and the requirements increase for the second level, including an additional three years of practical experience.
Some Addicts Want Help; Others Do Not
Each person who participates in a family system intervention needs to participate of their own free will. This means that outright confrontation is kept to a minimum, but it does not mean that every addict will automatically want to sit through meetings that highlight the issues they have been trying to avoid.
If the addict refuses to participate, the remaining family members can and should continue with the intervention to work on their own issues concerning the addiction. Take this example: A family of five consisted of two parents and three children. One of the parents, the breadwinner, suffered from alcoholism. While the youngest child was too young to truly participate in a family intervention, the older two were able to discuss their issues rather intelligently. Initially, both parents were in agreement concerning the family intervention, but as the date drew closer, the parent who was drinking excessively decided there simply weren’t enough hours in the day to work, coach the baseball team, and talk to some stranger about having a few too many beers on the weekend.
The rest of the family participated in the intervention as planned, however, and they learned a few important facts. The older boy learned that his failure to score homeruns was not to blame for his parent’s alcoholism. The younger son learned that when he needed to, it was okay to cry and ask his mother for some extra attention. The sober parent learned something she hadn’t considered prior to taking part in the intervention workshop: Her spouse had lost control of the alcohol that was consuming their lives. Because of the addiction, the alcohol truly was in control. She was able to love her spouse more completely and understand the issues better.
A few weeks later, when she explained what she’d learned to her spouse, they rescheduled the intervention. The alcoholic in the family had been terrified that all of the blame would be focused on the alcoholism, but instead, there was understanding and compassion.
Rather than looking at your loved one’s refusal to participate in a family intervention as a setback, consider that it could be a stepping stone in the direction of health and wellness for everyone.
What Happens After the Family System Intervention?
The last thing you want is to go back to the status quo. Normally, after an intervention that focuses solely on the addict and their behavior, the rest of the family will settle back into their “normal” lives. If the addict chooses to go into a treatment center, the family waits for visitation to start or for their loved one to return home – often assuming that he or she will return completely healed.
With the family systemic intervention approach, the intervention is just the beginning of the healing process for everyone in the family. Each individual must commit to getting the help they need and changing for the better. The addict may agree to face his or her demons in rehab, and the others must also agree to continue therapy independently in order for the intervention to be called successful.
What Is a Family, Anyway?
According to a report published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, there are many examples of modern families. A family might consist of a mother, father and children. The immediate family might include aunts, uncles or grandparents. There might be only one parent, or a child might have four parents, including step-parents. A family unit also includes gay and lesbian couples and their children.
Families also consist of people who have chosen to be family, not by marriage or blood, but by design. These elected families are also valid and can be incredibly supportive because each family member has chosen to love one another.
Some families all live in the same town, generation after generation. They live, work and play in the same general area for their entire lives. Others tend to scatter. That’s okay, too, because they can still participate in family interventions via conference calls or video conferencing. The important thing is that anyone who has been affected by the drug use and abuse should participate in the intervention.
Regardless of the people consider family, we are all affected by the pain and frustration of addiction. Choosing to work together as a family without blame or derision might the answer you’ve been looking for.
For more information, please contact us right away. We can answer any questions you have about how to stage a family intervention, and connect you with an interventionist in your area.