When someone is diagnosed with the disease of addiction, having met the criteria necessary for the diagnosis to apply, questions immediately arise. One may ask who is to blame, such as a parent who questions if they are the reason for their child’s diagnosis or the one to blame for the outcome of their child’s reality. Another may point the finger at the addict, indicating that the problem is finally found, and the person at the end of their finger is the source of the problem now identified. At this point, the addict becomes the identified patient in need of treatment. Still, others may quickly form conclusions about the addict and attempt to predict that person’s future as if they were fortune tellers.
The next steps of dealing with addiction can be born within this family system. The family’s knowledge of treating the condition or disease of addiction seems to increase as family members become subject matter experts regarding the problem and its source. Families attempt to communicate what the addict needs to do to reverse the illness with the addict becoming the target of treatment.
Whether addictive patterns of behavior were known or hidden from family members, this scenario can play out. When an addict enters residential treatment and family members begin to feel some relief from the challenges of living with someone suffering from addiction, it is common for the false sense of confidence to even increase. Families can become convinced that their understanding of addiction is strong. In this phase of the family’s attempt to handle addiction, it is common for blame to surface. It may surface in the addict who believes they are the problem. Blame can take root also in family members who engage in self-blame for what they did “wrong” or for what they did not do “right.” Either way, once blame is sprouted it can grow quickly.
The real problem is that blame places all the responsibility on one party, and the reality of the disease of addiction is missed by those who engage in blaming. The disease model of addiction does not place blame on either side (family or addict) and attempts to educate each to help them understand the nature of the disease of addiction and to also understand what is needed to treat this disease successfully. The benefits of the disease model of addiction is that blame is not welcome, and the focus is on how to treat the disease with all who are exposed to it, addict and family members included.
While each person involved in families where addiction is present has a relevant perspective and valid emotional experience, removing blame from the picture is a must. For treatment to be successful long-term, everyone must be able to come together to accept the presence of the disease of addiction and to also accept those who are affected by this disease. As the disease itself is seen as the objective problem that needs to be addressed, all involved can begin to work towards one goal, successful treatment of the disease.
What changes at this point is the shift from fighting against each other to fighting in unison against the disease of addiction as a team. Blame is the poison that brings disunity to the family and this lack of unity becomes a barrier to healing and wellness within the family system. Quality care that is targeted to the whole family helps all involved move from any form of blame towards taking an objective and strategic stance against the disease that attacks the family system.
At Stonegate Center, the disease of addiction is attacked from the perspective and context of the entire family. The disease of addiction is identified as the problem and each person is encouraged to do their part to work as a team with a common goal. The unity that is created within the family when this is done works to provide the atmosphere needed to address the problem at its source. An atmosphere of acceptance of the problem and acceptance of all persons affected by the addiction fosters the building of a team where members are not fighting against each other. With a family systems focused treatment protocol, all can bond together and fight in unison hard against the disease itself. Removing blame and replacing it with acceptance is the key for families to recover from addiction.
James holds a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from The King’s University and is dedicated to working with individuals who are suffering from addiction and working with their families on how to best support them in their new recovery lifestyle. James believes that the presence of a healthy family system can offer the best possible family environment to help a person in his/her recovery from addiction.