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Addiction a family disease

by Ned Wicker
(Wisconsin)

The family was worried about “John” after discovering that he has been using drugs. They didn’t know what drugs he was using at first, and they didn’t know how often he was using, but they knew something was going on.

Naturally, his parents were concerned and they wanted it to come to an end, but they never confronted him about it, preferring to give him his space, thinking maybe it would go away. Kids go through phases and maybe this was just one of them.

John began to change

John is a good student and well-liked by his peers, or at least that has been true of him over the years, but lately it has been different. He has been a little edgy at home, not wanting to be a part of family activities. A while back he and his father had a “little run in” over the use of the car, but isn’t that the case for most teenagers? Still, his parents are concerned because they do not understand “what has gotten into him.”

At the urging of a friend, they decided to go to a family therapist. John’s involvement with drugs had become a center stage issue, as his young brother and two sisters knew something was up. “John has become a bit of a problem for us,” was the rationale for seeking the help.

Entire family NEEDED therapy

They went to a therapist in their town, who wanted to meet with the entire family. The therapist quickly assessed John’s cocaine use and also understood from the first few moments that the family component was huge.

Interestingly, she saw the solution as a family project. Her technique was using a form of “Supportive-Expressive Psychotherapy,” that has been modified for cocaine addicts. It has also been used for heroin addicts. She knew from the start that John’s parents were concerned about their son, but rather uptight about dealing with the subject of drug use.

She wanted them to feel comfortable sharing their experiences and feelings. That, of course, included John, whose communication patterns had not included any serious dialogs with his parents.

Secondly, she wanted to help John and his parents work through their interpersonal relationship issues. This would help all of them understand the nature of John’s drug use, which as it turned out was a self-medicating effort. The therapist identified key components to John’s drug use, and opened up communication avenues to help both John and his parents make meaningful connections.

Entire family got treatment

Looking at the family, as a whole, it was discovered that mom and dad had issues over finances and had often been at odds over how to handle the money. John’s uncle, an alcoholic, was also a regular at the house, a sort of beloved figure, who referred to alcohol as his “liquid courage.” The grandparents, on his father’s side, lived in the neighborhood and “Gramma” was always over, making sure mom did things properly.

The therapist worked with all of the family, not just John and his parents. By improving communication among the members of the family, and especially with John and his parents, John’s drug use ended and he began to return to his regular activities. John, through working individually with the therapist, began to see the nature of his drug use, and more importantly to seek alternatives to using.

The eyes of his parents were opened, as they began to realize how family influences can play a part in a 17 year-old’s drug use. The family therapist recognized the signs, put the pieces together, and helped the family return to a healthy unit.

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