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Families considering treatment for a loved one with addiction can benefit from knowing that the gold standard for treating substance use disorders (SUDs) involving alcohol or drugs is dual diagnosis treatment. Dual diagnosis treatment refers to the treatment of substance abuse that co-occurs with another mental disorder, such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other so-called dual diagnoses.
These co-occurring disorders (CODs) disproportionately affect people with addiction—at a rate of roughly 40 percent, by conservative estimates—suggesting that substance abuse often begins as an effort to self-medicate the symptoms of an untreated COD. Effective professional treatment for addiction addresses this root cause, by treating both the underlying condition (whatever the diagnosis) and the SUD.
What families also need to know is that their involvement in the recovery process can be critical to their loved one’s success in a dual diagnosis treatment program. To that end, this article will lay out the research showing how recovery from addiction and dual diagnosis improves with family involvement. The takeaway: that a drug or alcohol treatment provider that encourages family involvement in the recovery process, (through, for example, a Family Program offering therapy and support to families), is always your best bet.
How Family Therapy Reduces Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis
A number of studies point to how family involvement in the therapeutic process can relieve the symptoms of a dual diagnosis. Consider, for example, the fact that anxiety and depression are the two most common CODs among the substance abuse population. (For more information, see the Learning Center article “Common Co-Occurring Disorders Associated with Addiction.”) When therapeutic interventions for these disorders engage family members of the dually diagnosed loved one, they achieve better results, as evidenced by the following findings:
- Participants in a 12-week group therapy program that focused on family relationships achieved a noticeable reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to a 2005 study in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly.
- Similarly, adult children of alcoholics with substance abuse problems who participated in a family recovery group experienced a reduction in depression and co-occurring substance abuse, in a 2000 study in American Journal of Community Psychology.
Why Family Intervention for Co-Occurring Disorders Is Key
The same general trend is evident with respect to family interventions for more severe CODs like schizophrenia. As it is, the severe mental illness of a loved one places a significant strain on family members—but when that mental illness co-occurs with substance use, the inevitable pressures related to caregiving and family conflict are that much greater, as a 2013 study in Schizophrenia Bulletin concluded.
Strikingly, the study’s authors found that when families took part in a “Family Intervention for Dual Disorders” program, which over a period of nine to 18 months equipped clients and their families with problem-solving, communication and coping tools, clients experienced “significantly less severe overall psychiatric symptoms and psychotic symptoms and tended to improve more in functioning.” Even more striking was the fact that these results were achieved with “relatively low” family involvement in the program—suggesting that a little family involvement in a loved one’s recovery can go a long way.
How Family Involvement Predicts Better Treatment Outcomes
Multiple studies also show that family involvement in a loved one’s recovery predicts better long-term treatment outcomes for substance abuse, regardless of the client’s age. (For related information, see the article “How Family Therapy Can Boost Long-Term Recovery.”) Consider the following findings, for example:
- Family behavior therapy achieved positive treatment outcomes for both adults and adolescents with addiction issues, according to researchers at the University of Washington.
- Family therapy helped chronic problem drinkers achieve longer-term abstinence, a 1990 study in Journal of Family Therapy
- And, a 1997 study in Advances in Clinical and Child Psychology found that family therapy improved the retention and engagement of teens receiving substance abuse treatment. (Treatment retention and engagement are evidenced predictors of successful long-term recovery.)
How Family Participation in 12-Step Groups Boosts Recovery Rates
There is also ample evidence to suggest that family participation in support groups boosts recovery rates. A good deal of that evidence comes from studies into the benefits of 12-step groups like Al-Anon for families in recovery:
- A 2008 study in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, which found that higher levels of family participation in an Al-Anon group were associated with lower risks of relapse, higher self-esteem and a decrease in self-stigmatization by the six-month mark.
- A 1996 study in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, which revealed healthier levels of family functioning and significantly lower rates of relapse among family members who attended the 12-step group Al-Anon. (In contrast, family members who did not attend Al-Anon and were also assessed three months after treatment did not experience the same progress.)
A loved one’s dual diagnosis can be overwhelming, but no family has to face it alone. Getting professional support is one of the best things you can do to help a loved one with addiction find freedom and recovery. For a free, confidential consultation on behalf of a loved one, please contact us today. To learn more about our resources for families, we also invite you to explore our Wellness Program and Two-Day Workshop.