Substance Abuse basically refers to extensive indulgence in addictive substances such as drugs and alcohol. As put forward by DSM IV TR, in order to be diagnosed for substance abuse, the sufferer must be involved in substance use in a maladaptive manner which results in major impairment in daily activities. Some of the impaired routine tasks because of drug abuse include failure or poor work/school performance, getting into legal difficulties along with other such stressors occurring several times in a year (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). In essence, additions can easily pave its way gradually strangling the individual to misery and penetrating into his entire family. In this regard, substance abuse does not only pose high risk for the person taking drugs, but it also results in dire consequences for the person’s whole family.
On surface, a drug abuser would tear his family thereby making the interpersonal relationships suffer. If a child is abusing drugs, the parents and his siblings would face a number of difficulties. The parents would not only have to deal with the emotional stress and pain of seeing their child undergo a dismantling life, but they might also get into a series of conflicts on various matters with the abuser. In contrast, living in a family where one sibling is a drug abuser, results in severe problems for other siblings. Drug addiction may cause a divide between the families by exposing other siblings towards drugs (Usher, Jackson, & O’Brien, 2005). In a similar manner, a drug abusing parent also adversely affects the whole family where children eventually become more prone to addictions. Also, such families report higher violence where parents are often seen to abuse their children and/or partner (Dube et al., 2003). Therefore, drugs do not only result in a number of medical, behavioral and other functional issues for the abuser, but it negatively affects his family
Since people begin to abuse on drugs merely because of a number of reasons such as a breakup, trauma, rape, divorce along with several other determinants, it is important to target these causes in order to improve the condition of a drug abuser. In this regard, the harm reduction therapy aims at reducing the harm attached with drug addiction. As mentioned earlier, although family might face dire consequences because of having a drug abuser amongst them, family plays an important role in the harm reduction therapy. In this way, not only the drug abuser is cured but the family grievances are also put to an end. For this purpose, the basis of the treatment resides in intelligent decision making which incorporates care and love for the abuser instead of focusing on codependence and immediate change in behavior. It is important to address several issues faced by the family members of the abuser because of the underlying idea that despite the use of harm reduction therapy on a drug user, the family members often resort to traditional approaches practiced by self help groups such as Al Anon (Denning, 2010).
Families of the sufferer bear a great responsibility in the treatment procedure because they are not only required to look after the drug abuser, but also take care of their own selves. In this regard, the study conducted by Denning (2010) aims at including aspects of healing and staying connected with the loved one while incorporating the treatment option of harm reduction. Denning (2010) discusses the key troubles which families usually face; the idea of lack of love and loyalty at the part of the abuser and the immediate expectation from the drug abusing family member to alter the behavior. In association to these expectations and reactions of the family members, the author coherently highlights the substantial amount of time which a drug abuser requires to get away with his addiction. Understanding and strong support however enhances the recovery phase. Hence, family support is of vital importance in treating a drug abuser.
While looking at the impact of drug abuse on family members, the factor of codependence is of vital importance. This is due to the fact that family members of the drug abuser undergo a set of diseases where they base their own self esteem and well being on the functioning of the drug abuser. Consequently they struggle with their self esteem, mood and temperament and are classified to suffer from codependency. For this reason, the main principles of the harm reduction theory include the idea of keeping the family members away from coming in the way of reducing the consequences of the drug abuser. Furthermore, apart from the key elements of this treatment measure that revolves around the elements of the slow recovery/ behavior change program and the maladaptive drug abusing behavior (that is not a disease), family support must tackle with limits, decision making and best concessions to make. Regardless of the number of support programs such as the residential treatment, psychotherapy and multidimensional family therapy, the recently introduced harm reduction therapy also helps the family members of the drug abuser (Usher, Jackson, & O’Brien, 2005). The support group does not only alleviate the misery of the addict but also aids the family in overcoming their own consequent problems (Denning, 2010). In this regard, the harm reduction family program is a support group that assists the family members in making healthy choices for themselves and for the suffering relative by dealing with the issue of codependency. Although, this program was initially directed towards the establishment of a support group, it eventually turned out to be a therapy program as people began to discuss a number of incidents and experiences that helped achieve the key principles of the treatment therapy (Denning, 2010). Through this support network, people began to discuss the ways in which they were behaving with their suffering family member and the consequent effect on their own personal behavior. In this manner, the members of the support group did not only advised and helped others about the ways to bring the drug abuser towards treatment, but they also helped in pointing out mistakes, repeating and laughing together.
Hence, the idea of fostering individuality, responsibility and decision making was enhanced by the harm reduction family group. Although, the harm reduction therapy aims at treating the drug abusers by working upon the causes behind addiction, treating family members of the abuser is also an essential component of the program. This is due to the fact that harm reduction family program helped the family members take their own decisions as well as it enables them to realize the importance of letting the abuser decide on his own. Thus, although the family of a drug abuser suffers because of the resulting consequences, their understanding, intellect, and support can greatly help the abuser get away with addiction thereby improving the life of the whole community.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author
Denning, P. (2010) Harm reduction therapy with families and friends of people with drug problems. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 66(2), 164-174. DOI: 10.1002/jclp.20671
Dube, R. S., Felitti, V. J., Dong, M., Chapman, D. P., Giles, W. H., & Anda, R. F. (2003). Childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction and the risk of illicit drug use: The adverse childhood experiences study. Pediatrics, 111(3), 564-572.
Usher, K., Jackson, D., & O’Brien, L. (2005). Adolescent drug abuse: Helping families survive. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 14(3), 209-214. Doi:10.1111/j.1440-0979.2005.00383.x