Bibliotherapy for Families Affected By Addiction

It’s never just the addict (or alcoholic) who suffers.

Anyone who cares about or depends upon the addict suffers. Living with active addiction is too much for most people. Thank God there are more resources now than ever before for the families afflicted by addiction. Treatment centers have family groups and family days, and many therapists are skilled at helping family members. There are 12-step groups devoted to helping family and friends of alcoholics (Alanon) and addiction (Naranon) in nearly every area of the country. Alanon does make a distinction between alcohol and other drugs, while Naranon is for families of people addicted to any drug including alcohol. However, in practice, many people attending Alanon do so because their loved ones use drugs in addition to alcohol.

Well-written books for families of addicts can help initiate the process of understanding and healing. These books can give a starting point to desperate family members, literally worried sick about the addict in their lives.

Popularized by the TV show “Intervention,” some families hold these interventions for the addicted family member. An intervention usually contains certain elements: the addicted person’s friends and family gather together in the presence of the addict, they tell the addict how much they love him or her, they tell the addict how much their addiction hurts them, and what they want the addict to do about his/her problem. Usually this means going to an addiction treatment center. Families usually also tell the addict there will be definite consequences for non-compliance with their requests.

Other people deal with addiction in less directive ways. For example, in Alanon, the focus is kept not on the addict, but on the distressed family member or friend who is affected by the addiction. Alanon helps people deal with the dilemmas that appear with addiction, whether the addict is in or out of the home. Some people go to Alanon years after the addict is dead, because of the long-lasting emotional effects addiction can have. More about Alanon’s approach to dealing with the distress of addiction can be found at their website: http://www.al-anon.alateen.org   Alateen is not for alcoholic teens, but for teenagers who have been affected by the alcoholism of a parent or other close relative, or friend.

I’ve compiled a list of books I’ve found to be useful for family members. These books range widely in their approaches, and at times may contradict each other.

When Enough is Enough, by Candy and Sean Finnegan

            This great book clearly explains the mechanics of holding an intervention, as well as the risks and possible pitfalls. It’s 208 pages long and the paperback version is quite affordable. The authors cover much ground. They discuss all of the factors that must be considered, like financial concerns, physical and mental health issues, and legal issues. Candy is sometimes the interventionist on A&E’s “Intervention,” and has worked for treatment centers with stellar reputations. This is a top choice if you are considering holding an intervention.

Getting Them Sober, Volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4, by Toby Rice Drews

            Don’t let the title mislead you. These books aren’t all about forcing someone to get sober. These slender volumes, written in the 1980’s, have short chapters, written clearly and simply, and are packed with wisdom. I like that these books don’t give absolutes but rather suggestions. I don’t think there’s only one correct solution for every problem. Some people criticize the book, and say the best answer if you are married to an addict is to leave. And that might be the best answer for some people, but not all. It’s rarely so simple. Sometimes there are children involved. Sometimes the addict is your adult child, so there’s no “just leave” solution. The last volume, #4, is subtitled “Separations and Healings”

How Alanon Works For Friends and Families, by Alanon Family Groups

            This book gives a great description of what Alanon is all about. It tells about the common behaviors seen in the alcoholic and the family, and gives hope that even if the alcoholic never quits drinking, you can still have a happy life. It contains stories from other people who’ve lived with addiction, and much can be learned from their experiences. Alanon has several other great books: Paths of Recovery: Alanon’s Steps, Traditions, and Concepts; Alanon’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions; From Survival to Recovery: Growing Up in an Alcoholic Home; The Dilemma of an Alcoholic Marriage. They also publish three small books containing daily meditations, or readings, on some topic connected to Alanon: One Day at a Time, Courage to Change (a bit old-fashioned, assumes the wife is the alanon member) and Hope for Healing (to me it seems this last one has more material for people who had alcoholic parents than the other two)

Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, by Melody Beattie

            This is a classic. Written in the 1980’s, it still contains useful information that isn’t necessarily specific to addiction and the family, but most families with addiction of any sort do have codependent behaviors. The examples are helpful, and her writing is clear. I’m not sure anyone has come up with a great definition of codependency, but if you read this book to the end, you’ll know it when you see it. Also consider reading her daily meditation book, The Language of Letting Go.

Terry: My Daughter’s Life-and-Death Struggle with Alcoholism, by George McGovern

            This is a sad book, written by the father of an alcoholic, who died of exposure outside while drunk. The author is a famous politician, and his writing reveals how addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer. I got the feeling after reading this book that Mr. McGovern regretted not having done things differently. Though Terry went to treatment centers, she wasn’t successful at remaining sober. It sounds like the family detached with love, but now the author regrets detaching to the degree that he did.

 I think each family decides differently how much they can do for the addicted one. Should you provide free room and board to keep the addict off the street? Is that harm reduction… or enabling? Is it, “loving them to death?” Often, addicts say it was only when they had to face the unpleasant consequences of addiction, like sleeping outside in the cold, or going to jail, that they turned towards recovery. But then you read a story like this one, where Terry froze to death in a snow bank.

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through his Son’s Addiction, by David Sheff

            This book was on one of my other lists. The book is poignant. In places it is heart-breaking. Over and over, I would think, “Ah, the kid’s finally in good recovery.” And the next sentence contained the next relapse. This author caught exactly the rollercoaster ride of emotions felt by someone who loves a person in active addicition.

From Binge to Blackout, by Toren and Chris Volkmann

            This is an unusual book because it contains the viewpoints of both the alcoholic and the mother of the alcoholic. This book hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. Both authors are eloquent when describing their thoughts and feelings about what is happening with the son’s alcohol addiction. I believe this book would be interesting to any parent, particularly those with adolescents. From a doctor’s point of view, I was pleased to see Chris Volkmann quoted accurate information when she writes of the science of addiction to alcohol. I was impressed with her ability to convey these scientific concepts lucidly. You should get this book. Really.

Last Call, by Jack Hedblom

            This book is about alcohol addiction, but I don’t recall that it talked about other drugs. It contained a great description of why addiction is classified as a disease. The author, a psychotherapist with a PhD, goes into some detail about recovery from alcohol addiction from mostly a 12-step perspective. It’s a great book, covering all the necessary topics in a straightforward way but without “talking down” to the reader. I like that the book has end notes and references, and also an index. It’s recent – published in 2007, but kind of pricey – new book is $40 on Amazon but used copies are available &  much cheaper.

 This is barely scratching the surface. I have many more recent books that are still in my ever-towering “to read” pile.

 Please tell me about your favorites.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Abbie on July 14, 2010 at 1:17 am

    I’m reading, The Upside of Fear. It’s good.

    Reply

  2. Bibliotherapy for Families Affected By Addiction « Janaburson's Blog…

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  3. Bibliotherapy for Families Affected By Addiction « Janaburson's Blog…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

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  4. Bibliotherapy for Families Affected By Addiction « Janaburson's Blog…

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  5. Posted by christy on July 20, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Thankyou I believe the family needs treatment as much as the addict.

    Reply

  6. A new approach for people living with an alcoholic can be found at Bottled up. There is also a forthcoming book Bottled Up published by Lion Hudson which can be found on Amazon.

    John

    Reply

  7. Dealing with addiction is a hard thing for family’s to deal with. Its good to see that you have laid out some reading materiel for families looking for help.

    Reply

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