All in the Family

Education and support for families facing substance abuse.

Substance abuse is an insidious disease. It will creep into someone’s life and rob them of their physical and mental health. In the process, it damages their families and relationships. It destroys their self-confidence and well-being. It carries the prospect of death.

Louise Wallowitz, director of family services at Riverside Recovery of Tampa, discusses how substance abuse affects the entire family and how family therapy helps.

Louise Wallowitz

At Riverside Recovery of Tampa, substance abuse is well understood. Riverside Recovery of Tampa is a comprehensive center offering a full continuum of care to treat all aspects of the disease. Staff members engage clients in a Residential Treatment Program and an Intensive Outpatient Program, as well as through ongoing therapy and support services.

The staff at Riverside Recovery of Tampa realize substance abuse affects more than the individual afflicted with it. It affects that person’s entire family as well. Its consequences impact the family’s communication and dynamics. That’s why the staff at Riverside Recovery of Tampa have developed a wide-ranging Family Services Program to educate and support families facing this disease.

“Many families believe substance abuse is their loved ones’ problem, and if they just get better, everything will be fine,” says Louise Wallowitz, LMHC, CAP, director of family services at Riverside Recovery of Tampa. “We get the families involved in treatment so they can begin to understand it really is a family disease.”

Often, Louise notes, parents of individuals with substance abuse get caught up in what they did to cause their loved ones to have the disease. Staff of Riverside Recovery of Tampa Family Services focus instead on educating families about risk factors for the development of substance abuse.

“For one thing, research shows that genetics play a big role in substance abuse,” Louise observes. “We also teach families about the different parts of the brain and what happens when the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functioning, is damaged or its growth is stunted. If that occurs, their loved ones are not going to make good decisions.

“Through education, we help family members really understand what’s going on neurologically and realize that substance abuse is a disease, not a weakness. Then they can recognize that what they’re seeing is not really their loved ones. They’re seeing how the disease affects their loved ones’ brains and, therefore, their behavior.

“There are also environmental risk factors, including peer pressure. And if people are already genetically at risk for substance abuse, it’s likely their use will be a lot different than that of someone who uses drugs or alcohol while in college and then stops.”

As part of the education process, the Riverside Recovery of Tampa Family Services staff use a variety of videos and printed materials. These resources assist families in comprehending how their loved ones’ brains are not functioning at full capacity, which contributes to their substance abuse.

Team Effort

Staff at Riverside Recovery of Tampa work as a team to help their clients beat substance abuse and believe their clients’ families are a key part of that team. Riverside Recovery of Tampa Family Services provides several opportunities for families to become part of the effort.

“There are two family groups per week, and it’s mandatory for family members to attend at least one group to visit their loved ones,” Louise describes. “Every five weeks, we offer a family weekend. That’s a three-day weekend when families receive a lot of education about substance abuse and how to live with someone battling it.

“During family weekend, families learn how to communicate with their loved ones in a healthy way. They learn about boundary setting, building contracts and most important, how to support their loved ones in a positive way without enabling.”

During the family weekend, Riverside Recovery of Tampa Family Services staff educate families about the neuroscience of substance abuse and the changes that occur in the brain. Staff explain how substance abuse recovery does not happen overnight. It takes two years for the brain to heal and create new pathways responsible for behavior.

“Part of our instruction is to educate families about the holistic approach implemented with our clients,” Louise states. “That approach includes therapies such as yoga, meditation, exercise, eating right and getting better sleep. There’s evidence these activities help in the recovery process. An educated family can support their loved ones in this process.

“We encourage family members to continue coming to the group even after their loved ones leave Riverside Recovery of Tampa to get ongoing support. We also encourage them to seek outside support such as that from Alcoholics Anonymous® or Narcotics Anonymous®.”

Throughout the recovery process, Riverside Recovery of Tampa Family Services staff work to develop relationships with family members that close the gaps between their loved ones and their therapists.

“Sometimes, family members pick up on things in conversation that the therapists miss or misunderstand,” Louise relates. “Closing the gaps in communication decreases the chance for relapse.

“Family involvement is crucial to their loved ones getting well. We see an increase in success when everyone is working together. Families must be a part of treatment because substance abuse is a family disease, and everybody plays a part in offering support.”

Road to Recovery

The comprehensive recovery process at Riverside Recovery of Tampa begins with the Medical Detox Program, then the Residential Program, which varies in length, Louise notes. From there, clients transition into Day/Night Treatment (PHP), which is a day program during which clients return to Riverside Recovery of Tampa from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“At that point, we provide additional support and encouragement to clients to live sober lives and to regularly attend twelve-step meetings, some of which we hold in-house,” Louise relates. “This part of the program is individualized and aimed at a slow transition back into life for clients. It could last two to four weeks, depending on the client.

“Next, clients transition into the Intensive Outpatient Program, which requires nine hours of therapy per week, or three nights a week. Following that is Aftercare, when many alumni take part, which adds support for the clients. That’s good for the alumni as well because the longer they remain engaged with us, the longer they’re away from substances.”

The program at Riverside Recovery of Tampa focuses on abuse of drugs and alcohol, but substance abuse often coexists with other disorders such as depression and anxiety.

“In most cases, it’s a dual diagnosis,” Louise confirms. “Clients will come in with substance abuse, but also depression, anxiety, bipolar or another disorder. While we’re treating the substance abuse, we’re also stabilizing these disorders or whatever the secondary diagnosis might be.”

Creative Modalities

As part of the treatment at Riverside Recovery of Tampa, clients are shown they can live happy, normal, healthy lives without the use of drugs and alcohol. The center offers amenities and activities to guide them in this discovery.

The center has a half-court basketball court, a yoga studio, an exercise room with weight and elliptical machines, and a swimming pool. Construction has started on a deck overlooking the Hillsborough River, which will allow clients to enjoy scenic views while taking part in outdoor activities.

“We show our clients they can have a lot of fun while sober and clean, doing things like working out, playing basketball, swimming or fishing, and they can enjoy them clear-minded,” Louise comments. “They will actually have more fun than if they were drunk or high.

“We do the deep work here. We get to the root cause of what’s going on with people and show them their lives are not over. With the help of Riverside Recovery of Tampa, people with substance abuse can be happy and laugh and enjoy life again.”

The Riverside Recovery of Tampa staff are able to address clients’ needs in creative ways as well, including art therapy and physical therapy. Unfettered by limiting program restrictions, Riverside Recovery of Tampa can use any treatment modality it sees fit to help improve a client’s physical and mental health.

Print This Article