Rutgers Program Expands Family's Role in Treating Loved Ones Suffering from Substance Abuse

Rutgers Program Expands Family's Role in Treating Loved Ones Suffering from Substance AbuseIt may be an all too familiar scene for families of substance abusers: A loved one comes home intoxicated, gets sick on the rug, and passes out leaving the mess to be cleaned up by someone else.

Credit: Jimmy Anderson Rutgers’ Psychological Clinic offers two new addiction treatment programs, one aimed at preventing relapse and the other to empowering family members.

But one way of thinking in addiction treatment that has come to Rutgers this year is telling families not to clean up the mess. In fact, the methodology suggests that instead the family members live with the discomfort of the mess and smell, and wait until morning to ask substance abusers to please clean it up themselves.

The approach is being introduced through a new initiative at Rutgers’ Program for Addiction Consultation and Treatment, or PACT, that aims to help the families of people with addictions.

“What we want to do with the program is expand the family’s role in helping their substance user get healthy, and help their own mental health,” said Frederick Rotgers, director of PACT, a collaborative program between the Psychological Clinic of the Graduate School of Applied Psychology and the Center of Alcohol Studies that serves adults and adolescents with drug or alcohol problems.

‘The new programs address both ends of the spectrum in terms of recovery.’ –  Frederick Rotgers, director of a collaborative program between the Psychological Clinicand the Center of Alcohol Studies

Helping family members is key, Rotgers said, because they are often the ones who make the initial call for help: They are the mother, husband, or wife who want to help a loved one suffering from substance abuse, but they don’t know how.

The new program for family members of addicts – Community Reinforcement and Family Training, or CRAFT – is an eight-week training session that teaches skills that empower people to provide the help and assistance their loved one needs.

“The whole goal is teaching the family alternative and more effective coping skills,” Rotgers said. “CRAFT really takes what we know about what works with substance users and puts it in the form that family members can learn and use.”

The CRAFT program has been compared to Al-anon and has proven effective 75 to 80 percent of the time in helping families get their substance-abusing family member into treatment, Rotgers said. Intervention is only effective 20 to 25 percent of the time, he said.

Additionally, Rotgers said CRAFT is more effective because it  uses a non-confrontational approach to helping family members get treatment. Participants come away with a greater sense of well-being and effectiveness, as well as coping mechanisms that don’t take an emotional toll on them, Rotgers said.

“It’s nonjudgmental, nonconfrontational, very matter-of-fact,” Rotgers said.

Rotgers, who earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rutgers in 1969 and his doctorate of psychology from the school in 1983, was on the faculty of Rutgers’ Center for Alcohol Studies for 12 years before retiring in 1999. He returned to Rutgers in August to head up PACT.

Under his direction, and with the assistance of David Eddie, a graduate student in the clinical psychology doctoral program, PACT is also introducing a program to teach recovering addicts skills to help prevent relapse.

People who are at risk for relapsing back into substance abuse typically experience strong negative emotions from anxiety to anger to depression. They drink or use drugs to try and suppress these feelings, Rotgers said.

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention teaches people to allow themselves to feel angry or anxious, rather than trying to bury the emotions with drugs or alcohol. It’s an after-treatment program that helps recovering addicts strengthen their ability to stay sober.

 “We didn’t have a specific program for people who had changed their alcohol and drug use to change their behavior long-term,” said Rotgers, who also works part time in private practice. “What mindfulness practice does is teach people to observe and examine their experience without trying to intervene in it, without trying to stop or suppress it or change it.”

While they are new to PACT, both CRAFT and Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention are not new to the research world. Several published research papers support both methodologies, and both will now be included in the curriculum for a graduate course on assessment and treatment of alcohol abuse, which Rotgers recently revamped and will be teaching this spring.

“The two new programs address both ends of the spectrum in terms of recovery,” Rotgers said.

Rutgers’ Program for Addiction Consultation and Treatment is open to the public, and fees range from $12 to $85. To schedule an evaluation for services, call the Psychology Clinic at 848-445-6111.