What is IFS for Addiction Recovery?

People often abuse drugs and alcohol as a way to avoid difficult emotions or escape from challenging situations. Ask anyone addicted to substances why their substance use started and you will likely hear one of those two reasons. 

No one sets out to become dependent on drugs or alcohol. There is nothing glamorous or enjoyable about chronic addiction. Unfortunately, what starts as a seemingly easy way to deal with difficulties can eventually develop into a full-blown substance abuse problem when people never learn other coping skills. And then instead of stepping up and pushing back against those nagging voices in their head that say they aren’t good enough, they cover it up with more substances.

Once they are ready to stop using drugs or alcohol, though, the need to heal that inner critic becomes increasingly apparent. That’s where IFS for addiction recovery may help. Internal Family Systems therapy is an approach that uncovers, addresses, and heals those destructive inner voices and narratives. How does IFS for addiction work?

What is Internal Family Systems?

Internal Family Systems therapy (IFS) is a revolutionary approach to psychotherapy. It recognizes that each person is made up of subpersonalities, or parts, that work together to drive thoughts and behaviors. All parts are valuable in their natural state and serve an important purpose. However, traumas and difficult experiences during life create pain and struggle for some of these parts which leads to internal conflict. 

Over time, different parts develop different ways of dealing with the pain they experienced. Sometimes these coping skills include harmful behaviors such as drinking, using drugs, gambling, eating disorders, or risky sexual behaviors. While these seem like “bad” behaviors from the outside, IFS suggests recognizing that these parts are simply trying to protect the person from experiencing the same pain of their past.

Internal Family Systems therapy focuses on providing these hurting parts the space to be heard and to heal. Instead of contributing to the already berating inner monologue, IFS encourages a person to recognize and thank each part for trying its best. Curiosity and compassion with each part allow healing (or “unburdening”) and transformation so they can return to their naturally valuable state.

3 Goals of Internal Family Systems

There are three primary goals of IFS therapy: 

1. Liberating parts from their extreme roles.

Parts often take on extreme roles that plague people for years, leading to things like substance abuse and addiction. Through IFS, people learn to connect with their true Self and they can connect to each hurting part with curiosity and compassion. IFS helps people heal and transform these parts which liberate them from their extreme roles.

2. Restoration of trust in self-leadership.

IFS helps each part of a person learn they can trust the Self to run life effectively. After the healing transformation of parts, the compassionate, caring Self looks after each one and ensures they remain on the right path.

3. Re-harmonizing the inner system of parts.

Once parts begin to unburden and release their extreme roles, a person finds themselves in a state of harmony. They no longer feel like they’re fighting against themselves; IFS enables each part to feel heard and work together as a team instead of existing in conflict and acting out.

Using IFS for Addiction Recovery

People who struggle with addiction are also people who tend to struggle with brutal self-talk. They typically have a harsh inner critic that constantly berates them, which they try to silence with more substances. They know that drinking heavily, injecting drugs, or popping pills isn’t good, but they aren’t sure how else to protect themselves from the pain of the past or the internal beating they give themselves every day.

Internal Family Systems believes that while these behaviors are harmful, they served a useful purpose up to this point. The part of a person who drinks heavily or abuses drugs doesn’t want to be an addict; they simply want to avoid the excruciating pain they experienced in the past. They don’t have any effective coping mechanisms, though, so they use substances to numb their emotions.

IFS for addiction recovery recognizes and honors the parts that are doing their best to protect the individual from pain and further trauma. It allows each part space to share its story and then relieves it of its self-imposed duty to protect. As people connect with their true Self, it transforms the pain of these parts back into their useful, valuable states.

Emerge Recovery incorporates Internal Family Systems therapy as part of our approach to doing rehab differently. While many programs rely on traditional approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, we prefer to use IFS whenever possible. Equipping individuals with the ability to self-regulate and transform their internal system leads to lasting relief and recovery.

Would you like to learn more about IFS for addiction recovery, or any other services available from Emerge Recovery? Schedule your no-fee Recovery Activation call today.

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I’m here to help you get sober and stay sober. We’ll uncover what’s keeping you sick and why you’re stuck in the same cycle. Parts of you are begging to be healed but you can’t do it alone. Emerge Recovery is the first step toward learning to navigate and thrive in a life free from substances.

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