Picture a mobile over a crib in a baby's room. Each part, while separate, is inextricably connected to the other parts such that, when you move one part, all of the other parts move in response to it.

In families, the effect addiction has on a family as a unit is very much the same. When one person in a family is suffering from a disease, all other family members are affected too and begin to react unconsciously or consciously to the individual and their illness. When picturing the mobile as a family affected by addiction we can easily see why it is important to think of the entire family when treating substance abuse disorder. In the ways addiction creates havoc within the family system, recovery has its own ways of causing an impact as well. It is vital that every family member be a part of the recovery process in order to keep all the moving parts of a family healthy and stable.

The Impact of Addiction on Families

Most families are not given a guidebook on how to handle the addiction of a loved one. So when addiction makes itself at home in a family, it can have unknown effects as everyone in the family deals with this new and unwelcome family member. Active addiction destabilizes the home environment, disrupts family life, compromises finances, and often compromises mental, emotional, and physical health. It can leave parents and loved ones wondering what is happening and why. You may find yourself struggling with guilt, shame, self-blame, frustration, anger, sadness, depression, anxiety, and fear.

Safety– In some cases, the safety of other family members may be put at risk by a person’s substance abuse. Children or spouses may also feel the need to obtain legal protection due to fear of their loved one’s actions.

Responsibilities– Certain family members inherit too many responsibilities or responsibilities that are not age-appropriate. This can cause children or spouses to become overwhelmed, anxious and resentful.

Communication – When a family member is abusing drugs, communication within the family unit is often negative and positive interaction is very limited. In addition, the needs, concerns, and wants of the family members other than the substance abuser may be overlooked.

Structure and boundaries – Homes in which substance abuse exists often have a lack of structure with minimal parental involvement and loosely existing or non-existent boundaries. This results in confusion for children and negative/inappropriate behaviors. Parents and siblings may also adopt enabling behaviors that contribute to their loved one’s substance abuse.

Denial – In many cases, when a child has a substance abuse problem, parents will deny that there is an issue. This may be because they don’t want to face the problem or they simply cannot see it clearly.

Relationships – Substance abuse produces damaged relationships that can continue on through generations through negative behavioral modeling. Additionally, drug or alcohol abusers will often isolate themselves from other family members and spend the majority of their social time with other substance abusers.

Through family therapy, many of the ups and downs of addiction and its subsequent recovery can be managed effectively so everyone can get the help they need and begin to learn about their own behaviors in relation to the substance abuse disorder living in their loved one. Family therapy allows everyone to make the changes necessary to facilitate recovery

Which leads many families to ask why they need to change. They aren't the ones with the addiction. It reasons that if their loved one with addiction gets better everything else will too. However, this belief is false and it is important for family members to recognize, although painful, that they are often unknowingly contributing to the problem. They are doing this unconsciously through those new behaviors developed in response to the substance abuse. Family therapy will get to the root of what those behaviors are so everyone can recover from the impact addiction has had on the entire family system.

Family Therapy in Addiction Treatment at RECO

During family therapy in addiction treatment at RECO, a therapist will explore with the family how substance abuse has embedded itself within the family. From there, family members can identify skills to help them break those patterns of interaction and allow them to have improved family relationships.

For example, new skills that a family therapist might teach a family could include assertive communication skills, enforcing limits, negotiation of rules and boundaries, expressing feelings more effectively, and others. Family members will also be encouraged to understand the dynamics of their family and the dynamics that are linked to their loved one's addiction. Through this awareness, changes can be made and healing for everyone impacted by the addiction can commence.

Family members might also be asked to set goals related to the roles they play within their family unit. For example, parents set goals that are related to their parental roles, siblings set goals that are related to being a brother or a sister, and so on. These goals are reviewed during each session and family members provide rewards when they are achieved.

The Importance of Family Therapy at RECO

According to SAMHSA, "Family therapy in substance abuse treatment can help by using the family's strengths and resources to find ways for the person who abuses alcohol or drugs to live without substances of abuse and to ameliorate the impact of chemical dependency on both the patient and the family."

The more involved families are in their loved one's addiction treatment, the more likely they are to see progress and recovery in their loved one and even more importantly themselves.

Some of the benefits of family involvement in addiction treatment include but are not limited to:

  • Keeping your loved one engaged and motivated during treatment
  • Learning about addiction and its effects on the family as well as understanding how treatment unfolds and what to expect when it’s complete
  • Enabling family members to voice feelings and concerns and ask questions about a loved one’s addiction
  • Offering a loved one a high level of appropriate support after treatment


  • Easing feelings of fear, anger, stress, and confusion related to the addiction
  • The chance for family members to develop skills and strategies to help a loved one stay on the path to recovery
  • Improvements in family communication skills
  • The opportunity to address any mental health issues within the family system, such as depression or anxiety, which can hamper family communication and contribute to relapse