The Role of the Family in Addiction Recovery


An article published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine states, “The family remains the primary source of attachment, nurturing, and socialization for humans in our current society. Therefore, the impact of substance use disorders (SUDs) on the family and individual family members merits attention. Each family and each family member is uniquely affected by the individual using substances including but not limited to having unmet developmental needs, impaired attachment, economic hardship, legal problems, emotional distress, and sometimes violence being perpetrated against him or her. For children there is also an increased risk of developing an SUD themselves. Thus, treating only the individual with the active disease of addiction is limited in effectiveness.” In order for treatment to be as effective as possible, all family members must be involved in some capacity.

As a loved one of someone undergoing recovery, you are integral to the success of the overall treatment journey as well as the maintenance of long-term sobriety. Though entering a treatment program is an important first step to achieving long-term recovery, it isn’t the only step. Achieving freedom from the burdens of substance dependency is a lifelong journey that requires love, support and understanding. There are several ways you can support a loved one throughout the addiction recovery process, including the following.


Offering Ongoing Support and Encouragement.

If you are a family member, friend or spouse, your supporting role can be crucial to helping your loved one focus on regaining their full physical and mental health. Especially in the early stages of recovery, family support will require a commitment on your part. It is important for you to accept that you and your loved one may face hardships because of their addiction, even though they have committed to living a life of recovery. It is a good idea to openly discuss the possibility of these hardships and develop a plan for productively dealing with challenges such as:

  • A return to substance use.

  • Dealing with residual legal and financial issues.

  • Mood swings and other symptoms of post-acute withdrawal.

  • Struggling to find and maintain employment.

  • Acting out in other ways.

Committing to recovery is, of course, a major leap in the right direction. But undergoing addiction treatment does not necessarily ensure a smooth ride. You will hit the occasional speed bump, and when you do it is important that you have a set of tools, skills and healthy coping mechanisms to implement. Undergoing family therapy will teach you the tools you need to maintain a calm and collected attitude when things crop up. You will learn how to deal with related frustration in a healthy and productive way, and continue offering support and encouragement despite the current circumstances.

Holding Your Loved One Accountable.

It is important to hold your loved one accountable should they stumble or fall. Rather than brush it off and say, “It’s okay, dear, nobody is perfect,” consider suggesting a return to a lower level of care or increased individual therapy appointments. One of the kindest things you can do for your loved one is set boundaries and maintain these boundaries when push comes to shove.

An example of a boundary you might set is, “If I find you using drugs in my house again, you will have to find somewhere else to stay.” While throwing your loved one out with no place to go might seem heartless and cruel, the truth is that you will be doing them a major favor in the long run. When it comes to maintaining recovery, tough love is usually the best route to take. If your loved one experiences no consequences as a result of their actions, they will have no motivation to change.

Providing a Safe Space to Heal.

Once your loved one completes medical detox and residential inpatient treatment they will either return home or move directly into a sober living house. If they do return home, it is important they feel supported, safe and heard as they navigate early sobriety. It is important for you to provide a safe space in which to heal. While this does indicate an environment with no immediate access to drugs or alcohol and no active substance use, it also means an environment free from anger and conflict. Early recovery is an especially vulnerable time, and it is crucial a person feels safe and comfortable in their living environment.

In some cases, providing a safe environment at home is simply not an option. This might be the reality if another member of the household is battling active addiction, or if one or several members of the household do not support or understand recovery. If this is the case, moving into a sober living house for a prolonged period of time is always recommended.

Healing Individually and Taking Your Own Needs into Account.

As the saying goes, “One cannot pour from an empty cup.” If you are mentally and emotionally depleted, it will be extremely difficult to show up for your loved one. It is important that you prioritize your own needs and seek help for yourself whenever necessary. If you have been living under the same roof as someone who has been struggling with active addiction, you have likely poured a great deal of your emotional energy into trying to keep things somewhat stable. Maybe you constantly clean up after your addicted loved one (both literally and figuratively), or you frantically attempt to keep up appearances as far as the rest of the world is concerned.

Remember to heal yourself. Take time to seek the help you need to restore your mental and emotional health. Doing so might seem selfish at first — how can you take the time to go to therapy when your loved one requires constant attention? Rest assured that tending to your own needs will better equip you for the road ahead.

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