The role of the family in addiction recovery


Sydney Schulz on April 26, 2021 at 10:12 AM

By Lucille Alfredsson

It is undeniable that substance abuse and addiction can disrupt family dynamics. Communication and trust suffer the most. Moreover, the families of individuals struggling with addiction often suffer tremendous emotional pain. At the same time, they feel hopeless due to their inability to snatch their loved ones from the shackles of substance abuse. While the success of the recovery will largely depend on the hard work and dedication of the recovering individual, there is more at play. A reliable support system in place is critical during this journey. The family is often an essential part of that system. Therefore, the role of the family in addiction recovery is considerable and very important. 

So, what is the role of the family during this journey? Do family members play positive or negative parts? Or is it both, as it usually is? 

The effects of addiction on the family

Individuals who are actively addicted focus primarily on getting the next high. Thus, the behavior they exhibit usually takes these forms:

  • Stealing from the family members and lying to them
  • Inability to keep a stable job and financial troubles
  • Sudden mood changes. 

As a result, distrust settles between the addicted individual and the family members. So, once a person begins treatment, family relationships are typically damaged. To compensate for the detrimental behaviors of their loved ones, the family takes on additional responsibility. And that leads to growing resentment. As time goes by, the family continually has to deal with the lies served to them by the addicted loved one. Simultaneously, they may also keep finding excuses for the addicted family member's behavior. What is more, they will likely start lying to keep people outside of the family from finding out about the addiction their loved one is facing. 

Although thanks to the medical advances over the past century, we have grown to understand addiction much differently, society still doesn't accept it fully. When it comes to mental health, sobriety, and addiction, the popular discourse still relies on outdated postulates that deem these severe health issues moral flaws. Understandably, the recovery becomes even more challenging due to public condemnation. So, the struggling individual needs to invest even more effort to start their journey to recovery and during their fight with addiction. 

And the family also goes through some difficult times. They feel ashamed, while their addicted loved one cannot perceive the full scope of destruction their substance abuse inflicts on the family. Sometimes, the pain and resentment grow so deep that the family relationships get broken irreparably. However, most often, the family shows a willingness to rebuild the relationship after the addiction.

The healthy role of the family in addiction recovery

The role of the family in addiction recovery is huge and comes with a set of challenges. Family members need to assume positive roles that will support and encourage recovery. They need to balance the recovering individual's emotional needs with care while holding them accountable for the actions that stem from their illness. They need to take a firm stance and encourage their loved ones to take positive steps to recovery. 

The need for professional help

This role is extremely difficult to maintain and resembles a walk on a tightrope. Therefore, professional help is necessary. Without proper guidance, members of the family will likely take an array of dysfunctional roles. Each one will fill an aspect of the recovering individual's needs, and none will be a healthy response. So, a family member may become:

  • The enabler - excuses the behavior of the person in recovery. They are unable or unwilling to hold them accountable for their behavior. They don't let the addicted person suffer the consequences of their destructive actions. 
  • The family clown or a mascot - tries to create comic relief for the stressed family. They often use tactless humor aimed at the person in recovery. 
  • The over-achiever or the hero - never lets the family down. They do well at everything to compensate for the shame the family feels. They may even try to cover for the recovering individual. 

The truth is if there is a person in your family who is struggling with addiction, everyone will need professional help. Without it, even if you think you are doing your best and what is necessary, you will likely be causing even more damage. So, the family can attend support groups with their addicted loved ones. Alternatively, they can find support groups for the families of addicted individuals. The building blocks of the recovery, both of the addicted person and the family as a whole, consist of creating healthy boundaries and steering the focus away from the behavior of the person in recovery. 

Maintaining supportive environment

A supportive environment is one that doesn't condone the detrimental behaviors of an addicted individual. Doing everything in your power to maintain such an environment will give your family the best chance of recovery. Therefore, we will once again highlight the importance of getting professional help. No two families are the same, and no two addiction experiences are the same. Thus, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions here. So, going through the recovery process with guidance from a mental health professional will help you stop assuming the harmful behaviors and dysfunctional roles mentioned above before they even develop. 

Being close to your family during recovery

While moving during recovery, as well as implementing any drastic changes, is not recommended, there are situations when it is necessary. If the family can provide reliable support and assist an individual on their journey to sobriety, it would be wise to plan and organize the relocation process. Moving is also advisable if a person lives in a toxic environment. 

The role of the family in addiction recovery is immense because addiction is a family illness. If one person struggles with it, everyone plays a part. Every family member must embark on their individual recovery journey. That way, they can all assume healthy, active roles in restoring balance in the family. 

By Lucille Alfredsson


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