The Family Role in Addiction Recovery

People who struggle with addiction often feel alone. They may not realize how connected they are with the other people in their family and social systems. Substance abuse takes a toll on loved ones, exposing them to trauma and contributing to distressing emotions.

Families of addicts often worry about helping their loved one achieve recovery. But family members need help and support themselves. Family roles in addiction recovery are complex. It helps to work with professionals who are experienced with family dynamics in addiction treatment and recovery.


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Who Is Your Family?

Viewing addiction as a family disease is beneficial. It gives family members an explanation for their own confusing emotions. It helps people who struggle with addiction feel less alone. It also underscores the importance of creating a strong support system.

But who should an addict incorporate in their family support system? Family roles in addiction recovery aren’t limited to blood relatives. Family refers to anyone who is consistently emotionally involved in the individual’s life.

This could include people in the extended or nuclear family, such as parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents. It could also be individuals who are considered to be chosen family, such as godparents and close friends.

How Does Substance Abuse Affect Families of Addicts?

Substance abuse usually causes problems with an individual’s health, finances, career and social life. But many of these problems are also experienced by family members.

Some of the issues that affect family members of addicts include:

  • Emotional difficulties
  • Financial issues
  • Legal problems
  • Personal safety hazards
  • Increased risk of abuse
  • Isolation
  • Codependency

These problems can impact anyone who is close with the person who struggles with addiction. Helping someone with recovery can feel challenging when you’re constantly managing the chaos of addiction. Implementing healthy family dynamics usually happens as all of the parties find support through treatment and recovery.

Family Roles in Addiction Recovery

Some of the roles that family members take on during active addiction create a cycle that perpetuates mental health issues during and after recovery.

How Does Addiction Affect Children?

Approximately 3% of children live with at least one parent who has a substance abuse disorder. These kids often grow up in an unpredictable environment. They may struggle with the following:

  • Academics
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Increased risk of mental health issues
  • Low self-esteem
  • Oppositional and aggressive behavior
  • Social adjustment issues
  • Increased likelihood of developing a substance abuse disorder

Children with parents who struggle with addiction may be forced into roles that are inappropriate for their age. They may take on responsibilities that are beyond their developmental capacity. This creates an unhealthy relationship and codependency issues.

A parent’s addiction can also lead to unhealthy attachment patterns in children. This influences the way that children relate to others throughout their lives.

How Does Addiction Affect Parents?

Children who are dealing with substance abuse need support. However, parents often don’t know how to offer the right type of guidance or support their children during recovery.

Parents of children who struggle with substances also suffer. They may have more anxiety than other parents, constantly worrying about their child’s well-being and safety. These parents might also experience a great deal of guilt, wondering where they went wrong. They may make extreme attempts to “fix” their child in an effort to make up for their insufficiencies.

Some parents become overbearing in an attempt to curb their child’s substance misuse. Others are enablers, giving in to their child’s desires in hopes of keeping them safe. Many give up, cutting off ties with their child.

Boundaries are necessary, but establishing healthy ones is confusing. Parents often need guidance to help their children through recovery without enabling them.

How Does Addiction Affect Siblings?

Siblings are often the first peers with whom children develop relationships. Therefore, addiction can impair this family dynamic immensely.

If your brother or sister has a substance abuse disorder, you may experience guilt, shame, depression or anxiety. You may have trouble deciding how to help and support them.

You’re often one step removed from a parental role. Therefore, you may not feel as responsible for your sibling as your parents do. But you may take on enabling roles or help your sibling keep their substance use a secret in hopes of helping them.

You may also struggle to know whether you should act as a confidant or advisor. This confusion can make it difficult to set healthy boundaries with your sibling. Family roles in addiction recovery can be confusing. This is especially true when the roles are already blurry.

How Can Families of Addicts Help?

A strong social and family support network is essential for recovery. Those who are closest to the addict are important members of their community during this time. Family support has been shown to:

  • Decrease relapse and hospitalization rates
  • Enhance compliance with treatment
  • Increase recovery rates
  • Reduce the risk of criminal activity

1. Acknowledge the Addiction

The first step that you can take to help your family member is to acknowledge their addiction. Consider how their substance abuse affects you. Working with a mental health professional can help you sort through your emotions and better understand the situation. A counselor or therapist can also provide guidance for assisting your family member with recovery.

2. Be Empathetic

You may feel angry, accusatory, disappointed, frustrated and resentful. However, shaming and judging your loved one may sever their trust in you. No one wants to be trapped by addiction. Being empathetic and listening to your loved one helps them feel safe and encouraged to continue their path toward recovery.

3. Learn About Addiction

Educating yourself on addiction and treatment options is a practical way to help your loved one. You can share your findings with them on your own or enlist support from a trained professional or interventionist.

4. Facilitate Positive Behaviors

You can help your family member without enabling them by encouraging healthy behaviors. For example, you could help them get into treatment, drive them to support group meetings or walk with them in the park on weekdays.

Support for Families of Addicts

Addiction strains relationships and impacts the mental health of everyone in the family. As someone who is indirectly affected by the addiction, you may develop:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • Poor self-care
  • Codependency
  • Obsessions

It’s important for you to address your psychological and emotional needs. Your family member is not the only one in recovery; you are healing too.

Support groups provide a like-minded community of peers who are going through a similar situation. Attending these gives you a chance to share your experience and learn from others. They can help you manage your own emotions as your loved one works through treatment and recovery.

Family therapy offers a chance to work on your relationship with your loved ones. You will learn how to communicate in an honest, constructive and supportive way. This allows you to mend dysfunction within the family and promote positive changes. It also helps everyone develop healthy coping skills for managing intense or distressing situations throughout recovery.

At Burning Tree, we know how important it is to involve the family in recovery. Our family program is designed to provide loved ones with guidance, support and education as they move together through this challenging time. We request that significant others and loved ones attend so that they know what to expect from the recovery process.


Find an Inpatient Rehab Program Now

We are here to help you through every aspect of recovery. Call our admissions team to find the best for long-term recovery.

(866) 287-2877