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Family Therapy for Substance Abuse and Addiction

20.1 million people had a substance use disorder (SUD) between 2015 and 2016, according to The National Survey On Drug Use and Health.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) noted that many of the people surveyed also experienced some form of mental illness, a difficult combination known as a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis.

Substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders are extremely difficult to manage. If ignored, these problems may have a negative impact on both the individual and their family.

In this article, you will discover how family therapy for substance abuse benefits both the individual and the family as a whole.

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Family Therapy for Substance Abuse and Addiction

Family therapy is one of the most effective ways to identify and resolve problems that affect the health of your family.

People turn to family therapy for a variety of reasons, including everything from communication issues to marital conflict.

So, how can family therapy help regarding substance abuse and addiction?

One of the most common misconceptions about addiction is that it only affects the individual with the addiction. On the contrary, an addiction will affect both the individual and the people closest to that individual. If a friend or relative has an addiction, you have probably noticed a change in their behavior or directly been affected in one way or another.

An addiction will impact the family as a whole in a variety of ways, but studies have revealed a few common themes that may occur.

Impact of Substance Abuse and Addiction on a Family

Substance abuse and addiction by one or more family members often brings out family roles that each of you fall into, whether intentionally or not. Typically, there is an enabler who picks up the pieces for the addict and helps them avoid feeling any consequences for their behaviors.

The person in the hero role tries to make everything appear as if there is nothing wrong. They try to make everyone look good even in the worst times. Another role is the scapegoat, when a family member tries to draw attention away from the real problem and onto themselves.

Other roles include the mascot and the lost child. The role players within a family often clash, some taking sides, some disengaging, and some remaining in denial. These clashes can turn into big fights and further divisions among family members.

Over time, a functioning family can become dysfunctional. That is why it is important to know the signs and symptoms to look for that can show you whether you need family therapy.

How to Know If You Need Family Therapy

Living with an addict, your family can experience symptoms that impair how it functions. Things that once seemed easy may now seem difficult. For instance, in the past having a family meal every weekend was something to look forward too. Now you feel it is a burden and dread attending.

You may dread it because you know the get together will turn into a family fight, where everyone will be overly emotional and lash out at one another. The communication abilities within your family have completely broken down.

Some of you withdraw and isolate yourself, while others stay around to participate in a screaming match. Nothing gets accomplished, however, and the addict remains addicted.

If any of these descriptions sound familiar, it is time to seek help from a family therapist. There are many benefits of doing so.

Benefits of Family Therapy

As we have discussed in the past, there are many benefits of family therapy.

Family therapy has a goal of bringing you and your family closer together. It helps you build trust, express yourself honestly, forgive one another and begin to rebuild anything the addiction has destroyed.

One of the main advantages of family therapy is the education you can acquire on addiction, substance abuse, recovery and how to handle potential relapses. You can voice your opinion, ask any question you want and receive feedback with the mediation of a therapist. Meaning, you will be heard without interruption, and with calm, proper communications.

Family therapy teaches you how to support the addict when they are making good choices and how to avoid enabling them when they are making poor choices.

In family therapy, you will learn tools and techniques to improve how you function within your family dynamics. Examples include anger management, conflict resolution, communication and listening skills, and relapse prevention.

Along with a variety of therapeutic tools, there are also different types of family therapy.

Types of Family Therapy

Once your therapist has assessed your situation, he or she will determine the types of therapies to use in treating your family. Because one shoe does not fit all when it comes to counseling, several therapies may be used.

Structural therapy is often used to help therapists focus on the interactions between you and your family and improve them, so your family can function. Strategic therapy may be used to help your family set goals and assign tasks to each of you that will help improve your functioning.

Other therapies include transgenerational, psycho-education, systemic, narrative, communication and relationship counseling.

No matter what therapy is used, there will be things the therapist will expect of you and your family.

What is Expected in Family Therapy

If you do not show up and participate in family therapy, it will be difficult to improve your family relationships. It will be much harder to help the addict in your family get sober if you too do not change and heal.

Participating in therapy means you engage in discussions and offer your honest feedback. You complete any outside assignments made by your therapist. You take therapy seriously and have an optimistic outlook.

Therapy works, but it does not make everything better in one or two sessions. You will begin to see changes early on and as time goes by, you will notice positive outcomes. It is important you commit to a long-term program and invest your time and effort into meeting the goals you create with your family in treatment.

A good family therapist will be supportive, yet also structured with an ability to facilitate the group.

In conclusion, family therapy has many more advantages than disadvantages. While it may not always be an easy process, your efforts will be worth it in the end when you begin to take back control over your life and the connections within your family.

Once you find the right therapist and utilize the tips and techniques offered, your family will begin seeing great improvements in how to deal with the addiction affecting your life. You can all find success in your recovery journey.


Chris Massman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Agoura Hills, CA. She graduated Phillips Graduate Institute with a Master of Arts in Psychology in 2014 and received her Chemical Dependency Specialty in 2014. Today, she practices Congnitive-behavioral therapy to help individuals, couples, and families identify and overcome a variety of unique challenges.