What Role Does Family Counseling Play in Addiction Treatment?

For those suffering from addiction, going to treatment can be a daunting decision. It can be difficult to seek help for yourself, delving deep into your own demons and overcoming a chronic disease that wants you dead. Going through a variety of treatments can help you treat your addiction step by step.One of these treatments involves bringing the family unit together to discuss the impact of addiction on not only the addict’s life, but those close to them as well. Benefits of family counseling have been seen by countless individuals over the years, and understanding more about what family counseling can do for your situation can guide you to what it has to offer.

What Is Family Counseling?

Family counseling includes the recovering addict and at least one other family member, but ideally more. Typically a spouse, significant other, parent, sibling, or other close individuals to the addict take part in family counseling. The treatment involves bringing the family together and allowing them to heal in one space with each other.In family counseling, everyone learns about addiction and how to adjust to their loved one’s recovery. It can involve asking the family to work toward making the home environment of the recovering addict a safer, more healing place. It also teaches the family about mental illness and the role it can play in addiction and strained relationships.

Why Should the Family Undergo Counseling?

A misconception about addiction is that it is strictly a one-person problem. It only affects the addict, so why should anyone else have to go to counseling for it? Well, in reality, addiction is a family disease. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence says this due to the impact addiction has on the family unit and the people that are included in it.Because of addiction, family members often deal with stress, a wide range of emotions, grief, and possibly traumatizing experiences together. Due to the impact addiction can have on the family unit, it is important to go to counseling to learn healthy coping strategies. Often people develop unhealthy methods of dealing with a loved one’s addiction that only contributes to the stress and intense emotions of the situation.Communication may halt completely between family members or interactions can always lead to arguments, causing the addiction to continue on and possibly get worse. Coming together helps the family heal and learn from the situation, helping them and their loved one get back on track.

The Impact of Addiction on the Family

Families are impacted in various ways when a member of the unit falls into the darkness of addiction. These effects on the family can cause unhealthy family dynamics.


When a member of the family is found to be in the depths of addiction, communication often breaks down between other family members. Conversations often revolve around negative topics, and positive topics are very rarely discussed, causing lots of tension and stress. Other members of the family may be ignored or pushed to the side as attention is placed entirely on the addict.


Negativity festers in the wake of addiction. Family members often go through a range of emotions such as anxiety, guilt, grief, embarrassment, anger, and resentment. This can cause even more tension on top of an already desperate situation.

Structure and Setting Boundaries

Boundaries in homes with substance abuse very rarely exist, and if they do, they are extremely loose. Enabling behaviors may be developed as the family continues along the path before treatment. Some family members may even develop the role of the codependent.

The Enabler

Many family members try to cope with a loved one’s addiction by taking on the role of the enabler. This means they remove the consequences of substance abuse out of love or fear for their loved one. Behaviors that enable addiction may include:

  • Holding in feelings about the addiction to maintain peace
  • Protecting your loved one’s public image by making excuses for them or taking care of their responsibilities
  • Feeling guilty when unavoidable consequences occur to your loved one
  • Accepting and validating the addict’s excuses for using or drinking
  • Overcompensating to make everything seem normal
  • Using or drinking with the addicted family member to make sure they don’t get into trouble
The Co-dependent Family Member

Some members of the family take on the role of the co-dependent. This person becomes obsessed with the safety and health of the addict in the family, often at the expense of their own needs. This can add more chaos to the mix and can make the addiction worse. Such behaviors include:

  • Reacting irrationally or violently to situations related to the substance abuse
  • Having misplaced anger
  • Having unhealthy behaviors and coping methods
  • Living in denial of the addiction
  • Worrying about your loved one’s drug use constantly
  • Basing your own mood on the mood of your loved one
Damaged Relationships

Addicts are known to isolate themselves from others in the midst of addiction. This can cause rifts in relationships with family members. Relationships can also be damaged as family members feel anger towards the addict, wondering how they could embarrass themselves and the family like this.

Benefits of Family Counseling

When used in conjunction with other forms of treatment, family counseling can have a profound effect on one’s recovery and healing of the family dynamic. Benefits of family counseling include:

  • Addressing mental health issues within the family unit
  • Encouraging your loved one in their recovery
  • Being educated on addiction and its impact
  • Alleviating the stress, anger, confusion, grief, and other strong emotions related to addiction
  • Improving family communication
  • Allowing everyone to share their feelings and thoughts on the situation
  • Offering your loved one support

Addiction is a complex disease that not only impacts the person abusing drugs or alcohol, but also those closest to them. It disintegrates relationships and causes tension in the home, which only adds to the issue of addiction. Family counseling offers a way out of this, allowing everyone to come together for healing and understanding. When combined with other forms of treatment, family counseling can help greatly in addiction treatment and sobriety. To learn more about family therapy and how it can help your family, contact Northstar Transitions at (303) 558-6400.

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