What Is the Role of Family in Addiction Recovery?
Substance abuse and addiction can damage family dynamics, erode trust, and weaken communication. Family members who experience a loved one battling with a substance use disorder often endure a host of painful emotions. Equally frustrating is the hopelessness loved ones feel in response to substance abuse. Family members may feel at a loss when seeing a loved one caught in the grips of substance abuse. For example, stumbling upon burnt spoons and used syringes can create a paralyzing feelings of fear and shock.
However, family can help their loved one achieve and maintain sobriety. Despite seeing a loved one stuggle, family members can and ideally do play a major role in the treatment process. The role of family in addiction recovery is large and important.
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The Roles Family Plays in an Active Addiction
A family impacted by substance abuse inevitably develops into a dysfunctional system. In this system, members unknowingly take on “roles” in order to cope in the unhealthy system. These roles have been named many things, and this is a version of what they are and how they play out.
The Savior or Hero
The Savior or Hero is the “shining star” in the addictive family system. They look good, achieve well and never let the family down. They compensate for the shame the family feels around the addict by being the family superstar. They may cover for the individual, attempting to make the individual with the substance use disorder look pleasing to everyone. They may be in denial, overlooking major problems needing professional interference. They are also compensating for feeling empty and helpless themselves due to the dysfunctional family dynamics.
The Mascot provides “comic relief” for the hyper-stressed family. Sometimes humor is tactlessly aimed at the individual suffering the substance use disorder. They use humor to minimize the pain in situations and to deflect hurt. This often becomes a maladaptive coping skill.
The Lost Child
The Lost Child hides out both physically and emotionally. They can be counted on to “not rock the boat.” They avoid conflict and suppress their emotions. They do not drain the limited emotional resources of the family, but suffer deeply.
The Scapegoat is the person in the family who is blamed. The Scapegoat creates other problems and concerns in order to deflect attention away from the real issue. They are very successful at distracted the family and others from the addicted individual.
The Enabler insulates the addicted individual by excusing their behaviors. They are unwilling or unable to hold the individual accountable for their actions. They smooth things over and run interference to keep the addict from experiencing the logical consequences of their poor choices. This behavior often springs from their desire to avoid shame and embarrassment. They will often stunt the addict’s ability to recover if they don’t change their patterns.
Healthy Roles of Family in Addiction Recovery
Family members can assume healthy roles and behaviors to encourage and support recovery. For example, a parent may play the role of the supportive but firm parent who encourages their loved one to take thoughtful and positive action. Healthy family roles and behaviors include holding their loved one accountable for their behavior and creating rewards for positive choices.
Family members may attend support groups with their loved one or attend their own support groups for families of addicts. The creation of healthy boundaries and refusing to focus on the behavior of the addict are the building blocks of recovery for the family.
Family Involvement in Adolescent Substance Abuse
Adolescents battling a substance use disorder are often profoundly affected by it. Since adolescents are still developing social and behavioral patterns, early substance abuse can complicate future events. For example, adolescents are more likely to struggle with a life-long substance abuse disorder if they do not get help at a young age. Adolescents may also explore other drugs, seeking a stronger high. He or she may even combine several chemicals, unknowingly increasing the risk of a fatal overdose. The role of the family is important at this life stage, as they can intervene on their young loved one to discourage drug use.
Family members may feel frustration as the adolescent skips school, gets poor grades, or befriends other teens who abuse drugs. Parents often feel anxiety over their child’s whereabouts and sudden changes in their social circles. In response, primary guardian and parental figures demonstrate a wide variety of behaviors and attitudes. Some may tune in and out, inconsistently being emotionally available for their child. Others may feel denial and misdirect anger to others, sparking communication breakdowns.
It also is not unheard of for a parent to abuse drugs or alcohol in response to teens abusing harmful chemicals. In such cases, parents have to be mindful of being an example of strength for children. Strong support and connection can help encourage their teens to get clean, and possibly reduce the rate of relapse. Contacting a treatment provider can help parents find treatment through medication and counseling services.
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Family Support Groups and Addiction Treatment
Both inpatient and outpatient facilities offer support groups for patients to connect with peer groups. Among the most common are the 12-Steps groups. 12-Step groups offer personal accountability and spirituality to help maintain sobriety.
Al-Anon is a support group focusing on families affected by substance abuse. Here, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and cousins discuss their challenges with a loved one’s substance abuse. Like other 12-Step groups, Al-Anon members use spiritual themes to encourage acceptance and compassion.
Alateen is another support group that includes teen family members who help each other heal and discuss complications from witnessing a loved one abuse harmful substance. With both support groups, family members can feel connected to the recovery process and provide input over their experiences.
Lastly, Narc-Anon features family members of individuals who have become dependent on narcotics discuss and problem-solve in a group setting.
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Our families are one of our most valuable support groups, even though the damage done by abusing harmful substances can be lasting. However, there is hope for both family members of individuals suffering substance abuse disorders, and for the individual abusing harmful chemicals themself. Both inpatient and outpatient facilities offer intervention with family members to express challenges with substance abuse. Select facilities may offer family therapy, incorporating innovative communication exercises, and relationship-strengthening activities led by licensed therapists.
Know that it is never too late to fix broken relationships with the help of therapists and medical health professionals. Contact a devoted treatment provider today to receive tools to help restore your family life.