Healing the Family, Healing Addiction

“I just want things to be normal again.”

I hear this from both the individual suffering from addiction and the family members that ache for their return to health. Addiction does not occur in a vacuum. Everyone loses when addiction is present.

According to a recent report in Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, over 100 million adults around the world are affected by someone else’s addiction. Families lack support and struggle with feelings of hopelessness, anger, guilt, and shame related to these effects. The disease perspective of addiction suggests that family recovery and treatment involvement can positively affect recovery outcomes for individuals suffering from addiction.(1,4)

I am not the one with the problem…

Family Systems Theory views the family as a whole entity. The same way that a baby mobile is perceived as a single unit, not its individual parts, so is the family. All parts adjust to the intrusion of addiction upon the dynamics of daily life. (1)

Adaptation is necessary to complete the activities of daily living. The problem is that the adaptations are repeated, slight, and not always beneficial or recognizable by all the parts. Interpersonal communications become strained or vanish. Some members focus all energies on the addiction piece and overlook personal health and the health and educational needs of children. Long-term health and well-being are compromised repeatedly for daily survival. When one part has a problem, the whole unit has a problem.(1,2)

Family addiction recovery benefits all…

Better outcomes for addiction recovery and reduced relapse rates are associated with family recovery.(1) Just as surely as members are affected by addiction, members are affected by the practice of recovery principles by all within the home.
When family members attend family group sessions such as the Pine Rest Family Group, Al-Anon Family Groups, or other peer support groups they can experience benefits like:

  • Feeling less isolated
  • Understanding addiction as a disease
  • Incorporating recovery language and objectives
  • Setting more reasonable expectations
  • Learning new coping skills
  • Beginning to repair relationships

That was then, this is now…

Relationship repair and a new “recovery identity” are paramount for sustained recovery for those working to avoid relapse.(2,3)
Often family members are very fearful and frustrated and need the support of others that have loved ones in recovery to lean on. All family members can find comfort from learning and practicing recovery behaviors.

Family Member Recovery is “a regenerative and transformative growth process that involves the pursuit of individual health and fundamental change, ultimately resulting in a supportive family system sustained by trust, flexibility, altruistic intent, and meaningful relationships.”

This may seem a daunting goal.

Progress, not perfection…

A familiar slogan in AA and Al-Anon is “Progress not Perfection.” Each person in family recovery is doing their best in the face of old situations that used to elicit substance use or family outburst. Each member is accountable for their own behavior, is invested in the overall health of the family, and is more willing to learn to trust and be trustworthy again. (1)

A body of success will bolster the family’s confidence in their new family identity. As family members continue to practice recovery behaviors a new and more serene “normal” is likely to occur more often.(2)

Why not experiment with the Family Recovery approach?

Thought for the day:

Al-Anon encourages me to take risks and to think of life not as a command performance but as a continuing series of experiments from which I learn more about living. Courage to Change, p.86

“All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.” ~ James Russell Lowell. Written by Karleena Tillottson, Addiction Medicine MSW Intern.


(1) Shumway, S. T., Schonian, S., Bradshaw, S., & Hayes, N. D. (2017). A Revised Multifamily Group Curriculum: The Need for Family Member Recovery from Addiction. Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 12(4), 260–283.

(2) Gunn, A., & Miranda Samuels, G. (2020). Promoting Recovery Identities Among Mothers with Histories of Addiction: Strategies of Family Engagement. Family Process, 59(1), 94–110.

(3) Flora, K. (2019). A review of the factors affecting the course and outcome of the treatment of substance use disorders. Journal of Substance Use, 24(2), 120–124.

(4) Johnson, J. (2003). Fundamentals of Substance Abuse Practice (1st edition). Cengage Learning.

You are not alone! We can support you or your loved one at every step of recovery.

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