Why Family Involvement Matters in Recovery

Why Family Involvement Matters in Recovery

It’s often said that addiction is a family disease. This can be taken in several ways. One is that addiction typically doesn’t come out of nowhere. There may be dysfunctional family dynamics leading to addiction or mental illness or parents may have their own issues with substance use and mental illness. The single biggest risk factor for developing addiction or mental illness is having a parent with addiction or mental illness. Families may also play a role in perpetuating addiction or mental illness once it takes hold.

“Addiction is a family disease” also means that when one person struggles with addiction or mental illness, the whole family suffers. In the case of addiction, they may be waiting for a call telling them their loved one is in jail, in the hospital, or in the morgue. In the case of mental illness, the family may have to deal with a loved one’s unpredictable behavior or simply watch helplessly as their loved one suffers. However, families can and should also be part of the solution. Here’s how.


The first way the family can help someone recover from addiction or mental illness is to intervene in some way. It’s usually pretty clear when a family member’s behavior has gotten out of control and she needs help. Intervening might take many forms. It could be a one-on-one conversation in which you express your concerns and listen to what your loved one has to say. This is often an effective way to encourage someone to get help. When taking this approach, it’s crucial to offer practical support. That might mean helping the person find a therapist or treatment program, making appointments, and driving her to those appointments.

At the other end of the spectrum, you may need to stage a family intervention like you see on TV. This is often an option of last resort when someone’s substance use has gotten completely out of control. If you decide an intervention is necessary, get help from an intervention specialist. An intervention is not just sitting someone down and telling her how badly she screwed up. An intervention requires a lot of preparation and coordination. It’s difficult to get everything in place without the help of an experienced intervention specialist. There are conflicting estimates of how many interventions succeed, but intervention specialists claim that a well-run intervention succeeds in getting the person into treatment about 90 percent of the time.

Family therapy

It’s crucial that the family participate in therapy. Many people don’t understand this. After all, they aren’t the ones with the problem, right? Actually, that’s not always so clear. In families where one person struggles with addiction or mental illness, there’s a high probability they aren’t alone. Other family members’ symptoms might not be so advanced or they may just be in denial.

Even if mental illness or addiction are not really issues for other family members, unhealthy family dynamics can lead to stress and conflict. While adults can typically handle reasonable amounts of stress and conflict, children who grow up in a dysfunctional environment suffer far more adverse effects. What’s more, families tend to think of their own behavior patterns as normal, so they may not even see a problem. For example, it’s common in families with addiction to fall into patterns of negative communication, where most interaction takes the form of criticizing, blaming, or complaining, leading to a negative environment. No one really notices because they think that’s just how family life is, but it can increase kids’ risk of depression, anxiety, and substance use. Identifying and correcting these dysfunctional family dynamics are essential to a successful recovery.

Even if a family dynamic isn’t especially dysfunctional, family members may not communicate effectively. This can lead to misunderstanding, arguments, and feelings of alienation. We’re not born knowing how to express ourselves, set boundaries, offer constructive feedback, or resolve conflict. These are all skills that have to be learned and many–perhaps most–people don’t learn them very well. In family therapy, family members learn to communicate more effectively, learn how to set boundaries, and resolve conflict. Family therapy can actually be effective even if the person with the mental illness or substance use disorder doesn’t participate. A healthier family dynamic can have a positive influence on the person and increase her likelihood of getting help later.

Finally, as a practical matter, families can offer insight into the patient’s background and issues. Our own perception of our problems is often distorted. We may blame others for our problems, exaggerate our strengths or weaknesses, or deny we have a problem at all. Having input from other family members can help a therapist get a much clearer picture of what’s going on. They may corroborate certain aspects of a patient’s story and refute others. They can give background details the patient may not want to discuss or even be aware of. Having a clearer picture what a patient has been through helps the therapist treat her more effectively.

Support after treatment

Treatment and therapy are great ways to begin recovering from addiction or mental illness but they’re only the beginning. While someone might spend an hour or two a week with a therapist or 30 to 90 days in treatment, she’ll spend most of her life around her family. Therefore, it’s crucial the family plays a supportive role in recovery. For example, the family has to actively work on the issues that came up in family therapy. This is an ongoing process requiring long-term commitment. It’s also crucial that the family is aware of the early warning signs of relapse and can intervene as early as possible. Perhaps most important is a commitment to creating a positive, supportive environment that can support long-term recovery.

We are acutely aware of the important role family plays in addiction, mental illness, and recovery and we involve the family at every step of the process. At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-2627970 or Info@PatrickHartConsultants.com or explore our website for more information.

AUTHOR: Patrick Hart Consultants