Family Dynamics of Addiction and Recovery

Couple discussing substance abuse recovery with counselor

Substance abuse is a significant problem in the United States, where many people have a loved one who has struggled with addiction. Family can impact addiction and recovery in both positive and negative ways. Loved ones are also affected by addiction, which can make the family dynamics surrounding addiction and recovery complicated or even confusing.

When it comes to substance abuse and addiction, such family dynamics are one factor that counselors in the profession must consider when working with patients in order to provide the best care and guidance. Whether you are the family member of someone struggling with an addiction or an aspiring counselor, it will be helpful to understand this topic.

How Addiction Affects Families

When someone is suffering from an addiction, their condition affects more than just themselves. Substance abuse is a problem that radiates outward, potentially affecting the individual’s spouse, children, parents and other family members. There are many ways in which families may be affected by addiction, in both the short and long terms, including:

Relationship Trouble

Addiction can strain family relationships by causing conflict and trust issues. For significant others, addiction can lead to a wide variety of problems ranging from lack of communication to guilt and shame. Parents of an individual struggling with addiction may feel helpless and confused. Children, even from a young age, can feel the strain placed on the family and the disconnect created by addiction.

Financial Problems

Financial problems may also plague families as they try and deal with the addiction. This may be a result of the individuals’ habits, a lost job, unpaid bills or other new expenses due to the situation. This could mean other family members end up working extra jobs or “picking up slack” in other ways to keep the household running.

Emotional Trauma

Addiction can result in health issues and medical bills not only for an individual who is using substances, but also for other family members; this can becoming overwhelming over time. For some families, seeing the progression of an addiction can even lead to trauma and take a toll on mental health. Fear and stress can also increase for some family members as an addiction becomes more serious or an addict begins experiencing the consequences of their actions.

How Families Enable Addiction

In most situations in which a person is struggling, it’s typical for their family to offer their support and assistance. In the case of substance abuse, however, well-meaning efforts made by family members often allow or support the continuance of the addict’s substance abuse problem. Known as “enabling,” this dynamic can manifest in many ways, and addressing it is a critical part of a patient’s recovery process.

Some ways in which families may be enabling addiction include:

  • Helping protect individuals from the consequences of their addiction
  • Minimizing or downplaying the gravity of the problem and/or the consequences
  • Lying or hiding evidence of an addiction for a loved one
  • Growing resentment or other emotions toward the individual, and
  • Wrongly placing the blame on someone other than the addict.

How Families Influence Recovery

Conversely, a person’s family can have a major impact on their path toward recovery. Because an addict’s family can become deeply involved in addiction, they should also be a part of the patient’s healing process. This participation can include actions such as:

  • Creating a healthy home environment: This involves making sure home is a safe space for all family members and that there is clear and healthy communication within the household.
  • Learning about addiction recovery: Learning about the recovery process and how to be of help is an important step that families can take in addiction recovery. There are a variety of online resources available to those who are searching for information on addiction recovery for family members.
  • Attending group therapy sessions: Group therapy can help families confront and deal with some of the issues that present themselves along with addictions. Mending broken relationships is an important part of recovery, whether it is through couples or family therapy or support groups.

Substance Abuse and Addiction Counseling Degree

If you want to pursue a career where you can help people through the family dynamic of addiction, consider pursuing a career in substance abuse counseling. A Bachelor of Science in Counseling with an Emphasis in Addiction, Chemical Dependency and Substance Abuse degree can provide you with the academic foundation and knowledge that you need to enter this field.

After the completion of an undergraduate degree, you may choose to pursue a master’s degree in a related area of study. This is a necessary step to practice as a counselor. You may also wish to seek certification and licensure, depending on your state and career goals.

In a Master of Science (MS) in Addiction Counseling program, students cover topics and courses such as:

  • Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethics
  • Group Counseling Theory and Practice
  • Family Issues and Addictive Disorders
  • Counseling Chemical Dependency - Adolescents

These programs help prepare counselors to guide clients and their families through the dynamics of addiction.

Grand Canyon University offers a variety of psychology and counseling degrees to help grow your knowledge of the field. For more information on GCU’s online or campus degree programs, click the Request More Information button on this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.