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Addiction: Why It’s a Family Affair

Families can be very influential in either helping or hindering a loved one’s recovery. The family’s role in recovery should not be underestimated. Of course, it is possible to recover from an addiction without family support, but it is much more fruitful for all members of the family if they work together on this journey.

Where Families Can Fall Short

It’s not a family’s fault if they don’t understand addiction. It’s a hard illness to grasp. And to to those who have never experienced the excruciating pull of addiction, it can look like the pure willfulness. Families sometimes fail to understand how overwhelming an addiction is. Recommend books or talks about addiction to help them understand.

Enabling and Provoking Addictive Behaviors

One of the worst things a family can do is exacerbate an addiction through their behaviors. Enabling an addiction by funding it is completely understandable if your loved one is desperate – but that money would be far better spent on treatment. Support, but don’t enable.

You will also find that the less you scream and shout at your loved one, the more likely they are to talk to you and want to recover. Addicts often feel ashamed, even if they don’t show it, and the more that you can show them unconditional love, the better their chances of recovery.

Reward them with quality time when they are doing well, but don’t feel tempted to punish them when they struggle. Any bravado is usually a sign of insecurity and pain. If it’s too difficult to deal with your loved one when they are badly-behaved, removing yourself from the situation is wise. Just be there for them when they are less chaotic.


Out of hundreds of addicts surveyed, the most common worry was their family not understanding the need for aftercare – whether this be months or years. Many of the respondents said their family expected the ordeal to be over after detox treatment, without acknowledging that many addicts need ongoing professional or peer support. Families don’t necessarily understand that, due to the tricky nature of addiction and the effect it has on the brain, the addict will need constant support, care and vigilance for some time.

Attending group meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, can help families understand the necessity of ongoing support and can also give them insight into their loved one’s condition. Families are permitted to attend “open” meetings, which can be found by calling a group hotline or getting a book of regional meetings.

How Family Involvement in Treatment Can Help

The more you learn about how to support a loved one’s recovery, the better their prognosis will be. This may mean changing your family’s behaviors to help an addict choose not to use substances. Try to refrain from recriminations – your loved one will already feel ashamed.

Listen to your loved one’s worries and concerns. The more they trust you to support them, the more likely they are to turn you rather than an addiction.

Taking Care of Yourself

During your loved one’s addiction, it’s vital to support yourself and carry on meeting friends and doing things you love.

Knowing that a family member is addicted is very hard – don’t lose your identity to this illness. The more you can promote your own happiness, the better for everyone. If you can have strong people around you, you can build your resilience, and that’s better for you and your loved one.

The Family Going Forward

There is no need to hang on to anger or resentments (no matter what your loved one has done) when you understand that addiction is an illness and can affect everyone from mailmen to cashiers to lawyers. Your family member wouldn’t have succumbed to addiction unless they were in pain. Showing your loved one kindness and compassion will help them a great deal.

The best thing you can do after treatment is to promote a recovery-friendly environment in the home and grow healthily together using recovery as a pivot for the entire family to become better people. Addicts don’t tend to like like being tiptoed around, but keeping tempting substances out of the house or at least locked away will usually be appreciated.

The Benefits of Recovery

Undergoing an ordeal such as addiction can bring families a lot closer and can teach some valuable lessons. Family members often find they are more tolerant and patient as a result of a loved one going through an addiction. Of course, it’s a great opportunity to remember how much they love their family too.

Written by Beth Burgess