The Importance of Family Involvement in Recovery

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Social support is a well-researched element of effective recovery from addiction and substance use disorder (SUD). Fortunately, addiction treatment provides social support to people in recovery from treatment professionals and their peers. Family involvement can be an additional form of social support for many people in recovery.

Supportive family units are an asset in treatment and long-term recovery. Although it may not always be possible, family involvement can foster healing for the individual in treatment and their family members as well.

The Impact of Substance Abuse on the Family

When one member of a family develops SUD, all family members will be affected in some way or another. According to an article in Social Work in Public Health,

Each family and each family member is uniquely affected by the individual using substances including but not limited to having unmet developmental needs, impaired attachment, economic hardship, legal problems, emotional distress, and sometimes violence being perpetrated against him or her. For children there is also an increased risk of developing an SUD themselves.

Family Roles

There are several factors that influence the consequences that a family member's substance abuse has on the family. One factor includes the family member's current role.

For example, if a parent has SUD, their children may experience neglect as they age. If a sibling has SUD, a parent may engage in problematic enabling behaviors to protect their child from the consequences of their substance abuse.

Willingness to Participate in Treatment

Additionally, the family may influence a member's willingness to participate in a treatment program for lasting sobriety. The family's attitudes toward alcohol and drug use can be important. For example, if the parents of a household are actively using alcohol and other drugs, they may not be supportive of their child's decision to seek treatment for SUD.

In contrast, families attempting to support a member working to achieve sobriety for years may be disheartened after multiple relapses. Family relationships in cases like these can become brittle. These situations can also make it more difficult to encourage family involvement throughout the addiction recovery process.

Family Involvement in Recovery

Due to the significant impact that addiction has on the entire family and vice versa, it makes sense to involve the family in a loved one's treatment and recovery journey. According to BMJ Open, “Families are significantly impacted by addictions and family involvement in treatment can reduce the harms and can also improve treatment entry, treatment completion and treatment outcomes for the individual coping with an addiction.”

The social support that an individual can receive through their family can be an invaluable asset in their ability to maintain lasting sobriety. After all, the main goal of addiction treatment is not only to help an individual cease their substance abuse but also to foster long-term positive behavior change. Family involvement can aid in this process by fostering accountability for their family member in treatment. Additionally, family members can offer compassion, empathy, and understanding, even if they have not experienced addiction themselves.

Family involvement may not be possible for everyone, of course. However, family involvement may be more possible for many than they think.

Becoming Educated About Addiction as a Family

For family involvement to be effective, family members must be willing to learn about addiction as a brain disease. This can help dispel any biases or judgments that family members may believe about their loved one's substance abuse. It also enables family members to recognize their own risk of developing an addiction.

There are many topics that family members can become educated on together to influence effective family involvement in recovery. Important topics include:

  • Warning signs for addiction
  • The five stages of change
  • Why mental health disorders often co-occur with SUD
  • How to best support a loved one in treatment and recovery
  • Why relapse is often a part of the recovery process
  • Effective coping and relapse prevention strategies for addiction

Building Communication Skills Through Family Involvement

Family involvement in recovery can build necessary communication skills. When a family member experiences SUD, their brain structure changes. They may no longer feel comfortable talking about their symptoms or condition. Out of guilt or shame, they may even choose to isolate themselves. Family members can support their loved one by encouraging open and regular communication about their mental health and recovery progress.

Additionally, normalizing regular communication can increase conflict resolution and interpersonal effectiveness skills. Interpersonal effectiveness is an individual's ability to work with and relate to others. With family involvement in recovery, an individual has the opportunity to strengthen these skills and, in turn, strengthen family bonds.

Examples of Family Involvement in Recovery

There are many ways that family members can get involved in their loved one's treatment and recovery journey. For example, many treatment facilities offer family services and resources for group healing. Family members can seek to understand what treatment services may be catered to the family as a whole. Members can also participate in group therapy interventions, such as support groups.

Family involvement can also include staying updated on a family member's treatment progress. Offering a shoulder to cry on as well as celebrating recovery milestones together can be great forms of support. Advocating for a family member's ability to achieve and maintain sobriety can also influence long-lasting recovery.

When an individual has SUD, it is more than likely that their family members will be affected in some way. Family involvement in treatment and recovery can benefit the individuals seeking sobriety as well as their family members. Pathways Recover Center offers detox and residential treatment for individuals with SUD and co-occurring mental health disorders. We understand how important social support, including family involvement whenever possible, can be in the recovery process. This is why we can provide educational resources and opportunities for healing for the entire family. We offer a wide range of services for individuals participating in our residential program. To learn more, call us today at (888) 771-0966.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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