redefining the family in recovery

Redefining the Family in Recovery

Addiction is a family disease, and when a family member is in active addiction, the family often becomes defined by it. It determines how the family interacts with each other, how they speak to each other, what they think of each other. It influences each member of the family in different but equally damaging ways. Often times, the family becomes so focused on the addiction that they lose sight of what they were before it.

When an alcoholic – and the family – comes into recovery, all of the family issues that grew and flourished during the active addiction don’t magically resolve themselves. In recovery, families have to rediscover and redefine what they want their family unit to be in the aftermath of active addiction.



One of the most essential, but most challenging, issues that a family faces in recovery is letting go of the past. While there is relief that comes when an alcoholic gets sober, there is also a lot of residual resentment.

Maybe there were hurtful things said, or promises made and broken. Whatever the case may be, letting go of the past and the resentments that arose before and during an active addiction is crucial in redefining the family in recovery and moving forward in a new, productive and healthy way.

There is a saying in 12 step recovery programs that goes, “resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” This rings true not only for the individual, but also for the family. Resentments poison families from the inside out and letting go of them is the first step to healing in recovery.



Beginning to heal from addiction and live a life of recovery is important for the family, both from a individual and a collective perspective. It is crucial for each member to seek help and support for themselves and for the group to come together and heal as a unit.

For each individual, this could mean different things. Al Anon, CODA (Codependents Anonymous), support groups, church or spiritual groups and therapy, plus addiction education for everyone, aid in the healing process.

As a family, having an open and honest dialogue about where everyone is at in the healing process is essential. Family therapy can be a great tool for helping the family as a whole start to repair itself and move towards a new and healthier way of interacting



It is also important to come together as a family in the recovery process. Once the family has begun healing, it’s important to spend time learning how to come back together as a family. Often times, addiction can make the family feel fractured. Taking part in light-hearted, fun activities takes the heat off the addiction and reminds everyone that there are still many good times to be had.

Sometimes all it takes is a solid effort from all parties to come together as a family to begin to repair that fracture.



Once the family has begun facing and addressing their resentments, coming together in a new way as a family and participating in the healing process (both individually and as a whole), the redefining and restructuring of the family in recovery can begin.

This is the exciting part of the journey. The recovery process gives the family the ability to completely change their dynamic and move forward in a way that is going to be healthier, happier and more beneficial to all of those involved. Some questions that are helpful to ask might be:

  • What kind of family do we want to be?
  • How do we want to communicate with each other?
  • How will I participate in the recovery process of the identified alcoholic in my family?
  • How will I participate in the recovery process of the family as a whole?
  • How will I participate in my own personal recovery process?
  • What areas can we improve upon as a family?
  • What areas can I improve on as an individual?
  • What goals do we want to accomplish as a family?
  • How can we change our behaviors and interactions to make our family function in a more efficient way?
  • What type of healthy boundaries can we establish so that each of us feels safe?

The recovery process gives alcoholics and family members alike the chance to change individually and collectively for the better. Having the opportunity to move forward from the chaos of addiction and redefine our family, on our own terms, is one of the greatest gifts of the recovery process.


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