What is the Role of Family in Addiction Recovery?

When a young man struggles with substance use disorder or co-occurring mental health conditions, the whole family is affected. Addiction is a damaging disease that requires healing for the person struggling along with their entire family. Educating the family on addiction and their role in a loved one’s recovery journey provides the best chance of success in sobriety. At this point, you may be wondering, “What is the role of family in addiction recovery?” 

Addiction Is a Family Disease

For most families, the want and need to support a child in recovery is almost automatic. But often they are unsure of what to do, or their idea of what they should do may be incorrect; possibly even harmful. Yes, it IS possible to be harmful by doing what you perceive as helping! This may come as a surprise to many, but it’s a reality. It’s called enabling and co-dependence. Unfortunately, substance abuse often causes a family to take on several dysfunctional roles. This is due to the effects addiction has on everyone in the family. 

Relationships are stressed and easily damaged. Trust is often broken because the young man does not live up to their responsibilities and commitments. Furthermore, family members can experience frustration, anger, hurt, pain, and a sense of hopelessness as they watch their loved one continue on their downward spiral into addiction. 

The Five Dysfunctional Roles Family Members Play in Addiction

To better understand the role of family in addiction recovery, you first must understand the five dysfunctional roles family members play and their impacts on the young man struggling with addiction. 

1. Savior

This role occurs when one family member sets themselves apart by becoming an overachiever. They are compensating for their loved one’s addiction. They attempt to offset the family’s shame and embarrassment and are “always there” when the family needs them to be. 

The savior may also attempt to make the addict look better to those around them by covering for them. People who play the savior are often in denial and have not yet come to terms with the addiction. It is equally common for the savior to feel hopeless, helpless, and empty inside since they are not sure how to help their loved one. 

2. Mascot

The mascot takes on the role of injecting humor into the family to help downplay the seriousness of the addiction. Their jokes can sometimes come across as attacking the young man with the addiction. Furthermore, humor is a coping mechanism used to deflect the hurt and pain the individual is feeling. 

3. Lost Child

This role is where a family member essentially pulls away from the family emotionally and physically. They dislike conflict. Therefore, they avoid being placed into family conflict and arguments regarding the addicted family member. Additionally, they believe they are helping since they are not putting a strain on other family members’ emotional states.  

4. Scapegoat

The scapegoat is the family member everyone else blames in one way or another. They deliberately create problems and cause conflict in order to draw attention away from the young man with the addiction. Since family members are focused on the scapegoat, they often turn their attention away from the real problem. 

5. Enabler

The enabler role occurs when a family member enables the young man’s addiction. They often make excuses for them or downplay the seriousness of the substance abuse. For example, they may say it is “just a phase” they are going through. 

Enablers also can feed the addiction by not holding the young man accountable for their actions. Often, enablers want to avoid the shame and embarrassment of admitting their loved one is an addict. 

What Is the Role of Family in Addiction Recovery?

While there are unhealthy roles that family members can take on when the family is affected by addiction, there are also healthy family roles. These roles occur when a family unit decides they want to stop enabling and take on healthy, productive stances to help a loved one overcome substance use disorders. Oftentimes, this comes in the form of education, setting boundaries, healthy support, and asking questions.

Educate Yourself

By far, the easiest yet most important thing that a family member can do is educate themselves. Knowing more about addiction as a disease and how it not only affects the addict but also the family members is a key component in providing help and support to someone in recovery. You can do this simply by reading. Blogs such as this one, books written by other parents and professionals, attending Al-Anon meetings, and asking questions to those with more experience are all great ways to educate yourself. Here are some additional tips that can provide valuable insight:

  • Learning about addiction and why it is considered a disease
  • Learning how addiction impacts the entire family
  • Finding out more about the recovery process
  • Discovering why it is important for family members to take care of themselves emotionally and physically
  • Taking advantage of family support groups for addiction

Oftentimes, family members will do this long before their loved one ever attempts to consider substance abuse treatment and get sober, simply because they no longer know what to do and have exhausted all other options. At this point, it is often best to let them make their own decisions and let them achieve their “bottom”, rather than being taken advantage of by always offering help at every junction. This brings us to our next step.

Hold the Line

It is important to distinguish your role to your loved one when they are new in recovery. Often this means doing things that you may perceive to be harmful, possibly even the opposite of what your intuition tells you.

Usually, this means setting boundaries. State that you are willing to help your child only if they are willing to help themselves. Make it clear that you are comfortable helping them only if they agree to meet you halfway. Every situation is different, but this may entail them deciding to get help by entering a recovery community, detox center, or treatment. Typically, all three! Here are some examples:

  • Developing healthy techniques to support the addicted family member
  • Learning how to rebuild damaged relationships and trust
  • Taking steps to establish healthy boundaries
  • Practice healthy coping mechanisms in moments of crisis

Helping by Supporting

Letting the recovery process take place by taking a back seat does not necessarily mean you should not be involved. Attending family therapy sessions or family-centered events provided by your loved one’s recovery community as a show of support can help both you and them directly. More than likely your bond of trust has been shattered by months, or even years of drug addiction and broken promises. Being there for them while they put in the work to rebuild your relationship can help make it better than ever. The following tips can help with this process:

  • Learning how to effectively communicate with a loved one struggling with addiction
  • Accepting the family must let their loved one face the consequences of their actions
  • Participating in family therapy and family programs when their loved one is ready to get help
  • Adopting healthy ways to support a loved one in their recovery from substance abuse and mental illness

Another benefit of attending your loved ones’ therapy appointments is that a good therapist can teach you strategies to help you succeed. This is where all that honest communication will benefit you; you can help your learn your loved one’s signs of stress and possible triggers that may tempt them to relapse. Oftentimes you will be able to spot these potential problems earlier than they can.

Ask Questions

We know that watching a sibling, son, daughter, or loved one attempt sobriety can be a stressful and tumultuous time. It is important to remember that you are not alone. Addiction affects millions of people every day and there is always somebody out there willing to help you if you put yourself out there.

How Beneficial Is Family Therapy in Addiction Recovery?

Once young men have undergone addiction treatment, there is still much work that needs to take place so that the family can heal. Family therapy provides both group and one-on-one settings for the family to help bring young men closer to their families. At New Life House, we emphasize the importance of family involvement in the treatment and recovery process. Focusing on a family member’s recovery as much as young men in active addiction provides a better opportunity for individuals to achieve long-term sobriety once they decide to get help.

Young men with family support from the beginning of their addiction recovery are often more successful at maintaining sobriety. Furthermore, as families continue through therapy and family programming, they are more likely to reform healthy relationships. 

Find Help Today

When you are looking for support, resources, and what your family can do to help a young man struggling with addiction, New Life House is here to help. Family programming is an essential part of our sober living homes for young men in the Los Angeles area. These homes provide a stable, structured, and supportive environment for young men to continue to work on their recovery and sobriety. We also provide access to continued outpatient programming, educational programming, and life skills programming. 

Our objective is not only to help young men learn how to maintain their sobriety but also to help the entire family heal and recover from the disease of addiction. For additional information about our family programming and sober living homes for young men, feel free to contact us today!

Last Updated on December 5, 2023


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