Addiction does not happen in a vacuum, and neither does addiction recovery. Completing a rehab program for a substance abuse disorder requires hard work on the part of the addict, and it is stressful on the addict’s family as well.

Most people who complete rehabilitation for addiction have to return to the location, family, and friends that were there when they entered rehab. Family can have profound influence on how well addiction recovery continues after rehab. It is important to bear in mind that the word “family” means different things to different people, and there is no single “right” way to define it.

Defining Family

Until close to the end of the 20th century in America, the concept of family was fairly rigid and consisted of two opposite-sex parents and children living together in a household. Other types of families have existed for a long time, but only recently have people felt like they have societal permission to define “family” for themselves.

Ultimately, family is defined based upon a person’s closest emotional connections. The level of commitment a group of people feels, and the duration of that commitment are other defining factors. At heart, family is defined by powerful, enduring emotional ties between people.

The Family as a System

Medical and mental health professionals often consider the family as a system, somewhat analogous to, say, the heating and AC system that keeps the climate inside your house comfortable. A properly working HVAC system has numerous moving parts, including a compressor, thermostat, fan, and ductwork. If any element is missing or faulty, the system itself does not work well.

With families, as with systems, when a single component changes, everything else changes to some degree. When a child grows up and leaves the nest, or when a family member faces serious illness, the family dynamic shifts. Addiction can bring the family system to an abrupt halt, sometimes breaking it in the process. However, it is important to remember that the power of changing a single element of a family system can be for the better too.

The Power of the Status Quo

Understanding the Goals of Family Therapy for Addiction Recovery

When a new family dynamic develops as the result of one family member’s substance abuse disorder, a new “normal” may develop, even if it is an unhealthy version of normal. Once any status quo is established, uprooting it can be arduous. People in addiction recovery as well as their family understand they cannot just go back to the old status quo after completing rehab. Changes will be necessary for addiction recovery to work long-term.

It is easy to cling to old ways of relating to each other even when you know those ways are unhealthy or codependent. Sustained addiction recovery requires that everyone in the family faces the necessity of change and draws on individual reserves of courage and commitment to make changes stick.

Family Therapy and Addiction Recovery

The best addiction recovery programs realize the overwhelming importance of family on the physical and mental health of a person with a substance abuse disorder.

Four predominant family therapy models are used as the bases for treatment and specific interventions for substance abuse:

  • The family disease model, which explores issues like codependency and the effects of addiction on the entire family
  • The family systems model, which seeks to change maladaptive behavior patterns among family members for the better
  • Cognitive-behavioral family model, which looks to discover how family interactions reinforce addictive behavior, and how to change that to a problem-solving family dynamic instead
  • Multidimensional family therapy, which integrates several therapy techniques in the attempt to modify cognitive, emotional, and environmental factors that facilitate addiction

Whichever family therapy theory is used in addiction recovery, the goal is the same: helping family members understand their own needs and helping them create a caring environment in which addiction recovery can continue.

Reaching out for help with a substance abuse disorder is a major step toward recovery. It is not easy to modify family dynamics so that continued health is achieved after rehab, but with the help of family therapy, long-lasting positive results are likelier to happen. If you are struggling with a substance abuse disorder, we encourage you to learn more about our admissions. You and your family are important, and long-term recovery depends on your maintaining healthy relationships after rehab.

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