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Is Your Family Being Held Hostage by Addiction?

While there is a widely accepted genetic link to addiction, many are unaware of all the research available on how the disease of addiction is unknowingly being enabled by the family. That data clearly shows that family dynamics also play a significant role in active substance abuse. In other words, it takes an ongoing process of both the addict and the family unit interacting in unhealthy ways to maintain the addictive behavior.

That is why I believe so strongly in professional Family Counseling as a part of the process of recovery from alcoholism and drug abuse. Below are some hypotheses that guide my practical applications when working with individuals and families where addiction is a presenting problem in my practice. Guiding assumptions for my family addiction counseling include:

  • Addiction creates anger, resentment, anxiety and even feelings of “craziness” in the family system

  • Family relationships are damaged, and in some cases even broken while addiction holds the family hostage

  • The family is at war with the substance that is being abused, and NOT the person abusing the substance

  • The stress of the addiction in the family overwhelms the family system introducing dysfunctional behavior patterns, which can be overcome with the best practice family therapy

  • The family unit possesses an innate resilience that can be activated to overcome addiction by learning new behaviors, thus removing the addiction process from the family system


Motivates your loved one to break out of denial, seek appropriate treatment and build a supportive environment that includes the family and other individuals outside the family.

Two years ago, I began working with a family that had an adult daughter who had allowed alcohol to cost them several jobs and was on the verge of destroying relationships with their family. Once the family therapy process began it took only two sessions to motivate them to seek addiction treatment. Once the denial was broken, they sought treatment and now just celebrated a year and a half clean and sober. It was the combined assertiveness of the family that broke the denial and created motivation for the person to seek treatment.

Educates the entire family about relapse prevention skills to head off relapse once a loved one is in recovery.

A few years ago, I worked with a family who had a middle-age woman chronically addicted to alcohol. Her entire support system was made up of drinking buddies that she played golf with several times a week. She agreed soon after her family intervened to attend primary treatment.

The family was highly motivated to help her maintain her sobriety. So much so that they all allowed me to teach them about relapse prevention in detail. I truly believe that without the support of a family armed with relapse prevention knowledge, this individual probably would’ve relapsed like so many others soon after completing primary treatment.

Codependent and enabling behaviors are identified and families are taught how to set healthy boundaries.

From the very first session when I’m speaking with a new family, we begin discussing the dynamics in the family so that I can understand any codependency. Several years ago, a family consulted me about a son who was resisting treatment and seeking help for his heroin addiction. Using the book that I always recommend (“The New Codependency”) to understand codependency and enabling, this family learned how to shift their unhelpful behavior. Thankfully, this family dove into the reading and with my help setting healthy boundaries and establishing consequences, the young man was motivated to enter treatment. He began his journey into long term recovery in large part because the family was willing to shift their behavior.

Family therapy creates a safe environment in which individuals can assertively and respectfully express feelings and resolve conflicts.

One of the most valuable parts of family therapy when addiction is present is providing an environment for individuals to tell the truth about their feelings in a way that is respectful and genuine. Recently I was working with a family of a middle-aged woman who had no idea of how much sadness and anger she had created with her chronic drinking. In the safe family therapy environment, the family was able to share their sincere hurt and sadness directly to their loved one. This was one of the key processes that lead her to finally accept treatment.

Forgiveness and the rebuilding of trust among family members through evidence-based family therapy techniques is a critical part of success.

The damage to families affected by substance-abuse are massive in some cases. Every family experiences at least a moderate degree of pain and suffering due to the addicted individual’s behavior, and there is often a lot of resentment and feelings of betrayal. As therapy progresses, forgiveness becomes a very important part of the process. My practice employs a proven process to address forgiveness in a timely manner.

Seven years ago, I did an intervention on a young woman with a large extended family involved in the therapy sessions. She was so belligerent and mean to her family that they were just devastated. At one point she stood up, walked across the room and spit in her grandfather’s face as she screamed at him. Because of the united stand, she eventually went to treatment a short time later. Once she completed treatment successfully, we had a session in which she made amends and expressed her deep regret for how she treated members of family including the granddad. She committed in that session to remain sober. Eventually the family moved to forgiveness. Without an environment where resentments can be resolved and genuine amends are offered, forgiveness is not even a possibility. My belief is that forgiveness is extremely important part of healing for all the members of the family

The stress caused by addiction in a family with unhealthy coping strategies causes the family system to adapt with dysfunctional behavioral patterns.

The family therapy that I do with all my families includes developing skills in the areas of setting healthy boundaries, accountability, respectful communication and self-care. My belief is the family members can learn and develop the skills they’re lacking so they too can recover from the trauma that addiction brings into the family system. Removing the behaviors that have allowed the addiction to thrive in the past creates the best chance for successful long-term recovery.


Addiction in families affects all the family members in negative ways. Professional substance abuse therapy must include a process that speaks to each of the benefits mentioned above. Because family counseling offers an opportunity for so many pieces of healing to occur, it allows the family to reunite through love and understanding. In short, the ultimate goal of family therapy is the complete healing of all members of the family and re-establish intimacy in the family unit to support successful long term recovery.

Here's some more information that may be of interest to you:

Isolation Is Our Enemy: How to Stay Sober in the Coronavirus Pandemic

What Causes Addiction?

Are Trauma & Addiction Connected?

How Do You Know If You Have a Drinking Problem?

Could Your Brain be Wired for Alcoholism?

Spiritual Life of Children & Addiction: Are They Connected?

Why Are Teens & Young Adults So Susceptible to Drug Use?

Talk to Your Children About Drugs Before It’s Too Late

If you or a loved one may be struggling with addiction, it is very important for you to seek out professional help as soon as possible. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if I may be of assistance to you or your loved ones. My website provides more information on my practice and how to contact me with questions or take advantage of a free 20-minute phone appointment.

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