Family Program at Sana Lake BWC

When a person suffers from addiction, so does their family. Addiction can leave family members feeling angry, helpless, confused, and fearful. But family therapy for addiction can help rebuild and heal the family unit. 

According to The Evidence Base of Family Therapy and Systemic Practice, “Relationship problems are usually best treated by meeting with those in the relationships. Often that means working with all the members of the family or the household together.”

The family dynamic has changed over the last few decades. These changes impact people’s views on life, behaviors, and roles in the family. Modern family units can include single-parent families, unmarried couples and children, and LGBTQ+ families. But, addiction doesn’t care what the family unit looks like. 

Addiction is a Family Disease

Addiction is a family disease because it affects each member of the family. Families deal with a lot of stress as addiction occurs. And individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) can cause their families to be confused and scared. 

As a result, family members develop unhealthy coping skills. Family units become dysfunctional and fragile. As families try to keep peace in the house, they unknowingly contribute to the addiction. 

Addiction in the family affects children the most. It interrupts their healthy development. This disruption can lead to physical, mental, and emotional health problems. Unfortunately, children with a parent suffering from SUD have difficulties in school. This can put them at a higher risk of skipping school or being expelled. 

How Addiction Impacts Families

More than 21 million Americans over 12 years old have an addiction to drugs and alcohol. But it is not only the user who suffers. Addiction can impact the family in more emotional ways than it affects the user. 

The impact of addiction can vary depending on family dynamics. But, there are several negative impacts on each family experiences. 

  • Negative emotions – Family members experience resentment, anger, concern, guilt, and embarrassment.
  • Safety – Addiction within a family unit puts everyone in harm’s way.  A user’s behavior can be erratic with angry outbursts. 
  • Responsibilities – The responsibilities of family members change due to addiction. Children are forced to grow up and handle things that are not age-appropriate. This causes children to be overwhelmed, anxious, and resentful.
  • Communication – Communication within the family becomes very negative. While positive interactions are limited, all communication and interactions are centered around the user. 
  • Structure and boundaries – When addiction is in the home, it lacks structure and boundaries. Parents are busy appeasing the user and keeping peace in the house. So children are neglected. This leads to bad behaviors and confusion. Enabling behaviors become normal and contribute to addiction. 
  • Denial – When a child is battling addiction, the parents may deny there is a problem. Maybe it’s because they don’t see or refuse to see the problem.  And when a parent battles addiction, a child may deny the issue to protect their parent. 

Addiction in the Family: Unhealthy Behaviors

Most families cope with addiction through unhealthy behaviors. They may live in denial or walk around cleaning up the mess of the user. Whether it’s the arguments or the lack of attention, the lives of the family revolve around the addiction. 

Unhealthy behaviors such as codependency and enabling are common in families living with addiction. These behaviors can promote addiction and make a recovery difficult. 


Codependency happens when a person adapts to the dysfunction within the family. These behaviors are learned thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes. These behaviors cause a person to neglect their needs to take care of the user. 

Codependent behaviors include:

  • Constant worry about a loved one’s addiction and the results of their behavior
  • Living in denial about the addiction including avoiding others to avoid making excuses
  • Reacting irrationally or angry about the subject of addiction
  • Low self-esteem
  • Misplaced anger
  • Engaging in the harmful use of substances
  • Basing moods on the user’s mood


Enabling behaviors allow individuals with SUD to continue using without consequences. This can happen out of fear or out of love. The enabling behaviors make it easy for users to keep using. But, for the enabler, it can lead to depression and other mental health disorders

Enabling behaviors include:

  • Using drugs or alcohol with the user to avoid fighting
  • Keeping feelings inside to keep the peace
  • Accepting the user’s excuses to use
  • Making excuses for and taking care of the user’s responsibilities
  • Working extra hard to make home life look normal
  • Feeling guilty when the user faces the consequences for their addiction

How Children Cope With Addiction

Children develop unhealthy coping skills due to addiction and chaos in the home. Children may blame themselves for their parent’s substance use. Or they may try to be perfect to avoid making their drug-dependent parent mad. On the other hand, they may withdraw for the same reason. 

When there is an addiction in the family, children may witness or be victims of abuse. The abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual. Because of the abuse, children may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), nightmares, and insomnia. They may also lack social skills and have anxiety from fear of losing their parents. 

Family Therapy for Addiction at Sana Lake BWC

Family therapy for addiction is helpful and vital to recovery. It helps each person by healing as a family. At the same time, therapy sessions provide a safe space for everyone to express their feelings and fears. 

Our therapists educate members and their families about the effects of addiction. By doing so, families learn to support the member in their recovery. They also learn to make specific positive changes as a family. These changes can be age-appropriate responsibilities or designated together time.

Benefits of Family Therapy for Addiction

Family therapy for addiction can have a positive impact on a member’s recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) lists the many benefits of family involvement in addiction recovery, including:

  • Keeping members motivated in recovery
  • Learning the effects of addiction on the family
  • Allows the family to ask questions and voice their concerns
  • Support from family increases a members participation 
  • Eases fears, anger, and stress around addiction
  • Improves communication skills
  • Addresses any mental health issues individuals are experiencing

Family therapy for addiction increases the chances of long-term recovery. And it improves the home environment increasing mental health and family function. 

Goals of Family Therapy for Addiction

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are two main goals of family therapy for addiction.

  • Provide support for the member in recovery – Family therapy for addiction decreases the chances of relapse, helps maintain positive changes, and promotes recovery.
  • Improve the emotional health of the family – Therapy helps individuals in the family create trust and forgiveness for past mistakes. It also provides peace and resolves the conflict. 

What to Expect in Family Therapy for Addiction

NIDA states that family therapy for addiction has positive effects on SUD and co-occurring mental health disorders. Members in treatment and their families can be worried about family therapy. Talking about what to expect can help ease fears.

  • Family involvement – Family therapy for addiction begins after a member has made progress in treatment. This progress can take weeks or months. Family therapy can be the member and their spouse, their immediate family, or friends who are family. 
  • Life skills – During therapy, our trained therapists teach families how to be a healthy family unit. Treatment creates positive interactions. Which, in turn, creates a positive home environment. Our therapists also teach the family how to communicate healthily. The life skills learned in family therapy for addiction help support a life of recovery. 
  • Behavioral changes – Contingency Management (CM) may also be used during family therapy for addiction. CM can help in meeting behavioral goals in recovery.
  • Goal-setting – Each person in the family set goals related to their role in the family. Goals can include:
    • Siblings helping siblings
    • Family meetings
    • Spending time together having fun

What If Someone in the Family Won’t Participate

Sometimes an individual in the family isn’t willing to participate in family therapy. It may be out of fear or skepticism whether the treatment works. And some people may not believe their loved one can change. 

If this happens, it can help to have them meet with our therapist by themselves. The therapist can address their concerns and encourage participation. Even though it is ultimately their choice, encouragement from a professional may help. 

Relapse Can Happen

The recovery journey is focused on relapse prevention. But, it’s important to understand that setbacks happen. A setback is any behavior that leads to relapse and is common in recovery. Between 40 and 60 percent of people relapse at some point in recovery. 

Members and their families need to understand that relapse doesn’t have to be catastrophic. Relapse is a chance to improve the member’s treatment plan. In doing so, additional therapies can be added to promote recovery.

How members and their families handle relapse can make a big difference in continued recovery. If relapse is seen as a failure, members may give up on recovery. But members who view relapse as a chance to change and grow, are more motivated in treatment and life-long recovery.

Family therapy for addiction greatly increases recovery, but relapse is always possible. But knowing the stages and signs of setbacks can prevent relapse and get the member back on track. 

Treating Addiction and the Family at Sana Lake BWC

At Sana Lake BWC, we understand that addiction is a disease that affects the whole family. But more importantly, we understand the importance of treating the whole family to increase recovery. Our family program addresses the issues that addiction brings to the family. 

If you ar someone you love is battling addiction, our certified professional can help. Contact us today to find out how.