How Family Therapy Can Help in Sobriety

During our addiction, or even just during the depths of a mental disorder, people tend to push their family members and loved ones away. This usually isn’t on purpose, but sometimes just happens as a result of miscommunication, resentments, failed expectations, and stress. When it comes time for that individual to begin the healing process, family therapy can be one of the most beneficial support systems to incorporate into the recovery plan.

The Family Disease

If you have been around the block in your addiction or as a bystander who loves someone struggling with mental health, you are probably well familiar with the statement that “addiction is a family disease.” This doesn’t mean that everyone in the family struggles with mental illness, but what it does mean is that the family can play a massive role in the person’s addiction process and behaviors.

Some of the most common characteristics in the family system of someone who is an alcohol, addict, or has mental health issues are:

  • Codependency
  • Enabling
  • Alcohol or Substance Abuse
  • Divorce
  • Physical, emotional, mental abuse
  • Abandonment
  • Lack of communication
  • Denial

It can be hard for the family of someone who struggles with addiction or mental health to admit or come to terms with their “part” in the family dynamic. Many parents struggle with accepting that their own behavior may have made it difficult for their child to cope with certain emotions and turn to substances to find consoling. In addition, many siblings can often express their anger, shame, and guilt towards a sibling who struggles with drugs or alcohol, but they may be unwilling to admit that they shunned or pushed their sibling away when it mattered most.

The circumstances can vary from family system to system, but family therapy can really help bridge some of the gaps that have been created as a result of the chaos of addiction and mental illness.

How Family Therapy Works

While many substance abuse centers focus solely on the individual’s addiction or mental disorder, there is a lot that can be said for family therapy attributing to lasting sobriety for the individual. First and foremost, the family system is generally the group of people that know the person the best, whether that person likes it or not at the time. The family are the ones that will usually be with the person, for better or for worse, for the rest of their lives. At least, that is the hope of family therapy.

The main structure of family therapy is to heal both parties, ensure that both parties face the accountabilities of their behaviors, and to promote a relationship in the future. This will often involve discussing some painful memories, dysfunction, and challenges from the past, present, and future.

family therapy session

    • The Parents: A majority of individuals currently seeking treatment for their substance abuse or mental health disorders are still in direct contact with their parents, despite how healthy or unhealthy the relationship may be. Licensed therapists will work directly with the parents to discuss how their own behavior may have influenced, shaped, enabled or encouraged their child’s substance abuse.
      • For many parents, this can be a difficult realization to face, as for so long, the child has been the one with “the problem” – it can be tough to admit that maybe they as parents weren’t as emotionally available as they could have been, or that they may have prevented their child from maturing due to enabling or “helicopter parenting.”
      • It is important for the parents to be as willing to grow and heal as they desire their own child to be for sobriety. This will help garner a relationship of compassion and understanding, rather than comparison and separation.


  • The Partner: Many people with substance abuse disorders are either married or in a serious relationship. Sometimes, this may be with someone who is healthy, and sometimes it may be with someone who is also using. There is an option for the couple to heal together through family therapy if both parties are willing and want to continue their relationship.


      • At this point, there may be very difficult topics to discuss, such as finances, infidelity, children, mortgages, etc. It is very important for both parties to be honest and upfront about their concerns and discussing their plans to move forward. Case management can also be very helpful in this process.


  • The Children: Children of addicts or alcoholics regardless of age will always be affected by their parents substance use. Regardless of age, if they witnessed their parent drunk or high at any point in time, it may create a sense of unease and detachment from their parent, which can lead to unhealthy attachment styles and coping mechanisms.


  • The Siblings: It can be very difficult to watch a sibling struggle with drugs or alcohol and feel helpless and somewhat abandoned by them. Growing up together, sharing activities and being best friends can turn into a resentment filled relationship and burned bridges. Family therapy can help reopen that line of communication between siblings and heal some of the wounds that have occurred through addiction.



    • This process can also involve looking at enabling and shaming in the relationship, as it is common for one sibling to lie and cover up for their sibling.

Family therapy can be a long process that involves willingness, cooperation, communication, and faith. It will take some brutal honesty and some hurt feelings, but in the end, having a strong family unit is important for a healthy sobriety.

Getting Help

If you or a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol and if you’ve tried but failed to kick the habit, you may need professional help. Addiction is tough to beat by itself due to the pain of withdrawal and a lack of support, but you can find both at Stout Street’s reputable treatment center. Call us today and begin your journey to sobriety.