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Family Therapy: A Vital Part of Addiction Treatment

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The effects of addiction aren’t limited to the addicted person, and the causes of substance abuse can be varied and complex – family issues can contribute to and perpetuate the illness of addiction. In fact, addiction is sometimes referred to as a “family disease.” Successful treatment, therefore, often incorporates the family of the person struggling with addiction.

Family therapy refers to a group of treatment styles that target the group rather than the individual within the group. All of the styles are based on the notion that families share a connection, and by modifying one component of the system, you can affect the other components. This means the health of a family can play a major role in the success of recovery.

Historically, someone in recovery for addiction would receive treatment independently, often removed from their home, community, and family, but there has been a recent shift towards a more integrated approach to treatment that not only focuses on the individual but their family environment as well.

Family therapy is an example of this kind of treatment. This approach has been shown to provide high benefits with low costs, and organizations including the National Institute on Drug Abuse and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend family therapy be incorporated into any substance abuse treatment program.

Is It Time for Family Therapy?

It might be time for family therapy if:

  • Your family member continues to use substances despite your objections.
  • Your mental and physical health have been negatively impacted by the family member’s use.
  • You want to learn methods to improve your ability to respond appropriately to your family members use.
  • Your family member has not found success from other treatment approaches.
  • You’ve experienced family issues that you (or your loved one) believe have contributed to the addiction.

Many family members of people struggling with addiction feel they don’t need therapy because the addict is the one with the easily identifiable problem. An important consideration is that family therapy can be completed in combination with other treatments like:

  • Individual therapy.
  • Group therapy.
  • Medication management.
  • Residential rehabilitation programs.

There does not have to be a choice between family therapy or others.

It’s also important to understand that therapy can provide support for family members but also boost their loved one’s health and chances of recovery as well.

Since there is no set definition for “family,” family therapy might be appropriate even if you are not technically family. Significant others, friends, and coworkers may choose to attend this form of treatment.


You can expect many positives to result from the treatment. Benefits of family therapy include:

  • Assisting the substance user to gain awareness of their needs and behaviors.
  • Improving the mental and physical state of the entire family unit.
  • Permitting family members to gain self-care interventions to improve their own well-being.
  • Improving communication styles and relationship quality.
  • Helping families understand and avoid enabling behaviors.
  • Address codependent behavior that may be preventing recovery.
  • Learning and understanding the systems in place that support and deter substance use.
  • Preventing the substance use from spreading throughout the family or down through future generations.

Family therapy will aim to accomplish the above by emphasizing the strengths of the complete family and diminishing the influence of substance use for all members.

Generally, a therapist will engage the family in dialogues focused on developing problem-solving skills, motivation for change, and assigning accountability for all in the family.

Types of Family Therapy Available 

couple in therapy

Family therapy for addiction has roots in many established theoretical orientations including:

  • Marriage and family therapy.
  • Strategic family therapy.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Couples therapy.
  • Solution-focused family therapy.

Because of the range of sources, family therapies for substance abuse will look and feel different based on the specific model the therapist is utilizing. Regardless of the style, the therapist will work with the family unit as a complete group, smaller subgroups, and with members individually to create a plan based on the family dynamics in place. Each program will incorporate the family at different levels.

Many specific interventions are suited for family therapy for substance abuse like:

  • Multidimensional family therapy (MDFT). This style is most appropriate for adolescents and includes individual and family sessions occurring in an office, the home, or the community. Individual sessions will work to improve decision-making skills, communication, and problem-solving. The family sessions will explore the active parenting style and ways to positively impact the substance use.
  • Family behavior therapy (FBT). This style has value for both teens and adults. Its broad approach targets the substance use as well as mental health issues including depression and defiance, family problems, employment, and financial concerns. Treatment focuses on building skills to improve home life and developing goals to end substance use while providing rewards for accomplishing these objectives.
  • Community and family approach (CRA). This approach expands past the family to include the community as well. Sessions completed once or twice weekly involve learning ways to improve communication in the family and build a wider support system. The family is instrumental in identifying and modifying their role in the substance abuse.

Find Help

If substance use has been negatively impacting your life and the life of your family members, it may be time to seek family therapy. By engaging in treatment focused on the family, you can make a difference in the life of the addict while improving your own well being.

Call for more information and treatment appropriate for you.

American Addiction Centers maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies.

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Eric Patterson, MSCP, NCC, LPC, is a professional counselor who has been working for over a decade to help children, adolescents, and adults in western Pennsylvania reach their goals and improve their well-being.

Along the way, Eric worked as a collaborating investigator for the field trials of the DSM-5 and completed an agreement to provide mental health treatment to underserved communities with the National Health Service Corp.

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