The Vital Role of Family in Substance Abuse Treatment


Substance abuse is a pattern of misusing substances that causes significant problems and distress. This occurs when an individual continues using a substance or drug, even when experiencing serious problems associated with its use.  

Due to changes in brain structure and function, substance-abusing individuals are prone to experience severe health conditions, such as cognitive impairment and mental disorders, including schizophrenia, anxiety, mood, and impulse-control disorders.

Although substance abuse is commonly seen as a problem of the individual, it also  affects the entire family since it is associated with destructive family behaviors, including child abuse and neglect, that put children at higher risk of experiencing injuries and somatic and psychiatric illness. 

Therein, families are negatively affected by substance abuse, and family-based intervention  is critical to reducing the harm to individual members and the whole family unit. 

This article will help you understand the importance of involving family members in the treatment process of individuals struggling with substance abuse and how family involvement can contribute to the successful outcome of substance abuse treatment. 

Family involvement in substance abuse treatment 

Family involvement in substance abuse treatment can improve treatment outcomes for the individual coping with substance abuse. In the case of alcoholism treatment, findings suggest that the involvement of family members in therapy significantly improves the engagement rates of alcoholic patients in their rehabilitation. 

The enhanced engagement rate is achieved by first engaging family members in treatment focused on education about addiction. 

It is then followed by encouraging the closest family members to express their concerns about substance misuse and how substance abuse impacts their life. From here, family members are prepared to confront the person with substance abuse and may advocate for the person to take on and adhere to a healing journey. 

Family intervention for substance abuse may also help families find strategies to develop open communication with individuals suffering from it. Open and consistent communication is a significant factor that can effectively reduce miscommunication, subsequent conflict, and the risk of relapse, improving the substance abuser’s and the family’s long-term life quality. 

When families are involved in substance abuse treatment, they can address their questions and concerns, which can help them change how they interact within the family and provide adequate support for a family member suffering from substance abuse. 

Supporting someone in substance abuse treatment

As recovery from substance abuse is a lifelong process, it requires daily work from family members to support their loved ones. Below are ways to support your loved one in substance abuse treatment:

Understanding substance abuse and addiction

Substance abuse may bring changes to the lives of family members connected with the substance abusers, including their relationships, finance, and overall well-being. 

As family members, understanding substance abuse will help you learn how to respond to these changes, set healthy boundaries, and find the most appropriate way to support your loved ones who suffer from substance abuse. 

Hatzel (n.d.) suggests that family members are also enabled to rebuild trust and healthy communication that can positively affect their loved one’s recovery process once family members understand substance abuse. 

Setting boundaries

Setting boundaries with the person who suffers from addiction can be an initial step to help them realize their condition and, thus, make them seek help for their addiction. 

Also, setting boundaries with the substance abuser will make it clear to them that you are not enabling them to take advantage of the family or even manipulate family members. For example, family members can try to say “no” to lending money to the substance abuser, which they will likely use for anything related to their addiction. 

Encouraging treatment participation

To encourage treatment participation, family members can try to communicate with the substance abuser about how detrimental substance abuse is to their well-being and future.

It is also crucial to be honest with them about how substance abuse has affected the well-being of other family members. After that, family members can share the benefit of participating in treatment and what attending a substance abuse treatment would be like. 

Practicing self-care

As a family member, it is crucial for you to remember that you cannot help a person cope with substance abuse in your family if you cannot even take care of your health and wellness. 

Practicing self-care can be as simple as having enough sleep, eating healthy meals, and practicing meditation and physical exercise to release negative thoughts and emotions. Consider connecting with community support groups that allow you to meet others in similar situations. 

3 Types of family therapy in substance abuse treatment

Family therapy in substance abuse can be understood as a group of treatment approaches designed to treat the entire family impacted by substance abuse rather than only treating an individual family member struggling with substance abuse. 

Family intervention for substance abuse treatment admits that individual substance abuse has the potential to harm other family members, and this issue may lead to negative consequences on a family level. 

Family therapy for substance abuse can take different forms. Several options for family-based intervention in substance abuse treatment are: 

Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT)

As its name suggests, MDFT for substance abuse views substance abuse as involving and affecting multidimensional factors. 

MDFT includes different treatment domains deemed interdependent, affecting and helping substance abusers develop alternative lifestyles for their well-being.

These domains are adolescents or the youth, the parents, other family members, extrafamilial systems of influence, or the external community (e.g., peer groups, schools, or child welfare). 

The main goal of MDFT is to improve individuals and family functioning, which, in turn, can reduce substance misuse and related behavioral problems.  

Family Behavior Therapy (FBT)

FBT for substance abuse is a family-based intervention that aims to promote positive communication, problem-solving skills, and stress management in the family affected by substance abuse. FBT accepts that family is a significant support network that can be integral to an individual’s recovery and treatment process.

Additionally, this therapy contains practical and skill-based intervention that typically involves sharing information, experience, and concerns between family members and the service user regarding their experience and problems related to substance abuse. 

Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT)

This therapy can be another option for family therapy for substance abuse. This therapy is specially designed for couples suffering from substance misuse.

In addition, BCT’s purpose is to improve relationship functioning among couples seeking help for substance abuse-related problems. This therapy can be an excellent option for substance abuse treatment to help couples reduce and avoid domestic violence and emotional problems that can harm the couple’s children. 

In conclusion

The negative consequences of substance abuse are not limited to the person misusing substances; they also impact the family functioning of the substance abuser. As substance abuse is also a family problem, positive family involvement and intervention can play a critical role in achieving positive outcomes from substance abuse treatment and the recovery of the substance abuser. 

Family members themselves can also benefit from participating in the treatment process of substance abuse. Family involvement in substance abuse treatment can assist families in developing positive communication and gaining a better understanding of how to respond to the negative consequences of substance abuse, which can lead to better family functioning.

If you would like to see more resources on substance abuse, check out the Family Science Labs. The lab produces courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools based on the research of the Institute for Life Management Science. Visit the Family Science Labs today.

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