It has often been stated that addiction is a family disease. This essentially means that the abuse of drugs and alcohol has a great effect on every member of the family, not just the addict and alcoholic. Statistics dictate that over a quarter of the families in the United States are affected by addiction in some way, shape or form. It is estimated that up to 90% of all active addicts and alcoholics live at home with family, giving them more potential to harm the ones around them with their disease as well as the family dynamic in general. Furthermore, an analysis of those alcoholics and addicts who are employed “show that their families use the employer’s health insurance more than the families of non-addicts. This is indicative of the great emotional, physical, and social strain that addicts place on their families.” (Cohen/Inaba)

Taking in mind what we know about the damages addiction can have on a family, it becomes apparent that an approach towards the treatment of the families becomes necessary for any healing to truly begin. It is not only crucial to the recovery of the addict/alcoholic, but also to the family structure as a whole. This is where our approach begins; by understanding the goals of family treatment.

Typically, there are 4 main goals of Family Treatment:

  1. An acceptance by both the family and the individual in active addiction that they are capable of being treated, and that their addiction has nothing to do with low morality or weakness of character.
  2. Insuring that their home and family systems become drug and alcohol free, which at times involves treatment of another member of the family (i.e. father, sister, spouse, etc.)
  3. Developing and/or improving upon a communication system amongst the family structure that “reinforces the addict’s recovery process by integrating family therapy into addiction treatment.” (Cohen/Inaba)
  4. A process of readjustment once the family environment is free from drug and alcohol abuse.

 While these goals are ever present in the structure of family therapy, several different approaches are also employed when it comes to specific treatment of the family.

One such approach is referred to as the Family Systems Approach, which attempts to explore and “recognize(s) how a family regulates its internal and external environments, making notes of how these interactional patterns change over time.” (Cohen/Inaba) One of the most major focuses on this approach is to examine the family’s daily interactions, as well as special events such as holidays and birthdays to develop short-term problem-solving strategies. This method allows the therapist to explore how the use of drugs or drinking has become an integral part of how all members of the family function, not just the individual with a drug or alcohol problem.

While the Family Systems Approach rests heavily on finding healing through examining family relationships, separate approaches such as The Family Behavioral Approach, bases itself on entirely different theories. Family Behavioral Therapy aim to “provide specific interventions to support and reinforce those behaviors that promote a drug-free family system.” (Cohen/Inaba) In this approach, one would see strategies employed such as couple’s sessions, self-monitoring exercises, and the development of negotiation and problem-solving tactics. Most of the time the behavioral approach focuses more on the non-abusing family members than on the individual suffering addiction.

In terms of support for the family members after the effects of their loved one’s addiction has taken effect, the most successful approach to employ would be the Social Network Approach. This is primarily gained by the family attending support or therapy groups which helps them to break the family’s isolation and to develop supporting skills in the recovery effort.

The sad matter of fact is when it comes to treatment of an individual, despite possessing an established relationship, the family is often neglected when it comes to treatment from the effects of their loved one’s addiction. Often when the family dynamics are uncovered, the family proves to be the sickest one in the structure, needing healing and treatment just like the addict.

This is where family treatment can encompass its goals and approaches into a clear and solidified mission; healing can only come when the pain is recognized, and everyone is worthy of healing. Healing for both the addicted individual and the family is possible, and the structure is more than capable of being rebuilt and solidified if all who have been effected put the work in.


-J.Dalton Williams



Inaba, Darryl S. Cohen, William E. Uppers, Downers, All Arounders: Physical and Mental Effects of Psychoactive Drugs. CNS Productions, Inc. 2014.