Addiction is a family disease. This essentially means the abuse of drugs and alcohol has a great effect on every member of the family. Statistics dictate that over a quarter of the families in the United States are affected by addiction in some way, shape or form. 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 “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 in addiction recovery programs.

Family Treatment Goals

Typically, there are four main goals of Family Treatment during the addiction recovery process:

  1. An acceptance by both the family and the individual in active addiction that they are capable of treatment, and their addiction has nothing to do with low morality or weakness of character.
  2. Ensuring 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.

These goals are ever present in the structure of family therapy. However, several different approaches also come into play during treatment.

Approaches to Family Treatment

One such approach is the Family Systems Approach, which explores 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 major focuses on this approach is to examine the family’s daily interactions. This method allows therapists to explore how the use of drugs has become an integral part of the family function.

The Family Systems Approach rests heavily on finding healing through examining family relationships. However, approaches such as the Family Behavioral Approach, base themselves on entirely different theories. Family Behavioral Therapy aims 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 such as couple’s sessions, self-monitoring exercises, 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.

Family Support

In terms of support for family members, the most successful approach to employ would be the Social Network Approach. The family attends support or therapy groups which help them break isolation and develop supporting skills.

Despite possessing a relationship, the family is often left behind when it comes to treatment. Often when the family dynamics come to light, the family requires 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 through pain recognition. Healing for the family is possible, and the structure is more than capable of being rebuilt.

– J.Dalton Williams



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