To see a loved family member, whether it is a child, a parent or a sibling, go through the struggles of a substance use disorder is painful. It can be easy to avoid the situation or pretend it isn’t that bad, but ultimately for the successful recovery of this loved one it is important for family to confront the issue, encourage treatment and to play active and supportive roles in recovery.

The Family’s Role in Rehab

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, “addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family’s unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics.”1

A family can fall apart over a family member’s substance use disorder, and family triggers can contribute to the development of the disorder. While there is often not one specific cause, substance use disorders are known to be related to genetics and a family history of substance use. In addition, developmental factors and environment, of which family life is a major component, play a role.2

Since family plays such a large role in the development of substance use disorders and is also so affected by them, it is important for others to be involved when one member needs to go through rehab. One of the biggest roles that family has to play is to provide support. Studies have found that social support has a positive impact on recovery, retention and a person’s belief in his or her ability to overcome a substance use disorder.3

More specifically, family members can get involved in recovery and rehab by participating in family therapy, either with or without the client, by joining support groups for families, by learning more about addiction, by encouraging and helping find treatment, and by supporting recovery and relapse prevention after treatment. Family can also help someone by providing practical resources, such as money for treatment, a place to live and help finding work.

How to Encourage Treatment or Plan an Intervention

The first step in helping a loved one with a substance use disorder is to face the problem, talk about it and encourage treatment. Encountering resistance is not uncommon, and denial is characteristic of someone just struggling to come to terms with having a problem with drugs or alcohol. It helps to have as many family members as possible confront this person about the issue in a way that is calm but also honest, which can be painful.

When someone resists all offers of help and concern, an intervention may be the next best step. This is a planned meeting during which family and friends confront a loved one. There are three important elements to an intervention, which should be guided or led by an addiction professional:4

  • Giving specific examples of destructive behaviors of the person with a substance use disorder
  • Offering pre-arranged options for treatment
  • Outlining what the consequences will be if there is no change going forward

Confrontation with a loved one isn’t easy, but getting him or her into treatment is one of the most important roles families can play in recovery. Without this push, it may never happen.

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What to Look for in a Rehab Treatment Center

Before confronting a family member or staging an intervention, it is important to be prepared with a treatment plan. A person is more likely to agree to go to rehab if it is already arranged for them. It is up to the family in this situation to find and choose the right rehab treatment center.

First, look for a facility that is affordable and in a location that makes sense for the client and the family. Then, look for other factors that indicate the facility will provide the best care: licensing and accreditation, good referrals, a range of services, individualized treatment plans, a safe and secure environment, and strong after care and alumni services.

Family Education and Support Resources

It is sometimes better for the client to be separated from family for a period of time. During this time families can still support their loved ones by learning more about addiction and getting support and counseling so they can provide a better environment and establish healthier relationships when they can again contact the client in treatment. Some options include:

  • Al-Anon. This group offers support to anyone who is worried about a loved one or has a family member with an alcohol use disorder. Meetings help people support each other and learn from one another.
  • Nar-Anon. Nar-Anon is a similar group but is focused on loved ones of people struggling with drug use. People can attend meetings for support and to learn.
  • Co-Dependents Anonymous hosts meetings for people who struggle with healthy relationships, and can be a great place to get support and to learn how to better relate to loved ones struggling with addiction.

In addition to support groups, families can benefit from starting family therapy, even if their loved one cannot yet join them. If family therapy is available at the treatment facility, participating is an important way to support the person in treatment and to build stronger, better family relationships for the future.

Family Matters Weekend

Another way in which families can get involved in treatment is to attend any events to which they are invited. For instance, Transformations hosts family weekends. These weekends include education sessions, therapy, group support sessions, community gatherings, aftercare planning and expert speakers. These weekends help families learn more about addiction and how to support their loved ones once treatment is over. They also help families get actively involved in therapy to help heal and build stronger relationships.

Continuing Family Support after Rehab

The work of the client in treatment and of the supportive family doesn’t end when the stay in rehab ends. Clients should leave with a plan for ongoing care and relapse prevention. Family members should be aware of the plan and be prepared to support it, taking the steps necessary to ensure the home environment to which they are returning is safe and conducive to sobriety.

Some things families can do after rehab include providing a substance-free home, being available to listen, establishing and modeling healthy lifestyle changes like a good diet and exercise, and setting and maintaining boundaries with consequences if they are broken. Family members can also help by understanding relapse and what may trigger it, and being aware of when those triggers appear.

The role of family support is so important for anyone going through treatment for a substance use disorder. Having one or more loving people on their side can make all the difference in getting treatment at all, let alone going through rehab successfully. Families should be supportive and honest, have boundaries, learn what they can do to help, and be there to participate in and be a part of the healing process.

  1. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Family Disease.
    https://www.ncadd.org/family-friends/there-is-help/family-disease
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Understanding Drug Use and Addiction.
    https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction
  3. Substance Abuse. Investigating Social Support and Network Relationships in Substance Use Disorder Recovery. 
    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08897077.2014.965870
  4. Mayo Clinic. Intervention: Help a Loved One Overcome Addiction.
    https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/intervention/art-20047451
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