Managing Family Dynamics During Recovery

Ioana Cozma
Morgan Blair
Written by Ioana Cozma on 16 October 2023
Medically reviewed by Morgan Blair on 16 October 2023

Addiction is a prevalent issue that affects individuals, families, and larger communities. Conversely, family dynamics can both positively and negatively influence substance or behavior abuse, recovery, and long-term sobriety. This article sheds light on the underpinnings of family ties so that you can build healthy relationships that promote recovery.

Managing Family Dynamics During Recovery

How family dynamics can affect addiction and recovery

Addiction, whether to alcohol, drugs, or particular behaviors, brings harmful consequences both at an individual and an interpersonal level. Conversely, poor family dynamics may contribute to or exacerbate a specific addiction, thus affecting recovery.

Here’s how family dynamics interplay with addiction and recovery.

Conflict

Most drugs enhance aggression in people, which may lead to conflict within the family. Additionally, families of people with drug issues typically experience emotional consequences, sometimes even resulting in emotional trauma. Families may lack the knowledge to express their feelings and willingness to help sensitively, leading to further conflict.

When families feel hurt and may lash out, people with addiction may feel overwhelming shame and regret. The combination may lead to intense conflict, which augments the desire to continue the addictive behavior.

Relationship Strain

Addiction promotes emotional dysregulation, which impairs autonomy and leads to risky and selfless behavior. These behaviors may manifest as neglecting family responsibilities, abusive behavior, and poor financial decisions. These factors lead to a decrease in trust in the family.

If not managed calmly and sensitively towards the person with addiction, this distrust may deepen the relationship strain. This strain is especially difficult for people trying to recover from their addiction who lack healthy coping mechanisms for managing triggers. Thus, the perceived lack of support nurtures the addictive behavior, which has become an unhealthy coping strategy.

Addiction Enabling

Some family dynamics may also enable addiction. For example, parents may protect children with drug issues from the consequences of their actions, minimizing the situation. Spouses may misrepresent the severity of the addiction to other family members or friends who may help.

Sometimes, family members might specifically stop their loved one’s recovery attempts, especially if they share a similar addiction. For instance, some relatives might bring drugs or alcohol over, manipulating newly sober individuals into continuing their addiction.

How to set healthy boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries helps both the person trying to recover and the affected family members.

For example, a person with addiction might have created a traumatic, abusive situation for their children or spouse. In this case, the children and spouse might need room to process their trauma before healthily supporting the person with addiction.

This scenario also helps the person with addiction process their feelings, identify healthy coping mechanisms, and learn to make genuine amends.

Conversely, someone deterred from seeking addiction treatment by an enabling family should learn to set healthy boundaries. Learning to be less reactive and codependent increases the chances of maintaining sobriety.

To set healthy boundaries:

  • Clearly communicate your needs and limits.
  • Be consistent in enforcing boundaries.
  • Prioritize self-care and well-being.
  • Avoid making excuses for others' harmful behavior.
  • Practice saying "no" without feeling guilty.
  • Limit exposure to toxic or triggering situations.
  • Seek therapy or counseling for guidance.
  • Surround yourself with supportive individuals.
  • Establish consequences for boundary violations.
  • Continually reassess and adjust boundaries as necessary.

How families can support recovery

Positive family dynamics are the backbone of recovery because they help create a safe space for the individual’s healing process. As a result, they can focus on their treatment with all the necessary support from their loved ones.

To support a loved one’s recovery, families may:

  • Educate themselves about addiction and recovery processes.
  • Attend family therapy or counseling sessions together.
  • Participate in support groups specifically for families of recovering individuals.
  • Maintain open, non-judgmental communication.
  • Celebrate milestones and achievements in the recovery journey.
  • Provide a stable and drug-free environment.
  • Set and respect healthy boundaries.
  • Avoid blaming or shaming, focusing instead on empathy and understanding.
  • Encourage and support healthy lifestyle changes.
  • Be patient, recognizing that recovery is a long-term and sometimes challenging process.

Family therapy and recovery

Studies show that when relatives attend family therapy together, people have more chances to continue their road to sobriety. Current data suggests these individuals are less likely to drop out from their addiction treatment than those who do not attend family therapy with their loved ones.

The reason is family therapy helps individuals with addiction and their families understand the addiction and the addictive behaviors better, manage their triggers and conflict, express their feelings, learn healthier coping mechanisms, and set boundaries. Family therapy is also an essential tool in processing traumatic events, learning to make amends, and peaceful cohabitation.

In a typical family therapy session, a therapist facilitates discussions between family members, allowing them to express feelings, concerns, and grievances in a safe environment. The therapist assists in identifying unhealthy patterns, such as enabling or codependency, and guides people toward establishing healthier family dynamics. As a result, individuals with addiction feel supported and understood enough to continue their treatment.

Resources:

  1. Zhong, S., Yu, R., & Fazel, S. (2020). Drug Use Disorders and Violence: Associations With Individual Drug Categories. Epidemiologic reviews, 42(1), 103–116.
  2. Henden, E. (2023). Addiction and autonomy: Why emotional dysregulation in addiction impairs autonomy and why it matters. Frontiers in Psychology, 14.
  3. Berry, K. R., Gliske, K., Schmidt, C., Ballard, J., Killian, M., & Fenkel, C. (2023). The Impact of Family Therapy Participation on Youths and Young Adult Engagement and Retention in a Telehealth Intensive Outpatient Program: Quality Improvement Analysis. JMIR formative research, 7, e45305.

Activity History - Last updated: 16 October 2023, Published date:


Reviewer

Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan is a mental health counselor who works alongside individuals of all backgrounds struggling with eating disorders. Morgan is freelance mental health and creative writer who regularly contributes to publications including, Psychology Today.

Activity History - Medically Reviewed on 14 October 2023 and last checked on 16 October 2023

Medically reviewed by
Morgan Blair

MA, LPC

Morgan Blair

Reviewer

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