Updated on 1/31/2023

Content Reviewed by Cameron Bolish, M.Ed., CEO of PaRC

For people who have experienced an addiction to alcohol or other drugs and are seeking recovery, you have probably begun to realize that the consequences of your substance use have not only affected you but have also affected your loved ones. Substance use tends to produce devastating ripple effects in nearly all aspects of life.

While you’ve likely experienced growing internal conflict as you contemplated continuing substance use or choosing recovery, perhaps you’ve also experienced growing interpersonal conflict among your family members and friends. If your family does not understand the reality or extent of your addiction, it can make matters even worse.

Despite how painful it may seem to have a conversation with your family about your addiction, communicating your needs with your family members can play a key role in facilitating long-lasting sobriety and recovery. The social support that you can achieve through family engagement encourages treatment entry and maintenance, and overall aids in relapse prevention.

Addiction as a Family Disease

Addiction is often called a “family disease” because the entire family experiences the effects. When one family member begins to use substances or develop an addiction, the other family members are all uniquely affected.

Depending on your role in your family, the effects of your substance use can affect each member of your family in unique ways. Keep that in mind when assessing how your family has been affected and use that knowledge to broach the topic appropriately with each family member.

You may have younger siblings or children who learn to identify substance use as normal and eventually partake in substance use themselves. Older siblings who know you are actively using substances could enable your behavior by helping you financially or using substances alongside you. Your use may devastate your and your spouse’s finances. An older relative might subscribe to stereotypes about individuals who struggle with addiction and believe that you will be forever stuck in the cycle of addiction.

Initiating the Conversation Surrounding Your Addiction

Whether you have had several conversations about your substance use with your family or you are beginning your very first one, you must be considerate of your approach. As much as you want your family to understand where you are, talking with the entire family at once may not be the best way to go. Perhaps start with one or both parents and share as openly and honestly as you can before moving on to other important family members.

If you are already seeking treatment and recovery, begin with that fact. If you are still actively struggling with substance use, know that your willingness to be open and honest with your family can help them understand where you’re coming from and offer help instead of judgment.

Addiction Education Is Key

Unfortunately, you will have to prepare for a combination of backlash, misunderstanding and miscommunication. These outcomes are the result of decades of stigma and misconceptions that surround individuals who use drugs and require treatment to achieve sobriety. One way that you can prepare for these things is by understanding the basics of addiction and acknowledging how addiction has affected your own brain since you began using substances. When in doubt, turn to educational resources to help educate your family members about what you are going through.

How to Set Boundaries With Family Members

Boundary setting is a necessary skill that helps people to recognize how they want to be treated by others so that they feel appreciated and valued. When you talk about your addiction with your loved ones, it can be helpful to request certain boundaries to be put in place so that you continue to feel motivated and supported during your recovery journey. Boundaries can also help family members recognize enabling behaviors and prevent them.

To know what boundaries to set, you must first know how to recognize your recovery triggers and understand your recovery needs. You should also consider the personalities of your family members so you do not consciously take advantage of them during your recovery.

Consider the following:

  • Being in the presence of alcohol or other drugs is a common relapse trigger. If you live with parents or roommates who regularly use alcohol, you could request that they:
    • Remove all alcohol from the living environment or utilize a lock box for alcohol
    • No longer drink alcohol when you are around
  • Having generous siblings or parents could lead to enabling behaviors during your recovery. You could request that they:
    • No longer financially help you for a certain period to ensure you are getting back on your feet
    • No longer cover for you or make excuses for your behavior
    • Enforce chores or other duties to foster independence and responsibility

The Value of Family Therapy in Addiction Recovery

If conversations seem to frequently end in feuds, or you are struggling to maintain your sobriety, there are family programs available to facilitate positive recovery outcomes. These programs can help prevent relapse by encouraging family involvement in your treatment and recovery. When family communication fails, professional intervention can make all the difference.

Prevention and Recovery Center (PaRC) is a treatment facility that understands addiction is a family disease. We offer a Drug Rehab Family Program that allows up to four family members to participate in our two-day intensive program. Family programs can help normalize your struggles and facilitate an uplifting recovery. To learn more, call us today at (713) 939-7272.