Family Guide for Addicted Loved Ones

For many, a family is where to turn to for love and support, but what if your family is affected by alcohol or drug addiction?

The disease model of addiction dismisses the question of morality and explains the issue from a neurological, genetic, biological and social standpoint.

As a complex chronic disease, addiction leaves an individual afflicted with no control or defense against his or her substance use.

Essentially, addiction hi-jacks the brain and makes significant changes to its chemical structure and function – these changes can last a lifetime.

Addicted Loved Ones

substance use disorder statisticAddiction leaves families of those addicted powerless and even hopeless over the situation.

Understanding the nature of addiction is the first step a family must take to overcome this exhausting and life-threatening disease.

Addiction is a disease that not only isolates but silences those who are directly affected. The disease fuels the compulsion to drink and use drugs as a means of instinct and survival.

Overcoming the disease is possible, but the process of recovery is complicated and must be tackled with proper knowledge and resources.

Signs of Substance Abuse

Addiction is a disease that affects everyone in the family. From children of addicts, children of alcoholics to parents of addicted loved ones, addiction never fails to encompass all those around the sufferer.

Signs and symptoms of substance abuse tend to go unnoticed for a significant amount of time. If you have any reason to believe a loved one is using drugs or alcohol, don’t write it off – take action.warning signs of substance abuse


Feeling as though a loved one is using substances and could possibly be addicted is unsettling – to say the least. One of the central signs of an individual with substance use disorder is continued use regardless of the psychological, mental and physical pain it inflicts on his or her life.


There are many behaviors and non-verbal cues that can point to alcohol and drug abuse. If your loved one appears to show signs of substance abuse, you may need outside help. If your loved one is abusing drugs or alcohol; preventative measure should be taken. Stopping the development or progression of addiction is imperative to the health and life of your loved one.

Causes of Drug Abuse

When it comes to substance abuse – when does recreational use of drugs and alcohol become an addiction?

Substance abuse often causes chemical dependency. Today, drug dependence is referred to its medical term, Substance Use Disorder, SUD. Dependence on alcohol is called Alcohol Use Disorder, AUD. Definitions and guidelines of SUD and AUD, are locatable in the 5th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5.

According to SAMHSA, there is a profound impact on individuals when generations of substance abuse exist in the family or community.

Substance abuse throughout generations has a negative effect on the overall well-being and dynamics of a family. Addiction is a psychological disorder that alters the brain – leaving the user without a choice after the initial decision was made to use a substance.

Although addiction can happen to anyone, at any stage in life, some individuals are at a greater risk than others.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence – NCADD reports that both a person’s environment and genetic disposition contribute equally to the onset of drug and alcohol addiction.

Based on information provided the Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics journal –

An estimated 50 percent of cases of substance abuse leading to addiction is hereditary – in other words genetic.

The Genetics of Alcoholism covers information you need to know about addiction and its link to heritage.

Addiction Effects on Family

addiction effects on the familyWhen a loved one is abusing substances, it is likely for them to be isolated from the rest of the family. This happens because it is typically preferred to associate with others who are active in abuse of the substances as well.

However, substance abuse gets more injurious over time. It hurts the person using the substances and his or her entire family. Aside from addiction being passed down from previous generations – the weight and detriment this disease takes on families is heartbreaking and unmanageable.


The impact of alcoholism and addiction is not only felt by a person’s immediate family; it is felt by extended family members as well.

SAMHSA’s Treatment Improvement Protocols addressing substance abuse and families state that the addicted persons extended family members often experience feeling a sense of anxiety, fear, concern, abandonment, embarrassment anger, and even guilt.

Living with an Addict

Research on children of alcoholics determined life-altering and detrimental effects that can be caused by parental alcohol abuse. Data suggests that children that come from alcoholic households tend to suffer from psychological and social issues throughout life.

Comparatively, children of addicts are impacted with various emotional, mental and legal problems. During childhood, family systems play a significant role in healthy or unhealthy psychological development.

Parents of addicts, whether a child teenager or adult are afflicted with a significant amount of pain and confusion. Parents of addicted children often feel helpless and gradually lose hope for a better day.

Emotional, physical and mental health status of family members declines dramatically in the face of addiction. SAMHSA claims, ‘if a child or adolescent abuses substances, any household can experience conflict and continual crisis.’

Moreover, stating that with many families that have a substance abusing adolescent, one parent in the household abuses substances as well.

Dysfunctional Families

Most families do not realize the fundamental part that they play in a loved one’s progression of substance abuse, addiction, and recovery. Obviously – there is a reason that addiction is considered a disease of the family.

In brief, addiction is a family disease because it causes instability, emotional uproar, and a crisis in a home. When someone is addicted to alcohol or other drugs, the entire family system and its dynamics are thrown off balance.

Consequently, studies by the National Institute of Health, NIH reveal that when it comes to addiction in the family there is potential that more than one individual is having problems with drug and alcohol use.


Learning about how family plays a part is the progression of substance abuse is the cornerstone for your loved one(s) recovery from addiction.

Although family roles and dynamics that contribute to patterns of substance abuse change according to the family, there are basic roles most families are known to take part in.

Reaching out for professional help – outside the family norm creates more potential for positive change and recovery. Research indicates that substance abuse treatment and family therapy go hand-in-hand and you can effortlessly see why.

Stage an Intervention

If someone you love is misusing alcohol, using illicit drugs or abusing prescription medications, the first thing to do is ask for help. Being open about the issue and willing to accept guidance can make all the difference.

It is common for families to believe they can solve a loved one’s substance abuse problem without professional help. Although from time to time this may be true, many do not recover without adequate addiction treatment services.

Getting your loved one help for addiction is not easy – you don’t have to do it alone.

You are not at fault for being unsure of which road to take. There are several reasons why going to rehab and getting your loved one into a rehabilitation program is crucial.

Rehab centers offer a host of services from keeping an eye on your loved one’s overall health to proper mental health diagnosis. Of course, with these types of services, your loved one will receive the individualized services they actually need.

So, why exactly is getting your loved one help through a rehabilitation center necessary? Visit our page about the reasons and benefits of rehab, to find more information.

What if They Refuse Treatment?

Have you been living with an addicted family member? If so, your patience is probably little, and you might be at your final straw. You’ve witnessed the problem from some time now and even offered to help.

The compassion, understanding, and patience you once had for your loved one in addiction is at its end. If the offers you’ve made your loved one to get him or her professional help are just brushed off, ignored or flat out refused, what should you do?

It’s common for families of addicted loved ones to lose hope of the situation getting better. When a loved one refuses to get help for substance abuse, it’s usually because he or she doesn’t believe there’s a real problem.

Such cases require the assistance of other people, such as friends or extended family members. Asking for help from others who care about your addicted loved one can make a world of difference.

Families have a special ability to influence individual members in significant ways – including convincing someone with an addiction to get treatment. In fact – this influence potentially explains why family interventions have a reputation for being effective.

An intervention is a structured and carefully planned process that brings together family and friends to confront a loved one with an addiction. If carried out correctly, an intervention can motivate a person to accept help for their addiction.

Interventions that hold potential for success are properly organized and planned long before the meeting takes place. If your loved one refuses treatment, hiring a professional interventionist -that is trained in areas like conflict resolution and motivational techniques may just do the trick.

Intervention Specialists for Addiction

Generally speaking, interventions are something that families tend to attempt on their own. Sometimes families attempt to intervene in their loved one’s substance abuse alone and without the help of a trained professional.

This calls into question when is the right time to step in? Should we try to intervene at home? Or are we supposed to hire a professional?

First off, let’s talk about what a family intervention is. Addiction interventions are a powerful tool in fighting back against a loved one’s addiction. Now, why should you have one?

There are two main goals for holding a family intervention. The first goal is to help your loved one see that they have a problem with drug or alcohol abuse.

The second most important goal is to get them to accept help and go to treatment. Interventions planned and held by the family can work. However, the rate of success is lowered significantly without a professional interventionist.

Typically, professional interventionists are a fundamental component of a successful intervention. Credentials of an intervention therapist cover topics from what an interventionist is and why you need such a specialist in your corner.

Cost of Rehab

If you are thinking about treatment for a loved one in the family, you’re probably wondering if it is even affordable.

We understand that getting someone help for addiction is challenging, and to fathom affordability is another ball game entirely. For this reason, we outlined a couple of the several options to pay for substance abuse treatment.

Medicare and Medicaid

Federal Health insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are able to help you afford various aspects of your loved one treatment in drug and alcohol rehab. As these plans fluctuate, so do the services available under coverage.

Private Insurance

When paying for treatment with insurance, most private insurance companies cover behavioral health treatment services. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation is placed under the behavioral health treatment category.

Veterans Administration Benefits

The United States Veterans Administration (VA) offers coverage for drug and alcohol treatment for veterans who meet the eligibility requirement. If your loved one is a veteran and you are concern about affording treatment, check out the Veteran Substance Abuse Treatment coverage requirements.

Federal or State Funding

There are also avenues to receive Federal funding to get into state drug and alcohol rehab program. Federal and State-funded treatment facilities are a good option for those who do not have private insurance.

If you are looking to learn more about this low-cost option, you can go to how to find a state-funded rehab center. For more information on how to locate state funded treatment facilities, go to Options to affording treatment.


Treatment Center Options

Substance abuse treatment lengthIf you’re looking to get a loved one into treatment, you’re probably wondering how long does addiction treatment usually last?

Treatment options for substance use disorders vary greatly. The type of addiction treatment your loved one commits to will depend on the severity of his or her addiction.


Research from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, NIDA indicates that longer-episodes of treatment are associated with more successful recovery outcomes. It is important to know all options that are available when seeking substance abuse treatment for a loved one.


Short-term treatment options are available and last anywhere from one to three months. Most common substance abuse treatment program lengths are 28-days, 60-days and 90-days.

The length of time your loved one stays in treatment will determine the amount of services he or she receives and the overall effectiveness of the program.


Long-term treatment programs typically range from 6 to 12 months. Longer treatment durations are deemed to be the most effective option by the NIDA.

Six to twelve months of time may seem unreasonable, however before you make the judgment, you should know the benefits of long-term treatment and the services available.

Since addiction is a complex psychological disorder, treatment is needed for a full recovery. Getting educated on the seemingly countless options of drug and alcohol rehabilitation can make deciding what treatment is best for your loved one.

Treating Substance Abuse

What to Expect

If you are looking to understand what happens in the background when your loved one is in treatment, there are a few basic components you may want to know.

Intake and assessment are the first things to take place when your loved one gets admitted to treatment. Upon entering treatment, an individual goes through a treatment intake process.

Next your loved one will go through an assessment. Assessments are designed to create an individualized treatment plan.

Most people with drug addiction and alcoholism require a medical form of detox. Detox is medically managed and necessary part of safely getting through withdrawal. This is especially true for people with alcoholism. The alcohol detoxification process almost always requires constant medical care and attention.

Detoxing from alcohol breaks down the process and different stages an individual’s goes through during alcohol withdrawal. After the stage of detoxification is complete, your loved one will begin his or her inpatient treatment.

Treatment outcomes are increased with the integration of family. Family involvement in comprehensive treatment regimes positively correlates to an increase in engagement of addicted loved.

Engagement increases in the areas of willingness for treatment entry, a decline in treatment dropout rates and higher long lasting outcomes (SAMHSA).

Comprehensive Treatment

In 2016, an estimated 21 million Americans ages 12 or older were in need of substance abuse treatment, SAMHSA.

NIDA addiction treatment

Treatments for substance abuse and addiction is provided in a variety of settings, using variations of both pharmacological and behavioral therapeutic approaches. In the U.S., over 14,500 specialized drug and alcohol treatment centers offer different counseling methods, behavioral therapies, proper medication-assistance, individual case management, and other many other services for people with substance and alcohol use disorders.


There are a wide range of counseling techniques and behavioral therapies that are evidence-based and effective for the treatment of substance use disorders as well as common co-occurring disorders among addicted individuals. In fact, SAMHSA’s statistical data shows that nearly 8 million Americans had co-occurring mental and substance use disorders in 2014.

Addiction treatment that doesn’t incorporate proper assessment and diagnosis of mental health is not comprehensive. Be sure when address and ask about all aspects when looking for adequate comprehensive treatment services.

Creating an Aftercare Plan

what is aftercareAfter treatment is complete, your loved one should have an individualized and specific instructions for aftercare. When a loved one completes his or her time in treatment, community re-integration is crucial to success. Approaching discharge, treatment centers will formulate a plan of action for maintaining recovery after a person leaves the facility. Discharge aftercare plans are not going to be the same for everyone.


Each discharge plan is individualized to meet the unique needs and desires of your loved one who is new to life in recovery. Aftercare treatment planning is inclusive of all aspects your loved one will need to stay clean and sober. This usually requires a continuation of therapeutic care services.

Many who discharge from inpatient treatment commit to an intensive outpatient program, IOP. IOP services are an effective way to foster self-awareness, identify triggers for urges to drink or use drugs, relapse prevention and learning as well as practicing coping skills to utilize in his or her daily living.

Sometimes one of the most important steps a person can take after leaving rehab is the choice of transitional housing. Should our loved ones go straight home or have a subtler transition from rehab to home?

The outcomes associated with a subtle transition out of rehab before independent living situations is connected to a high success rate in remaining free from drugs and alcohol. Generally, when a loved one is in treatment he or she will be faced with the decision of where to go once the inpatient treatment portion is finished. Some end up moving back to their personal residence or in with their parents, but many transition much slower.

A slower transition into everyday living involves a sober living environment. Which brings into question what is sober living? And Should my loved one go to a sober living home after treatment?

Family Substance Abuse Counseling

Steps to take after treatment

Before a loved one leaves treatment, it is encouraged that family members seek out and obtain support from outside sources. After he or she leaves treatment, continuing or beginning family therapy sessions is necessary in most cases.

Family therapy for addiction is made up of several therapeutic approaches that stem from a belief in the importance of the family system in recovery.

Family Therapy

Studies show that when the family is involved in substance abuse treatment services, the problems, motivations, and needs are increased radically. Different models of family therapy aim to assist healing of family-specific dynamics.

In light of  SAMHSA’s integrated model for treatment family members, ‘A family is a system, and in any system, each part is related to all other parts.’ 

If you want to know more about the different types of family therapy, you can go to our page on therapeutic options for families. It is important to acknowledge that there is a distinct difference between traditional family therapy and therapy that involves family. Setting healthy, yet realistic boundaries for yourself as an impacted family member is important. Creating boundaries with an addicted loved one – in or out of recovery is frustrating but powerful.

Of equal importance is knowing what self-care is and how to apply it in your life. It is often said in the community of recovery that an individual can be of little help if they don’t help themselves first. Without self-care family members affected by addiction can quickly experience distress, resentment and complete burnout. Learn about the basics of self-care and practice it daily.

Family Roles in Recovery

Being in recovery from addicted and dysfunctional family dynamics is just as much a personal as it is a family affair. Recovery from addiction in a family requires participation and cooperation from all members.

Whether the family member who abuses substances is an adult or child, the whole family system must change, not just the person addicted. A family’s recovery is contingent on their involvement in the treatment process.

Families who are involved find that the main focus of treatment is not the drinking and drug use alone, rather it’s the issues that affect the family system at large.

During an intervention, your loved one may offer you hope. An offering of hope is a manipulation tactic that your loved one may use in hopes to stop you or anyone else from intervening on his or her substance abuse.

Your loved one may seem sincere, with everything under control, but the truth of the matter is that your loved one has little to no control over drug or alcohol abuse. They will only be offering you false hope.

Long-Term Recovery

So what exactly does the long-term recovery of non-addicted family members look like?

Long-term recovery is not simply for the addicted member of the family. Recovery from the disease of addiction is a family affair. For this exact reason, addiction is defined as a family disease. Continuing treatment in family counseling and therapy fosters healing and a maintainable recovery from substance abuse for the individual addicted as well as the rest of the family.

Recovery Support Groups

Many who struggle with drug or alcohol addiction turn to 12-step groups to gain lasting recovery. However, what about the family? Where do family members turn to for support and guidance for a loved one’s addiction?

The two most popular support groups for individuals directly affected by alcoholism and addiction are Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

AA and NA groups are 12-step programs that help people suffering from the AUD and SUD to break away from the problem. Per the increasing difficulty with substance abuse in our society, there are other drug specific programs such as Cocaine Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, Crystal-meth Anonymous and more.

12-step programs are based on spirituality and provide guidance to a new way of living and thinking. However, 12-step groups are not only for those who are addicted to alcohol or drugs.

There are a handful of 12-step focused recovery support groups for families impacted by a loved one’s addiction. Fortunately, a handful of support groups of family members of addicted loved ones are available and not far from reach.

Family support groups that use the 12-step approach are Al-Anon and Nar-Anon.

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