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Helping Family Members Understand Addiction Recovery

Family.  In my work at the AToN Center I have not just had the pleasure of assisting our residents but also coordinating care with various family members.  Here are a few thoughts on how a person in early recovery can more effectively work with and relate to family members.  Being in a treatment center provides and opportunity for a greater kind of honesty than one might consider while in the outside world.  I do not believe that family members need to “know everything” but receiving care means that one can strive towards a greater honesty about the extent of the addiction. 

Family members are often ill informed or ignorant about recovery.  Patience is encouraged in first becoming more educated about the nature of addiction yourself and then secondarily making and taking the time to help inform family about the condition.  Many times this can be in the form of literature regarding recovery that is written specifically for family members.  I universally also encourage family members to get their own support.  The mentality of a family member is often “if only they would quit using/drinking then everything would be ok.”  This creates an external and passive approach in their lives.  I recommend that whatever the form of assistance that they get help for themselves and work to change the mentality away from the person in recovery and instead focus on what boundaries or limits the family member needs to set and maintain themselves.   

The largest available resource is Al-Anon but there are many alternative community support groups or professionally lead therapies that can also be very effective.   Lastly for things to get better, things will change.  Many times family members will have an unintentional resistance to recovery thinking that family members would be better off “quitting on their own” or after treatment being able to “reset and start moderately using/drinking.”   Many family members are even so invested in a care taking role that they may not know what to do with themselves when the family member gets sober. 

Growing is changing and the more flexibility and tolerance a person can have, the more likely you are to rebuild a healthy and sober connection with others. 

Chad K. Cox PsyD 
AToN Center  888-535-1516