What to Do When Working with Families of Addicts

What to Do When Working with Families of Addicts

When a family comes to you because their loved one has an addiction, they bring with them a unique set of issues. They are frightened and traumatized by the chaos the addiction has ushered into their lives. They often feel like they are walking on eggshells around their addicted family member and have no idea how to help them or how to improve the situation at home.

As a therapist, one of the first things to do is to acknowledge and validate the family members’ pain and give them space to talk about it. You can then provide them the healthy coping skills they need to manage their feelings and the specific situations they encounter around their loved one’s addiction.

Also, remember that families almost never know the entire truth about the extent of their loved one’s drug involvement. It’s the nature of addiction to be secretive, to lie, and to minimize the depths to which the substance abuse goes.

This is a difficult realization for most family members since what they already know is quite painful. Yet it’s important to educate them about the realities of most addictions to prepare them for what may lie ahead.

Explain to them the path most addictions follow so that when it comes time to participate in their loved one’s treatment, they can follow through with sometimes difficult actions since they’ll understand how it leads to recovery.

You may role-play situations such as learning more details of a loved one’s addiction, lovingly setting healthy boundaries, or supporting their family member in continuing substance abuse treatment.

Providing families with these tools gives them the support they need and allows them to play a more effective role in their addicted loved one’s treatment.


Dr. Robin Barnett, EdD, LCSW, LCADC, is a recognized authority on mental health and addiction. Her book, Addict In The House, was applauded by Reader’s Weekly, and she has appeared on numerous national television shows and newscasts as an expert commentator. Learn more by visiting: http://23.235.207.124/~rmb