Family Therapy For Drug And Alcohol Addiction

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 29, 2021

Family therapy is offered by some addiction treatment centers as a family-based approach to addiction. Within family therapy, a licensed treatment professional can help families address conflict within the home and begin the road towards healing.

Family Therapy For Substance Abuse And Addiction

Addiction recovery isn’t a journey one takes alone. To address the role of family conflict and dysfunction in a person’s addiction, many drug rehab centers offer family therapy.

Family therapy recognizes that families are a complex system that can be negatively impacted by drug and alcohol addiction. And in some cases, family dysfunction can also fuel substance misuse.

Healing is a journey that families affected by substance abuse can take together. Here you’ll find more information about family therapy and how to find a rehab center that offers family-based interventions for drug addiction.

Learn more about getting help for a family member with addiction

What Is Family Therapy?

Family therapy, also known as family counseling, is defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as a collection of interventions that address the family system.

What this can do is help address family dysfunction, family conflict, and other issues within the family that can often play a role in a person’s substance abuse behaviors.

Issues family therapy can address:

  • poor communication
  • enabling behaviors
  • codependent relationships
  • unresolved trauma
  • emotional damage
  • loss of trust
  • marital strain
  • feelings of resentment
  • LGBTQ+ challenges
  • physical and emotional boundaries
  • poor understanding of addiction

Family therapy is typically led by an experienced mental health or substance use counselor, who can help guide families through specific intervention techniques and therapeutic activities.

Goals Of Family Therapy

Family therapy recognizes that involving family members in a person’s treatment and recovery journey can help lay the groundwork for success in a treatment program and life in recovery.

Goals of family therapy typically include:

  • Engagement: Encouraging family members’ participation in their loved one’s recovery efforts.
  • Prevention: Addressing and ending intergenerational cycles of addiction within the family.
  • Support: Leveraging the power and influence of family members to encourage and motivate positive change in a loved one, and deter substance misuse.
  • Education: Providing family members, and addicted individuals, with the information and resources they need to understand addiction and recovery.
  • Communication: Teaching families techniques and strategies for improving communication within the family.
  • Conflict resolution: Addressing family conflict and family dysfunction.
  • Behavioral change: Addressing problematic behaviors of addicted individuals and family members in order to advance positive change that can support a person’s recovery.

Additional goals of family therapy can also be set by the family counselor, or by members of the family. What’s most critical during this process is active engagement, as well as a willingness to learn and listen.

Types Of Family Therapy

Substance use counselors may use a specific approach to family-based therapy, based on their own expertise, the age of the addicted individual, and other factors.

Family therapy is typically structured, and can vary in its length (i.e. number of sessions) depending on the type of family-based approach that is utilized.

Common family-based approaches include:

  • brief strategic family therapy
  • family behavior therapy
  • functional family therapy
  • multidimensional family therapy
  • multisystemic family therapy
  • risk reduction through family therapy

Some approaches, for instance, may be considered more or less suitable for adolescents with substance use problems, or individuals with complex health or personal needs.

Factors that might influence the type of approach used include:

  • which family members are involved
  • type of drug addiction
  • family history of abuse or trauma
  • prior family counseling experience
  • co-occurring mental health disorders
  • specific family dynamics

What Happens During Family Therapy?

What happens during family therapy can vary depending on the approach, and the needs of the family.

However, most family therapy approaches will begin with an assessment to identify the family’s needs, areas for growth, history of family functioning, and the family’s strengths.

Throughout the course of a family-based intervention, within family sessions, a counselor may employ a number of techniques for improving family functioning.

Common activities and techniques utilized during family therapy include:

  • role-playing
  • open emotional expression
  • writing letters to family members
  • psychoeducation
  • teaching skills
  • cognitive restructuring
  • reframing negativity
  • role reversal
  • goal-setting

Family therapy will ideally help improve a family’s ability to relate to one another, improve communication skills, and help repair relationships damaged by substance use.

What Are The Benefits Of Family Therapy For Drug Addiction?

Family counseling has shown to offer a number of benefits both for individuals with substance use disorder and their family members.

These benefits include:

Better Communication

Clear, effective communication between families can be integral to the healing process of both the person with addiction and their family members.

This is particularly true for adolescent (teen) patients and adults who live with or near their families. What this can do is help families learn how to clearly communicate their needs and boundaries.

It can also help people who are recovering from addiction feel comfortable sharing both their successes and struggles with family members, thereby building a strong family support system.

Healing Relationships

Addiction can tear apart families. At the very least, it can cause tremendous hurt that can take time for family members to mend.

Within family therapy, families can have the opportunity to begin that healing process and actively work on rebuilding their relationships with their loved one.

Goal Setting

Within family therapy, therapists can help families set clear individual and collective goals for family engagement, emotional regulation, communication, relapse prevention, and more.

Treatment Retention

Research shows that having family members involved in a person’s treatment process can help increase treatment retention more than just individual counseling alone.

What this means is that a person is more likely to stay in treatment longer, or complete a rehab program, if family members are actively participating in their loved one’s recovery process.

Relapse Prevention

A strong family support system can help prevent relapse to substance use in recovery.

Not only that, but it can also help families learn how to appropriately address relapse if or when it does occur, and how to react in ways that can support a loved one’s recovery journey.


People who have been in rehab a long time, or who are receiving treatment within a carceral setting (e.g. juvenile center, jail, prison) can use their family for support during the process of reintegrating back into their communities.

Reintegration can be difficult. It can take an emotional toll, and can be triggering, particularly if a person is returning to an environment in which they frequently drank or used drugs.

With the support of one’s family, this process can be smoother and help prevent problems that could disrupt a person’s progress in treatment.


Having access to social support in recovery can be crucial. Knowing a loved one is on your side and is ready to help support you on your journey can help people with addiction feel less alone.

It can also motivate individuals to continue their treatment, as well as feel emotionally supported through their successes and challenges alike.

Living with addiction can be a lonely experience. With recovery can come an understanding that a more hopeful, fulfilling life is possible.

Find Family Therapy For Addiction Recovery

We understand that seeking help for addiction can be one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences a family ever takes on.

If you’re looking for a drug rehab center that offers family therapy, don’t wait. Call our helpline today to find an addiction treatment center that’s right for you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

  • Was this Helpful?
  • YesNo
Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on December 29, 2021
Let us walk you through the treatment process. We're here to help.
For 24/7 Treatment Help:
100% Free & Confidential. Call (844) 616-3400