The Role of Family in Alcohol or Substance Addiction Treatment

If you notice a loved one’s personality or habits have changed, you wonder why they are different. Unprecedented changes in personal, social or family relationships can signal an addiction to alcohol or drugs. There are many reasons people transition from their interests. A lack of engagement in activities or relationships can lead you to wonder how to spot the signs of addiction.

Looking for Signs of Addiction

Substance addiction affects everyone. Often, there is a shift in the family dynamics. 

Some can take on roles that protect the family or the addict. Understanding why roles change and relationships become strained means spotting the signs a loved one has an addiction. Here are a few of the indicators:

  • An increase in borrowing or spending money they don’t have
  • Failure to complete work tasks or responsibilities
  • A decrease or a lack of interest in social or other activities
  • An increase in risky behavior like dangerous driving, involvement in unfamiliar activities or a new set of friends
  • Weight gain or weight loss, decreased energy or other visible physical changes
  • Interest in clothing, hygiene or appearance declines
  • Detachment from friends or family; becoming secretive about where they go 
  • Distinctive changes in behavior like anger, depression or paranoia

Marijuana, alcohol, prescription pills, etc., have different signs of use. Many substances can produce some of these signs:

  • An increase in elation
  • Red eyes
  • Slowed coordination
  • A decrease in cognition or understanding
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation

If your loved one exhibits any of these symptoms, knowing what to do to help them and maintain a healthy relationship is vital to their recovery.

Talking to a Loved One about Getting Treatment

Talking with your loved one about your concerns can start the journey to recovery. The conversation should avoid aggressive behaviors or accusations. Helping your loved one discuss their thoughts and feelings about substance addiction and treatment is essential. If you don’t think you can begin a conversation about their behaviors, call a treatment center and set up an appointment with a therapist. A therapist trained in addiction and family therapy can guide the conversation and provide insight about treatment. Once your loved one enters treatment, you can benefit from family therapy.

At the beginning of addiction therapy, your loved one can work on identifying their triggers, emotions or discover underlying mental health issues that led to their addiction. During this time, they can decide to focus on their needs before starting therapy with their family. Don’t take this personally. Instead, take the time to focus on any issues, thoughts or roles you play in the family dynamics.

Once family therapy starts, you can discuss these topics with your loved one and the therapist. Focusing on your needs is integral to the healing process. Once you begin to heal and learn coping skills, you can be physically and emotionally available for yourself and your loved one. Remember, if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t help anyone. Once you begin your understanding journey, you can learn to recognize your role in fostering healthy changes for everyone.

Family Therapy

Substance addiction affects everyone in the family. Everyone plays a different role in how the family reacts to a loved one’s turbulent behaviors. The behaviors of your loved one can place stress — physical or mental — on the family. Some in the family can take care of your loved one while others act out, try to retain the family’s appearance to the public or try to be humorous. Family therapy allows everyone, including your loved one, to recognize how they can change.

Therapy that includes the family can occur when your loved one is ready to begin what, for some, is a hard conversation. Treatment centers that have a family therapy program designed to incorporate education about addiction are valuable. When your family and your loved one process how addiction affects everyone’s physical or mental well-being, you can then discuss how to create a positive, nurturing environment for your loved one once they come home.

Family therapy built on explaining models of care, like the Stages of Change, fosters an understanding of how enabling behaviors, mental health well-being, how the brain’s neurons are affected by substances and communication skills are a part of addiction, treatment and recovery. 

Stages of Change

The Stages of Change is a model based on how people come to terms with their addiction. The stages are:

  • Precontemplation: Your loved one is not thinking about changing and doesn’t think they need help.
  • Contemplation: Your loved one can agree they have a problem but may not take the first step yet.
  • Preparation: Your loved ones can begin to start getting ready to make a change.
  • Action: Your loved one is actively changing their behavior. Once treatment is finished and your loved one either comes home or goes to a sober living house, they take the steps necessary to retain their behavior change.
  • Relapse: Relapse may or may not happen but there is always a possibility this stage can occur after treatment. They may relapse in a short amount of time or years later. Recovery is a journey and attending alumni group counseling or periodic individual therapy sessions helps prevent relapse. 

The family’s role in these stages is vital to how your loved one incorporates therapy and recovery throughout their journey. If your loved one takes a more extended amount of time in any of the stages, take the opportunity in your family therapy sessions to learn why they need more time. Their family’s support means they know they can reach out whenever they feel alone, depressed or in need of encouragement. 


Family roles can play an essential part in your loved one’s addiction, treatment or recovery. Everyone in the family is affected by a loved one’s substance addiction. When you become involved in your loved one’s treatment by attending family therapy sessions, you take an active interest in both their and your well-being. The therapy process includes recognizing harmful behaviors, addiction, how it affects your loved one’s physical and mental health and implementing the Stages of Change in your relationship. Cliffside Malibu believes including the family benefits everyone. When each person understands the family dynamics, how addiction affects everyone and how to build a supportive, loving relationship, healing begins. We create a safe, comfortable experience that allows your loved one the time needed to focus on their care. Cliffside Malibu welcomes you to call us for more information about our treatment and family therapy programs.