Families and Addiction – Part 1: What is a Family System?

Mother walking with her kids on the beach

Families and Addiction – Part 1: What is a Family System?

I want to talk to you today about how the family system of an addicted individual begins to get created.

At Timberline Knolls, I do both individual and group work with women, which comes with a multitude of issues. Many times they struggle with substance abuse issues and, sometimes, this behavior is centered around an eating disorder or self-harming behaviors.

In any case, what we see are individuals who begin to exhibit pretty self-destructive behaviors. When that begins to happen, family systems get created.

First of all, you may be wondering what “family systems” are.

Family systems develop over time. As members interact with one another in the system, each member brings into these relationships their own history, their own genetic and epigenetic predispositions, and their own cultural and societal frameworks.

The family system that becomes created around addiction most often impacts every member of
that system.

When the behaviors of the addicted person begin to become organized around the substance use, to the detriment of his or her life, they become noticeable to family members. Family members then begin to react.

Each family member tends to react to the addicted person differently but also begin to respond to each other as well.

The addicted person’s father, for instance, may become angry and aggressive toward the addicted person’s behavior.

Man researching families and addiction on his computer

A mother who sees this happen may react to the father’s aggression and try to cope with things differently than she would with the addict. She is responding more to the father’s aggression than the addict.

These reactions begin to take place over time, and a system is, eventually, developed in which each person has adapted to the reality of the identified patient or the addicted person.

Once that system is formed, it acts like any other system in that the status quo tends to be maintained, members of the system become more defined in their roles, and change becomes more difficult to implement.


Virtual Presentation by Steve Wright, LCPC, RDDP in the January 24, 2018 Addiction Hope Inaugural Online Conference & link to the press release at https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/eating-disorder-hope-offers-inaugural-online-conference-300550890.html

Steve WrightAbout the Presenter:

Steve Wright, LCPC, RDDP is a therapist at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center. He served for more than 25 years as a minister working in churches with youth, families, and as a senior pastor. As a counselor, he worked in residential treatment as a therapist supervisor, coordinator, and program director first in the substance use field and then in the eating disorder field.

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.About the Transcript Editor: Margot Rittenhouse is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on June 22, 2018

Reviewed on June 22, 2018 by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.