Helping Families Understand Treatment for Substance Abuse

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Substance abuse is when someone is dependent on alcohol or other drugs [1]. Substance abuse is also known as addiction. Research shows that addiction affects a wide variety of people. Addiction does not just impact the individual struggling, it affects their family as well.

Coping with a Family Member’s Substance Abuse

Aside from the relational or financial impact that substance abuse can have on a family, family members often feel a wide range of emotions. Some families feel angry, confused, shocked, scared, or hopeless.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to feel when coping with a loved one’s addiction. It can be helpful to understand what addiction is, signs of substance abuse, and treatment options. While researchers aren’t certain what causes addiction, there are a few known factors. Research shows that emotional distress, genetics, and personality can contribute to the development of addiction [1].

Some signs that someone is abusing drugs or alcohol include:

  • Continuing to use a substance despite the negative consequences
  • Increased tolerance. This means that someone needs larger amounts of the substance to get high
  • Being unable to stop drinking or using drugs, even if they try

Substance abuse is known to negatively impact someone’s relationships, ability to complete academic or professional responsibilities, and cause legal or financial problems. Substance abuse can also negatively impact someone’s health. For these reasons, it is really important for someone to get professional treatment.


woman struggling with substance abuseWhile it may seem that if someone just wanted to quit drinking or using drugs, then they could, but addiction is much more complex than that. Treatment could save someone’s life and their relationship with their family, so it is important for them to get the care they need.

Substance abuse treatment can look different for everybody. There are a few different treatment options available depending on how severe someone’s addiction is. Treatment options include:

  • Inpatient treatment—This is treatment in a hospital. This includes detoxification, which is essentially providing medical supervision to someone while they come off a substance.
  • Residential—Residential treatment provides individuals with a place to live while they receive therapy and other recovery-related services. This is 24/7 care.
  • Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Programs- This type of treatment is less time-intensive than residential. However, individuals attend these programs for several hours per day and several days a week, so there is still a lot of support.
  • Outpatient- This is the least intense form of substance abuse treatment. Outpatient treatment allows individuals to work or go to school and attend therapy or support groups in the evenings or on weekends.

You may wonder what substance abuse treatment includes. There is usually a combination of services that a treatment center provides. This typically includes medical support, mental health services, and relapse prevention training [1].

Mental health services tend to include individual therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. This is an important aspect of the treatment process because therapy can help someone figure out the emotional factors that contributed to their addiction. Addiction always has an emotional component in that there is usually emotional pain that drives someone to use substances [2].

Whether this pain is childhood trauma or an untreated mental health disorder, support from a therapist is crucial. Group therapy also provides individuals support from peers during the recovery process. Often times, treatment centers also have groups about coping skills, life skills, and relapse preventions.

Family therapy can also be very important during recovery. Family therapy allows for each family member to work on any unresolved emotions related to the impact that addiction has had on their relationship and life. It also allows a family to work on any relational things that may have contributed to the addiction.

For example, if an adolescent feels unable to talk about her feelings with her parents, then she may cope with her feelings with substances. Family therapy could help the family learn how to talk about their feelings. This can help prevent relapse.

Regardless of where you or your loved one is at with their addiction, recovery is possible. Everyone deserves to live a life free of addiction.


[1] Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2004). What is substance abuse treatment? A booklet for families. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

[2] Maté, G. (2010) In the realm of hungry ghosts. North Atlantic Books.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

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 a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, 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 December 15, 2020
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 15, 2020
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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.