Families and Loved Ones

Substance use disorders can be especially difficult for the families and loved ones of the addicted person. Families often bear a financial and emotional burden when a family member is addicted. Not only is addiction treatment costly, but many people in treatment leave before completion, fail to comply with treatment, or relapse after treatment has ended. It is important that families know that they can help their addicted loved one and that there is support for families in crisis.


Taking Care of yourself

The number one thing parents and family members should know is that their loved one's addiction is not their fault. Hazelden Betty Ford Center has established the 3 C's for families of people with substance use disorders: you did not Cause it, you cannot Cure it, and you cannot Control the addicted person. It is important that family members take care of themselves during through the difficult circumstances that come with an addicted loved one. There are many support groups for families of people with substance use disorders that may provide comfort for families in crisis.


One of the ways that family members can support their loved one's recovery is by identifying behaviors that enable continued drug use. Enabling refers to any behaviors that make it easier for an individual to continue using drugs. This often includes making excuses for or helping cover up the addicted person's behavior as well as protecting the addicted person from consequences of drug use. These behaviors are natural for family members who want to protect the addicted person from harm. Enabling continued drug use can result in dysfunctional family relationships that cause stress for the addicted person and their loved ones.

Alternatively, family members can make recovery and treatment a bit easier by removing some of the obstacles to treatment. Family members may offer to drive to treatment appointments, pay for treatment and support services, and support their teen's healthy behaviors. If a teen is joining a sports team as a healthy alternative to drug use or staying after school for homework help, a loved one may make it easier for the teen to pursue this behavior by buying arranging transportation to practices and relieving the teen of chores that would conflict with these commitments.

There is no clear answer as to what results such family actions produce, and changing family behaviors alone may not end substance use. However, families should be aware of how their behaviors may make it easier for their loved one to continue or stop using drugs.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Families can encourage good behaviors and discourage bad behaviors before during and after treatment. Even if a teen does not have a substance use disorder, parents can still use positive and negative reinforcement to respond to their teen's drug use. Positive reinforcement is when an individual receives a reward for a particular behavior. Something as simple as praising good behavior or rewarding a teen's sobriety with a family movie night can reinforce good behaviors.

Negative reinforcement is when an individual experiences a consequence as a result of bad behavior. Creating an agreement with teens that outlines the house rules and consequences for breaking those rules is a good way to encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior. When the rules are clear, the teen knows exactly what will happen if they break the rules. This approach is most successful when parents are firm about the rules.


Consistent supervision has been shown to be an effective way to support long-term recovery. People in recovery who are consistently drug tested are likely to stay sober for longer. While drug testing is conducted by trained professionals, parents can facilitate this practice by requiring their adolescent to participate in drug testing and ensuring that the adolescent goes to drug testing consistently. This may involve taking the adolescent to a doctor's office or inviting a psychiatric nurse to the home on a regular basis. Parents and loved ones may also support this process by coming up with consequences for positive test results.

Beyond drug testing, parents can monitor their teen's behavior in order to catch early signs of drug use or relapse. Parents may find it useful to know who their teen hangs out with and what is going on in their lives. This engagement gives families the opportunity to address drug use as early as possible and work through issues in the teen's life in a healthy manner. Strong family relationships can prevent teens from engaging in high risk behaviors.

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