Substance use can have a significant impact on family systems, and addressing these issues can
be an important part of the recovery process. In this article, we’ll explore some of the ways in
which substance use can affect families, as well as strategies for addressing these issues as part
What are family systems issues in substance use recovery?
Family systems issues refer to the patterns of behavior and interactions within a family that can
contribute to or be impacted by substance use. These patterns can include communication
styles, roles within the family, and rules for behavior. When a family member is struggling with
substance use, these patterns can be disrupted and cause conflicts and challenges within the
Some common family systems issues that may arise during substance use recovery include:
- Codependency: This refers to a pattern of unhealthy behaviors in which a person
becomes overly responsible for the well-being of another person, often at the expense
of their own needs. In the context of substance use recovery, codependency can occur
when a family member tries to “fix” the person with the substance use disorder,
enabling their behavior or covering up for them.
- Enabling behaviors: Enabling behaviors are actions that allow someone to continue
using substances without facing consequences. Examples of enabling behaviors include
making excuses for the person’s behavior, paying for their substances, or ignoring their
- Dysfunctional communication: Substance use can lead to poor communication within a
family, with members avoiding difficult conversations or resorting to criticism, blame, or
- Role confusion: Substance use can disrupt the usual roles and responsibilities within a
family, leading to confusion about who is responsible for what. For example, a parent
who is struggling with substance use may be unable to fulfill their usual responsibilities,
leading to other family members taking on additional roles to compensate.
- Boundary issues: Substance use can lead to a lack of healthy boundaries within a family.
For example, a family member with a substance use disorder may violate the
boundaries of other family members by borrowing money or stealing from them.
How can these issues be addressed in substance use recovery?
Addressing family systems issues is an important part of the recovery process, as these issues
can contribute to the development and maintenance of substance use disorders. Here are some
strategies for addressing these issues:
- Seek support: It can be helpful to seek support from a therapist or support group, such
as Al-Anon (for family members of someone with a substance use disorder) or Co-
Dependents Anonymous. These resources can provide guidance on how to address
family systems issues and learn healthy coping strategies.
- Practice open and honest communication: Open and honest communication is essential
for addressing family systems issues. This may involve setting boundaries, learning to
express needs and feelings in a healthy way, and having difficult conversations about
substance use and recovery.
- Establish healthy boundaries: Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is an
important aspect of recovery for both the person with the substance use disorder and
the family. This may involve setting limits on certain behaviors or establishing rules for
communication and interaction
- Seek individual therapy: Individual therapy can be helpful for addressing personal issues
that may be contributing to family systems issues. This may include addressing
codependency, improving communication skills, or learning to set and maintain
- Engage in family therapy: Family therapy can be a useful tool for addressing family
systems issues and improving communication and relationships within the family. This
may involve working with a therapist to identify patterns of behavior and learn new
ways of interacting with each other.