It’s easy to mistake addiction as a condition that a person develops all by him or herself. “He made bad choices.” “She can’t put the bottle down.” “He uses heroin because of low self-esteem.” But no man is an island; rather, we live in a world that is truly a web of relationships, where each of us is shaped by the interactions within this web. Until we dig much deeper into these patterns of relationships, we are often blind to how much our family relationships are a contributing factor in self-destructive behavior such as addiction and alcoholism.

Addiction as a brain disease is not the only theory out there. One of the prevailing views around how addiction is formed, and how it continues unabated, deals with the family system. In the last few decades, family therapy has seen an explosion of interest among addiction treatment professionals. The basic premise is that an addict is created partly out of the dynamics within the family. The roles he or she plays within the multigenerational family help set the course for addiction.

During the 1980s, addiction professionals began to recognize more than ever that addiction is a family disease. Individuals in close relationships with addicts or alcoholics often suffer from a disease of codependency. Their feelings of self-worth and personal identities are enmeshed with the addict or alcoholic. There are all sorts of thorny issues that arise within family units that both create and maintain active addiction or alcoholism in a person’s life including enabling, rescuing, early trauma, abuse, overly-critical parents, people-pleasing and blaming – just to name a few.

There are many types of family therapy these days in the field of addiction treatment. One therapy that has gained a lot of recognition is Family Systems Therapy in which families are viewed as an emotional and interactional system. Therefore, the problems of one family member cannot be understood apart from those of all other members. The focus is on identifying certain negative family interactions and then helping individual family members dissolve the patterns of relating to each other that keep certain family members addicted and others co-dependent. Members of the family begin to take personal responsibility for their contribution to the disease within the entire family unit. With the application of this therapy, familial relationships can begin to harmonize themselves, which creates an atmosphere of healthy boundary-setting and positive transformation – not only for the addicted member but also the entire family unit.

Even if the family member struggling with alcoholism or addiction is not yet ready to seek treatment, it is never too early to begin to help the entire family heal. Evidence shows that when family members begin to take proactive steps as a unit towards healing negative patterns, the addict or alcoholic may, in turn, become much more open to treatment.

Scott Kiloby is a noted author, international speaker and the director of the Kiloby Center for Recovery in Rancho Mirage, the first addiction, anxiety and depression treatment center in the U.S. to focus primarily on mindfulness. For more information visit or call (442) 666.8526.

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