Why Does My Therapist Ask Me About My Family?

Why Does My Therapist Ask Me About My Family?

No one person can be blamed for “creating” an addictive personality. Nevertheless, family members do exert powerful influences over factors that both maintain and accelerate the addiction cycle. How a family responds to a loved one with vulnerability to drug use, for example, can both prevent and stop addiction, according to a study published by the Drug and Alcohol Review[1].

Clinical trials show that individuals overcoming opiate addiction who attend family therapy make better choices about when to enter treatment and how long to attend. They are also less likely to drop out of treatment early, giving up before they experience the breakthrough that could re-launch their lives. Understanding this pivotal role that the family can play, most addiction therapists incorporate them into treatment. That may take many different forms—from simply exploring childhood experiences to conducting intensive family sessions that take place over several days. Although the work may not be easy or appealing, it can help to remember that the payoff of a stronger recovery makes the process worth the effort. To learn more about why you should consider making recovery a family affair—and how it can help you in the long run—read on.

Family: You Resource for Better or Worse

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMSHA)[2], positive family support helps prevent addicts from continuing to use alcohol or drugs, relapsing, or stalling out in recovery. Furthermore, data shows that counseling is more effective when it includes family therapy than when it doesn’t.

If your therapist begins asking questions about your childhood and family dynamics, this is why. The more clearly you can paint a picture of your roots—the context in which you grew up and became the person you are today—the better your therapist will be able to tailor treatment to your unique needs. Although it may seem uncomfortable to open about personal matters—especially painful memories from the past that you have worked hard to avoid facing—your hard work will pay off. Attacking the underpinnings of addiction in a holistic way will keep you sober. Even better, it will help you thrive and live life fully.

Recovery Benefits the Entire Family System

Many newly recovered opiate addicts shrink back from allowing family members to be involved in treatment. For some, facing mom and dad or contentious siblings may even seem like a recipe for relapse. This may be especially true if parents, siblings and other loved ones trigger strong, negative emotions. Your instincts to be wary may have some basis. Expectations and tension on both sides often runs high following rehab discharge. That is why when dealing with issues and subjects that may be churning with resentment, fear and grief, it is best to enlist the help of a professional, someone who carries no emotional baggage and presents an objective view. A well-qualified therapist can guide the ‘heavy lifting” of family processing for you, which takes pressure off of you and your loved ones. That allows you to save your energy for rebuilding and repairing relationships. Other benefits of allowing your therapist to include family members, as noted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)[3], include the following:

  • Family sessions can break unhealthy cycles and reveal patterns that maintain addiction problems
  • Meeting family members gives your counselor insight into your situation
  • Enlisting family support can help boost client motivation and compliance
  • Family sessions allow loved ones to diffuse anger, resentment and disappointment in a safe space

Family therapy isn’t easy. Since addiction typically involves struggles for each person involved, the outcome is usually worth it. A good therapist can shift dysfunctional patterns that have been in place for years, thereby catalyzing the family into a new dynamics. This not only reduces the burden of stress that other family members feel, but it also provides an outlet and buffer that serves protective purposes, safeguarding other family members—especially younger siblings—from turning to drug and alcohol use in order to cope. Multiple studies show that people who tolerate the distress of family therapy long enough to see progress benefit with improve communication and intimacy, respect within the family, and general family cohesiveness and community connection.

Addiction and Family Ties: A Complex Connection

Recovery usually reveals unexpected truths about relationships—much like throwing a grenade in a pond may bring old trash to the surface. In other words, when one family member gets sober, the way individuals within the family system relate to each other changes. In most families—even relatively healthy ones—this process creates upheaval and can evoke negative responses. Family members you used to party with may feel anxious about losing their connection to you. Or, if alcohol is a centerpiece of connection, family members may feel resentment and disorientation when drugs and alcohol are removed from the equation. A skilled counselor or addiction therapist will suggest new strategies and coping tools to help with this difficult time, also providing support and education about the process, which can be highly normalizing.

Help for Addiction to Opiates

Staying sober from opiates means making major changes in your life, but you don’t have to do it alone. We are here to help. Admissions coordinators are available at our toll-free, 24 hour helpline to guide you and your family to wellness. They can explain your treatment options and guide you to affordable solutions. Please call today. Take the first step.


[1] Retrieved from https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA13-4784/SMA13-4784.pdf

[2] Retrieved from https://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA13-4784/SMA13-4784.pdf

[3] Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov