Why Does My Therapist ask me About My Family?

Why Does My Therapist ask me About My Family?Treating addiction effectively requires numerous aspects of the addict’s personal and family life to come to light. It can sometimes be confusing to recovering addicts why a professional therapist needs to know about the ins and outs of their family life. The family history, genetics, current family dynamics and living situation all play a significant role in the addiction. A therapist must address all these areas in order to effectively treat the addiction and help the addict stay clean.

When a person tries a drug for the first time it is her choice, however the continual use of that drug despite the onset of consequences is often heavily influenced by genetics. In fact, even the initial choice to use a drug is not the same for everyone. Some people have much greater influences swaying them to use a drug than others. While it is ultimately still a choice, that decision can be swayed by many different factors including the person’s current environment, physical or sexual abuse, parents’ attitude toward drugs and alcohol, and how well the person is educated about the real effect of drugs. Either way, once the decision is made, many people are at a much greater risk of developing addiction than others due to genetic predisposition and environment. Ultimately, a person’s genes account for about half of the total risk of addiction development. Addiction a disease similar to other diseases that people develop, such as cancer.1

Addiction is also influenced by the person’s family history, family dynamics and current environment. Simply put, addiction often runs in the family. When a parent or grandparent struggles with addiction it often creates a trickle down effect that causes the children to be at higher risk for substance abuse. Children see their parents abusing drugs or alcohol and it can lead them to believe that substance abuse is normal or expected. Growing up in that type of environment can also be detrimental for the child’s psychological state. This can cause children to turn to drugs or alcohol themselves in order to cope. However, a family history of abuse may also have the opposite effect on the children. Children may see their parents struggle with drugs and alcohol and that can motivate them to steer clear of substances of abuse.

A family history that does not involve substance abuse can still influence a person’s struggle with addiction. Children who grew up in homes where one or both parents were seldom present or not present at all, homes where physical or sexual abuse occurred, and homes that often neglected the needs of children all play a role in influencing a person’s addiction later in life. A therapist will ask questions about family history in order to uncover if any of these situations occurred at any time in the life of the addict. Situations like these are often the root cause of addiction and if they are not properly addressed, relapse is likely, even after successfully completing a treatment program.

The addict’s current family dynamics also play a large role in influencing her addiction. An addict who has poor family dynamics such as other drug using family members, enabling parents or siblings, or abusive relationships will likely struggle to overcome her addiction. Some addicts could benefit from simply having parents who better understood addiction and the need for support to overcome it. A therapist can uncover the family dynamics and determine how to better treat the addict as a result.

Because of the role that family dynamics and family history play in a disease like addiction, participating in family therapy often leads to great successes in the treatment of a single family member’s addiction. When the family is treated as a whole they can become a source motivation, support and encouragement. The family disease model suggests that the addict is not the only one suffering from addiction, rather the entire family suffers. This model works to not only overcome addiction but to help all family members become a better source of support without having their needs neglected.2

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1 National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, “Family History and Genetics,” NCADD.org, https://ncadd.org/about-addiction/family-history-and-genetics, (Updated April 25, 2015).

2 “Family Therapy,” Addictions.com, http://www.addictions.com/family-therapy/, (Cited March 6, 2016).