As you learn to use the principles of recovery, most of the Steps suggest that you look at relationships with others. Family members are certain to be included. The changes required for a spiritual awakening encourage taking a close look at how you developed habits, beliefs, and behaviors.

Healthy family There have been many models to describe the characteristics of a healthy, functioning family The following are some examples:

  • Each person, big or little, is valued and nurtured for who they are.
  • Appropriate, spontaneous feelings are affirmed, not discounted or prohibited.
  • Independent thinking and awareness are encouraged.
  • Rules are flexible, spoken, and negotiable.
  • Love, care, and respect for each individual exists.
  • Integrity, honesty, openness, and trust are valued and modeled.
  • It is OK to make mistakes and learn.
  • Blame and fault-finding are rare.
  • Individual differences are acknowledged and encouraged.
  • Values are modeled and taught that are conducive to the well-being of each person involved.

Ernest Kurtz Ernest Kurtz, a noted alcoholism historian and author, says a dysfunctional family is where techniques to survive in your family interfere with your ability to survive in the world. The less you can relate to the characteristics of a healthy family, and the more Kurtz’s description fits, the more likely you may need to work on family issues.

Kurtz also says that in your family is where you suffered your first wounds and it is the most appropriate place to experience forgiveness and healing. Part of the purpose of a family is to give you a feeling of belonging, of connectedness. If you can work through family issues with your family of origin, you are lucky. Many addicts have to process these issues in treatment groups, aftercare, Twelve-Step group meetings, or with therapists or friends. Present family members can either support or complicate this process.

Belonging Many addicts turned to alcohol, other drugs, food, or other substances or behaviors in part because they never felt they belonged. These chemicals may originally have given the illusion of belonging, but eventually they only made the isolation worse.

After suffering the pain of addiction, many do feel at home in the rooms of Twelve Step programs like AA, NA, and OA. Members often report that out of this sense of belonging, true healing begins.


Much of the current work in families looks at enmeshment in relationships. If we look at the basic intergenerational tasks, we see that many people misunderstand them:

Parents’ job The parents’ major job is to make themselves unnecessary. They must help their kids feel secure and give them a good set of tools for living their own lives. Then let them fly on their own. It has been said that parents should give their children roots and wings.

This is the message we see throughout the animal kingdom — parents care for young only long enough for the children to become independent. In some species, parents and children may remain part of the same “family,” but as equals. Besides human beings, where do you see the parent-child relationship continuing into adulthood?

Kids’ job The kids’ major job is to rebel. This rebellion may be in token ways, like wearing their hair in a certain way or getting their ears pierced. But if parents try to keep their children dependent on them, then the children will eventually have to rebel more violently.

Failing at these tasks produces an enmeshed, unhealthy family. Parents often try to make their children fill needs that should be filled by a spouse or peers, and kids delay establishing their unique personalities, often until the break must come violently or painfully. Unfortunately, sometimes it never happens, and you have a forty-year-old who is still financially and emotionally dependent on the parents.

Martyrdom Parents who become martyrs for their children seldom think what they are modeling for their kids: don’t grow up — it’s no fun to be an adult. It is normal to want to give your children more than you had, but taking that to extremes robs them of self-respect. Ironically, they lose respect for you, too.

Healing in the Family

Few parents are perfect, or even close to it. Parents are almost by definition amateurs. Most have done the best they knew how. It has been suggested that the last stage of growing up is forgiving your parents, which you do for yourself, not them.

If you can find nothing positive about your family of origin, you may find it difficult to hope. Healing involves forgiveness, for others and for yourself, and paves the way for gratitude and joy.


Whenever you have family problems that don’t seem to get better, it is a good idea to seek some professional help. It is important to find a qualified family therapist who understands or at least tolerates addiction recovery in the family.

Family recovery IF everyone in the family who is clearly addicted is recovering from those addictions, THEN the family itself can begin the recovery process. Like each individual, the family may need help to overcome its dysfunctions as a unit.

Family, see also: Abuse, Addiction, Adolescents, Al-Anon & Alateen, Amends, Behavior, Beliefs, Celebrations, Children of addicts, Codependency, Control, Defenses, Detachment, Enabling, Family of origin, Forgiveness, Humor & fun, Incest, Intervention, Intimacy, PEMS model, Prevention of addiction, Relationships, Responsibility, Sabotage of recovery, Self-image, Survival roles.

Updated 11 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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