Why Does My Therapist Ask Me About My Family?

Why Does My Therapist Ask Me About My Family?

When a person develops an addiction, it’s important to determine how learned behaviors and possibly genetic factors contribute to the addiction

Some people love to talk about their families while other people would rather just leave the subject alone. When it comes to addiction treatment, family history is important due to the existence of genetic and environmental factors of the disease.

Families and Addiction

There is still much to learn about the connection between addiction and a person’s family history. Researchers do know addiction has both genetic and environmental causes—two things related to families. Since it’s a brain disease, the root causes of addiction can be difficult to determine. Scientific studies show there are several risk factors that make it more likely a person will develop an addiction. For example, someone who grows up in a poor community where drugs are readily available at school and has a lack of parental supervision may be more likely to try and become addicted to drugs. People with poor social skills and a history of aggressive behavior may also become addicted. Sometimes people see poor behavior modeled at home and may be more likely to experiment with drugs as a way to escape family stress. In addition to environment, genetic factors account for between 40% and 60% of a person’s chance of becoming addicted. Young people are more likely to develop an addiction because their developing brains are more vulnerable to the effects of addictive substances.[1]

Understanding Healthy and Codependent Relationships

Family relationships and interactions play a huge role in the way a person learns to deal with the world around him. When a family has many dysfunctional interactions, a person can have trouble handling stressful situations or be unable to recognize healthy family behavior.

A person who grows up in a household with an addicted family member sees others acting in various ways to try to maintain balance in the household. Many of these actions and feelings are unhealthy and are described as codependent behavior. People who form codependent relationships with family members feel negative feelings, such as shame, guilt, fear, embarrassment, loneliness, neglect and anger.[2]

Healthy families use open communication and support high self-esteem for all family members. Members of the family know that rules are flexible and change when needed. They speak with each other in clear, direct and honest ways and are open about feelings. Relationships outside the family are expected and considered natural. Family members also receive support for their goals. In contrast, members of a family with an addict tend to revolve around the addict. Family members spend time denying there is a problem and blame others and cover up any issues. Communication is not open; members do not say what they think or feel.

Using Family History to Treat Addiction

Identifying the various ways a person’s family impacts his addiction is an excellent way to begin treating the disease. By understanding how dysfunctional feelings and behaviors lead to substance use, a person can stop old habits and learn healthier ones. Families may offer different levels of support; some families may want to do everything they can to help an addicted family member. While it’s common for someone who suffers with addiction to have an addicted family member, there are plenty of cases of people suffering with an addiction who came from healthy families. Whatever a person’s family dynamics, it’s important to identify helpful qualities and unhelpful qualities as a way to find the best support system for recovery. Addiction treatment therapists take the information they learn about a person’s family and use it to help him develop skills to fight cravings and temptations.[3]

Need Help Finding Addiction Treatment?

An effective addiction treatment facility provides care for all of a person’s needs, including treatment for addiction along with any co-occurring mental health conditions. People with low levels of family support require even more tailored treatments that take into account ongoing needs in recovery.

Addiction is a chronic disease that requires physical and psychological treatments for the best possible outcomes. While there is no single method for treating addiction, evidence-based treatments offer excellent outcomes and reduce the chance of relapse. The best treatments incorporate services that teach coping skills and ways to avoid relapse.

If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction, give our admissions coordinators a call. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at our toll-free helpline to offer advice on the best treatment options. People who receive treatment early on are more likely to achieve long-term sobriety. Don’t wait another day to get help. Call now.


[1] National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). Drugs, Brains and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. Retrieved Feb. 28, 2016 from http://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/sciofaddiction.pdf.

[2] Lerat, Gil. (2011). Breaking the Family Cycle of Dependency and Addiction. University of British Columbia Learning Circle presentation. Retrieved Feb. 28, 2016 from http://learningcircle.ubc.ca/2011/03/breaking-the-family-cycle-of-addiction-codependency/

[3] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2004). Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 39. Chapter 1. Retrieved Feb. 28, 2016 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64260/?report=reader.