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Family Therapy for Alcoholism: Definition, Benefits, and Effectiveness

Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 05/16/2023

Family therapy is a therapeutic approach that involves the entire family in the treatment of alcoholism. This form of therapy aims to address the relationships and dynamics within the family that may contribute to alcohol addiction and provides strategies to support the individual’s recovery. It has become one of the most effective methods of alcoholism treatment for relapse prevention, developing support systems, and long-term sobriety. We’ll take you through everything you need to know about family therapy and why it’s an important part of the alcohol rehab process.

What is Family Therapy?

Family therapy is a form of psychotherapy that works with families and couples in intimate relationships to foster change and development. It tends to view change in terms of the systems of interaction between family members. It emphasizes family relationships as an essential factor in psychological health. Family therapy is done in many ways and may be a form of inpatient or outpatient treatment. It’s available with most alcohol rehab programs in the United States because of the immense benefits it provides. That said, people who are not close with their family can still recover from alcoholism in traditional ways.

How Does Family Therapy Help in Alcoholism?

Family therapy can help in the treatment of alcoholism in several ways. We’ll take you through a deep dive into each method below. The methods include:

  1. Addressing family dynamics in alcoholism treatment.
  2. Developing support systems through family therapy.
  3. Improving communication with family therapy.
  4. Healing relationships through family therapy.

Addressing Family Dynamics in Alcoholism Treatment

Family dynamics play a significant role in the development and persistence of alcohol addiction. Dysfunctional family patterns, such as enabling behaviors or codependency, can inadvertently support or perpetuate an individual’s alcohol use. Family therapy aims to uncover these unhealthy dynamics and works with the family as a unit to change them. This may involve identifying specific behaviors or communication patterns that contribute to the addiction and working towards healthier alternatives. Therapists may also help the family understand the roots of these dynamics, such as past trauma or inherited patterns from previous generations.

Developing Support Systems Through Family Therapy

Family therapy is crucial for developing robust support systems for individuals struggling with alcohol addiction. It equips family members with the knowledge and tools they need to support their loved ones effectively. This could include learning about the nature of addiction, understanding the recovery process, and recognizing the signs of relapse. Additionally, family therapy can help family members learn how to set healthy boundaries, provide emotional support, and encourage positive behaviors, all while avoiding enabling behaviors.

Improving Communication With Family Therapy

Good communication is fundamental to healthy family dynamics and is particularly important when dealing with alcohol addiction. Family therapy often focuses on improving communication within the family. This can involve learning to express feelings openly and honestly, active listening skills, and strategies for resolving conflicts in a constructive manner. By improving communication, misunderstandings can be reduced, and family members can better support each other through the recovery process.

Healing Relationships Through Family Therapy

Alcohol addiction can strain family relationships, often leading to feelings of resentment, mistrust, or emotional distance. Family therapy can play a crucial role in healing these damaged relationships. It provides a safe space for family members to express their feelings, discuss the impact of the addiction on their relationships, and work toward reconciliation. Therapy may involve forgiveness exercises, rebuilding trust, and developing empathy for each other’s experiences.

Family therapy, as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for alcoholism, can significantly improve the chances of recovery. By addressing family dynamics, developing support systems, improving communication, and healing relationships, family therapy can provide the individual struggling with addiction, and their family, a stronger foundation for long-term recovery.

What are the Benefits of Family Therapy for Alcoholism?

Family therapy offers several benefits for individuals with alcoholism and their families. We cover the benefits of family therapy in detail below. The common benefits include improved relationships, enhanced understanding, reduced relapse risk, and co-occurring disorders.

Improved Relationships

By addressing the impact of alcoholism on the family, this form of therapy can help to improve relationships within the family unit. Improved relationships help alcoholics by giving them a better support network at home. Moving in with family members may also help alcoholics avoid triggers that lead to relapse. It’s also easier to recover from alcoholism when you have no alcohol in the home and a supportive family.

Enhanced Understanding

Family therapy can help family members gain a better understanding of alcoholism and its effects, which can lead to more effective support. A more educated family ensures that alcohol is kept out of your reach. Plus, family members may become more supportive instead of distant or annoyed when they know what’s happening.

Reduced Relapse Risk

By strengthening the family support system, family therapy can help to reduce the individual’s risk of relapse. Having family members around you who know you and your triggers makes it harder to relapse. Family members can also listen to your struggles and offer advice. What’s more, they can keep alcohol away from you if they live with you and know what’s going on.

Addressing Co-occurring Disorders

Family therapy can also help to address any co-occurring mental health disorders within the family, which can enhance the overall effectiveness of treatment. The process of addressing co-occurring disorders may include learning about family history, uncovering mental health issues, and more. In fact, medical professionals today can detect a gene that increases the risk of alcoholism. Informing family members about this keeps them safe and opens up new treatment modalities.

What Does a Family Therapy Session for Alcoholism Look Like?

In a typical family therapy session for alcoholism, the therapist works with the individual and their family members to explore the family’s dynamics, identify any dysfunctional patterns, and develop strategies for change. The therapy may involve a combination of individual and family sessions, depending on the specific needs of the family. The types of family therapy vary. Some sessions may be CBT, whereas others may be DBT or something else. Family therapy may also be completed in groups. Common examples include support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.).

Sessions for family therapy may last for 30 minutes to one hour and usually continue for several weeks or months. Overall, it depends on the alcohol treatment center and the severity of alcoholism. Family therapy is also available in most alcohol rehab centers and can be done via inpatient or outpatient modalities.

How Effective is Family Therapy for Alcoholism?

Research has shown that family therapy can be highly effective in the treatment of alcoholism. A study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that individuals who participated in family therapy had significantly better outcomes than those who received only individual therapy. In conclusion, family therapy is a valuable tool in the treatment of alcoholism, offering several potential benefits and proven effectiveness.

What Other Treatments Are Available for Alcoholism?

Several treatment modalities are available for alcoholism. Below we list the most common alcoholism treatment options.


  • Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment
  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  • American Family Therapy Academy