Family Disease or Family Disorientation? Either Way, The Medicine is Family Recovery.

July 12, 2019

Calling addiction a family disease doesn’t jive with the medical model of disease. There isn’t a code in the DSM for “family disease.” Calling it a family disease leaves room for the family to be at fault for a health condition that is influenced not only by genetics but also environment and stress/trauma. Faulting the family makes way for shame, blame, guilt and stigma, which are the biggest barriers to seeking help and recovery.  That doesn’t mean that the family doesn’t have influence on wellness and doesn’t need treatment too. They do. For better outcomes for recovery from addiction, a well-educated, fully-supported, recovery-ready family is one of the key factors in overcoming substance use disorder. Families need recovery too.


Addiction impacts the entire family system. The side effects include disconnection, isolation, anger, resentment, compromised health, pain, chronic stress and loss of relationship.  The family needs additional care, support and orientation at every stage and especially during crisis.

What do you do if addiction/substance use disorder has plagued your family?  How do you educate yourself, orient and create an environment that supports recovery for your loved one no matter where they are in the stage of change? How does a family recover?

As a mother of a 25 year old in recovery, I made answering those questions my quest and then my life’s work. Throughout active use I challenged the traditional messaging of detachment & disconnection, ie… letting go, rock bottom and waiting and doubled down on connection, education and action. I believed that what my son needed was the opposite of detachment and disconnection to get well and that my way of being could impact his health since we are so deeply bonded as a family and as humans. In that way I used relationship and love as the medicine and it’s how I work with my families at each stage as a Family Recovery Coach & Consultant. Following are my ABC’s + D & E for Recovering a Family.

Acknowledge the situation rather than tolerating it. A non-judgmental, non-confrontational conversation is the first step in creating an environment for wellbeing for the whole family.

Attachment to your loved one is natural and normal. Attachment is the connection between people, the bond that assures us that we are not alone. We are interdependent as a species. We need each other to survive.

Agreements between you and your loved ones serve your family wellbeing and safety.  This isn’t a document of consequences, it’s an outline of how we will respond and what measures we will take to ensure safety and health of all family members.

Actions end addiction. They break the seemingly endless loop or pattern. The right actions make the biggest impact. An action as simple as a conversation or watching a talk about recovery can shift a family into peace and wellbeing in moments. 

Being a Loving Person is your number one job. Love & kindness have miraculous healing powers. Anger and resentment fuel addiction. 

Be Present to what’s unfolding in the moment, not future tripping or dwelling in the past.

Compassion is pure medicine. Show yourself deep compassion. Living with addiction is challenging. You need care and support too.  Understand that your loved one is not a bad person but a sick person who wants to be well.

Communication is vital. Much of the chaos and pain of living with addiction can be resolved with non-violent communication.

Connection is the bond that keeps us alive. It is the heart of recovery. 

Community is one of the four pillars of recovery. We need people and people who love and understand us. The opposite of community is isolation and addiction flourishes in isolation. (see also connection)

Collaborating about care and treatment with your loved one is powerful. You will encounter less defense and defiance by listening and working together rather than in opposition.

Devote your family to recovery even if you are the first one. Recovery is contagious.

Educate yourself about addiction and recovery. Knowledge is power.

Empower yourself with healthy recovery practices, rituals and routines. Empower your loved one by staying connected, believing in their ability to heal and get well and offering support every step of the way. Empower your family with non-violent communication skills, by affirming behavior and actions that support recovery with love.

Families need recovery too. It is the answer to the addiction epidemic we are facing. For too long the detach and disconnect method has been the status quo. It’s not working and causing great harm in our homes and communities. What works are the ABC’s + devotion to recovery, education and empowerment all infused with love and the natural support system, the family.

– Shelly 


Shelly Young, CAI-II, is a Family Recovery Coach and Consultant and also the founder of The Family Recovery Conference. To reach Shelly for speaking, coaching, consulting or compassionate intervention, email 

The Ammon Foundation believes that when individuals are holistically and strategically supported to build purposeful lives, the likelihood of them maintaining their recovery substantially increases. We provide this support via our two core programs – Ammon Recovery Scholars Program and Ammon Empowerment Workshop Program. To find out more about our programs, or to apply for an educational scholarship, please click here.