Ask a Family Therapist: why do family members need treatment?

Ask a Family Therapist

with Sunil Boodhai, MSW (RSW), BEd., manager of Renascent’s Family Care Programs, therapist and counsellor.

Q: Why do family members need treatment if a loved one has an addiction?

A: This is a frequently asked question. In fact, when I contact family members to ask if they’ve considered our Family Care Programs, and I’m often told “They’re the one with the problem, not me!” I believe in this case the family member has a point, in that they are not the one with the addiction issue. However, that point makes the dangerous assumption that if you “fix” the person who is struggling with substance use, all the issues in the family will magically disappear. From my work with families of people who are addicted to substances, I know this to be categorically false. Families are a system with dependent relationships. When one part of the system does not work, it affects all parts of the system.

During periods of active addiction, all members of the family develop coping strategies to deal with the the broken promises and the resulting chaos and instability, the person with the addiction not functioning in their familial role, the emotional manipulation, and even the verbal and physical violence.

When the person who is struggling with addiction recognizes that they have a problem and enters into recovery, their loved ones don’t automatically drop the survival strategies they’ve come to rely on, even though they are maladaptive.

They’re maladaptive because they take family members outside of themselves and cause them to literally forget who they are, their passions and loves, and their own concerns and pains. This occurs because the family’s focus is so heavily on the addict during active addiction, and often during recovery too.

Renascent’s Family Care Programs are designed to address these maladaptive coping strategies. Renascent shifts the family’s focus back onto themselves, where it belongs. This is why all family members of addicted persons should seek out their own treatment.

Picture walking into a dense forest. In this forest every plant is suffering. Nothing is blooming to its potential, no trees are bearing fruit. As I walk along, I choose one plant and I take it home with me. While at home in a controlled and safe environment, I provide this single plant with everything it needs to begin to grow again. However, as soon as it begins to grow, I take this plant and put it back into the same suffering and wilting forest with the hope that all the other plants will take notice and automatically know how to begin to bloom. This is an impossibility. Every plant in that forest needs its own special care so that it can begin to reach its potential again. The same can be said for families affected by addiction. Helping the person who is struggling with addiction and putting him or her back into the affected family does not make everyone magically better. Families need to move forward together in recovery. This is why Renascent treats addiction as a family disease.

To learn more about Renascent’s various Family Care Programs or to submit a question of your own, contact Sunil at or 416-927-1202, ext. 3010.

About the Authors

Sunil Boodhai MSW (RSW), BEd.
Sunil Boodhai MSW (RSW), BEd. ( Manager, Family Programs )
Sunil is the manager of Family Programs at Renascent. His is currently the lead therapist in the Children’s Program and provides individual counselling sessions for those with substance addictions, their family members and loved ones, families, couples, and children. Sunil did his undergraduate work and MSW at Ryerson University, as well as a Humanities degree and Bachelor of Education degree at York University. He has been working as an addictions counsellor for over 12 years.