Is Family Involvement the Key to Recovery in Young Adults?

Addiction is a family disease. It doesn’t just affect the person who’s using. It affects everyone in the family.

High levels of stress, emotional outbursts, health problems, family conflict, and financial instability are just some of the ways that family members are adversely impacted.

Despite the negative effects of a family member’s addiction, studies have repeatedly shown that family members are an integral part of addiction treatment. In fact, their involvement can increase a young adult’s chances of going to treatment and completing the program.

Family involvement has also been linked to better treatment outcomes for loved ones who are coping with addiction.

Even with robust supporting evidence, however, addiction treatment historically focuses solely on the person struggling with addiction, rather than including the rest of the family.

When it comes to recovery in young adults, it really is a team effort.

Recovery in Young Adults and the Role of Family

A recent article published in the Psychiatry & Behavioral Health Learning Network underscores the importance of family involvement in addiction treatment.

According to Trish Caldwell, Vice President of Family Services for Recovery Centers of America, family members are a critical element for success in the recovery process. This is especially true for young adults and adolescents, as they are often the most profoundly affected by it.

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are most at-risk for misusing substances. The catalyst among this age group is often prescription drugs. At this age, they’re still developing social and behavioral patterns.

Their brains haven’t even fully developed yet.

In fact, substance use at this age deeply affects the amygdala. This is the driving and impulsive part of the brain. It also impacts the prefrontal cortex, resulting in the stunting of an addicted person’s emotional growth.

That means the brain becomes “stuck” at the same level of maturity it was at when the drug use first began, a term known as “arrested development.”


Substance use at this age impacts the prefrontal cortex, resulting in the stunting of an addicted person’s emotional growth.


According to Caldwell, this condition can create enormous challenges for a person transitioning into adulthood. They never developed healthy coping skills.

That means young adults who began misusing substances early in life will need to learn basic coping skills. These include how to stay organized, control impulsivity, or delay gratification.

What’s the Best Way for Families to Show Support?

Caldwell also shared some tips on how families can support the treatment of their addicted loved ones. First, she stressed that it is important to provide constant support and encouragement. Being involved helps loved ones know how much they are supported.

Involvement can also provide companionship during the recovery process. Detoxing and attending counseling/meetings can be a lonely experience. With everyone in the family involved in their loved one’s recovery, it sends the message that the entire family is moving forward together.

Secondly, addiction can cause family members to adopt enabling or toxic behaviors. This is because family members often learn behaviors intended to encourage recovery but that actually protect the addiction.

For instance, family members can be dictating to their loved ones what they need to do in order to stay sober. Making decisions for them and controlling their actions. However, the cortex – the part of the brain that thinks through things, doesn’t get any stronger on its own.


Ask yourself, “Is the behavior I’m about to engage in going to support recovery, or is it going to protect the disease of addiction?”


In order to recover, this part of the brain actually needs engagement. So controlling measures by the family end up hurting, rather than helping, the recovery process. Caldwell explained that treatment is key since it helps families recognize that controlling their addicted loved one and all of their decisions is not working.

Finally, family members must learn to how to effectively establish healthy boundaries and stick to them. She emphasized that it is perfectly acceptable, as well as important, to make an addicted loved one accept the consequences of their behavior.

The guiding tool that she believes families should use during the recovery journey is asking themselves, “Is the behavior I’m about to engage in going to support recovery, or is it going to protect the disease of addiction?”

When it comes to recovery in young adults, the whole family needs to work together.

For information about treatment options for you or a loved one, call 866-968-5444Who Answers? today.

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