Expand Community Support for Families of People with SUDs

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The entire family feels the effects of substance use disorder. There are many ways a community can expand current supports for family members who are coping with a loved one’s substance use disorder, treatment, transition, or recovery.   In many cases, families can be part of the foundation for recovery, and their needs must be taken into consideration when one of the family members is affected.  In short: when the whole family is supported, the outcomes for each person in the family improve. 

Types of Programs That Support Families

Community support can be a powerful wellness tool.  Communities may not be the builders of these support systems, but can provide support to those systems and ensure that families know what’s available for them  in the community.

(NOTE: any references to a particular type of program or support group does not imply endorsement or a referral.)

12-Step Programs

12-Step programs may be a family member’s first introduction to getting support when coping with a family member’s substance use disorder.  These meetings are essentially fellowship programs that work on a peer-to-peer basis. Members help each other by practicing the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (or Narcotics Anonymous),welcoming and giving comfort to family members, as well as encouragement and support to the person with substance use disorder.  The assurance of anonymity is essential to 12-Step programs to help more families and friends. There are an estimated 14,000 Al-Anon Family Groups meetings every week throughout the US and Canada. 

In-Person Support Groups (not 12-Step)

Not everyone feels comfortable with a Twelve-Step framework, so  families may want to be supported in other ways. There are many peer-to-peer alternatives that may appeal to those who would prefer a more secular, cognitive-behavioral (i.e., scientifically informed) strategy instead of a spiritual model.

Other options for support meetings include Smart Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS Sobriety), Because I Love You (BILY), Learn2Cope, Parents of Addicted Loved Ones, GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing), and many others.

Grief Support

From 1999 to 2017, more than 702,000 people died from a drug overdose.[1] In 2017, more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses, making it a leading cause of injury-related death in the United States. Of those deaths, almost 68% involved a prescription or illicit opioid. The ripple effect of that loss affects families, friends, and caregivers. Because of stigma about substance use disorder, families often deal with shame in addition to their grief. 

Collegiate Recovery

Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs)[2] offer a connection to other students in recovery, as well as access to a supportive and confidential community.  There are approximately 200 CRPs throughout the country that provide college students with the tools and support they need to succeed in the lifelong journey of recovery. It also provides collegiate institutions with the knowledge and solutions necessary to effectively support students who are in or seeking recovery from substance use disorder.[3]

Faith Based Support

Churches, synagogues, mosques, and other faith groups can be a valuable bridge to the community when discussing the opioid epidemic. Faith-based organizations have a vested interest in their congregations and communities, and they can often reach people who may be reluctant to share information with anyone but their religious leaders. Houses of worship are generally open to sharing their spaces, whether it’s hosting a recovery group or a 12-step program.

For example, Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, created a Faith-based Outreach Committee. Officials contracted with five faith-based programs to participate in therogram[4].By incorporating spirituality in the recovery process,  congregations can increase awareness and education with their congregations. Additionally, State Opioid Response (SOR) grant funds can be used to the provision of substance use disorder services by faith-based organizations.[5]

Community leaders may find faith-based communities open to hosting a town hall to help educate their own members on the science of addiction, medication-assisted treatment, or naloxone training. Faith-based leaders also have a weekly audience where they can grow compassion within the community, while also supporting families in recovery.[6]


One tragic consequence of the opioid epidemic is the marked increase in children living with their grandparents. Grandfamilies have unique challenges that may not fit neatly into family programs in a given community. Those who have taken in grandchildren after losing their sons or daughters to overdoses may struggle with shame and grief. Those same grandparents may be retired, on a fixed income, or living below the poverty line.  A 2018 study from Generations United[7] reported that "grandfamilies are often not given access to the same supports and services that traditional unrelated foster families receive."    Communities can offer updated parenting skills classes, specialized support groups, help navigating the school system, plus community resources.

West Virginia State University created an initiative, Healthy Grandfamilies[8], to support grandparents now raising a family for the second time. The program provides everything a “new” parent needs to learn again: nutrition, social media and teens, stress management, and the new “normal” for their family. After completing the series, a licensed clinical social worker consults with them for three months to navigate community and advocacy services.


Family Coaching Programs & Peer Navigators

Many parents feel lost when navigating their child’s substance use issues. By speaking with someone who has been there, parents can learn how to stay connected to their loved one and get the support and encouragement they need and deserve.

Peer-to-Peer Coaching

Communities can directly help parents by creating peer-to-peer programs such as the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids Parent Coaching program[9]. This model pairs parents seeking help and with a specially trained parent volunteer who has traveled the same path, dealing with a child’s substance use. Parent Coaching includes the benefits of shared experience and evidence-based techniques centered on motivating change. Consider building a community parent coaching program for families in crisis.

CRAFT Training

Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT)[10]  teaches families and friends how to positively interact with a loved one struggling with their substance use.  With an evidence based approach, participants can learn behavioral and motivational strategies.  Training is also available for parents of teenagers with substance use disorder.[11]

Peer Navigators (Kinship or Family)

Navigators[12] provide critical information and referral services to grandparents and other relatives raising children who are outside the child welfare system. Without these family members, many of the children would likely wind up in the foster care system. Kinship navigators can help families navigate their loved one into treatment.

One example is Arizona Kinship Support Services[13], which provides help in a variety of ways, from completing guardianship packets and benefit applications to assisting families who wish to become guardians or adoptive parents. Family testimonials offer compelling reasons to start a similar program. New York[14] state funds regional Family Support Navigators[15] to provide help throughout the recovery process and connect families to vital resources.

Inform Your Community About Available Family Support  

It’s not enough to simply have various types of family support available in your community: families have to know it’s available.  Whether it’s an online directory, distributing flyers, social media, community events, or an email blast, community leaders are often the best positioned to get information directly to families of those with substance use disorder.  

There’s another benefit to openly promoting all that your community has available to help families: it will help families by reducing stigma surrounding substance use disorder, treatment, and recovery.

Educate Your Community about the Impact on Children

The opioid crisis has significant and multifaceted impacts on child and family health and well-being. As families affected by parental substance use around the country face child welfare involvement, it is more important than ever to support family-centered treatment-focused approaches, from supporting children in foster care to aiding children with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Your community can engage clinics, pediatricians, schools, and child care providers with the help of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ fact sheets[16] on how children are affected by the opioid crisis in each state.

​Each sheet includes a state-by-state breakdown on the opioid epidemic, child welfare systems, and child health. These fact sheets also offer policy solutions that can support vulnerable children and families at the state and federal levels.

Create a Family-Friendly Guide from Treatment to Recovery

Families affected by addiction need help navigating the disease and the systems set up to assist those looking for help. Friends of Recovery New York, with support from the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, created the “Family to Family Recovery Resource Guide[17],” a comprehensive tool to assist and support families as they navigate their way from active addiction to recovery. It is an easy-to-follow guide that provides an extensive array of content, walking families through every step of the recovery process. The family-friendly format includes a variety of topics, including what substance use disorder looks like in a loved one and where to find support/help for ourselves and for loved ones.  



  1. https://www.addictionpro.com/news-item/education/partners-offer-free-support-massachusetts-families  [5]