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Family is Critical in the Disruption of Substance Abuse

Dr. Trent Langhofer, Director of the Community Counseling Center at Colorado Christian University

Now more than ever, substance abuse treatment is critical. Recent studies have found that nearly 21 million Americans struggle with at least one addiction, yet only 10% receive treatment.Trained professionals specializing in substance use disorders to address widespread behavioral disorders and addiction to alcohol and other chemical substances are in high demand. Professional treatment is critical, but the support of family and friends is equally important.

What is Substance Abuse?

Individuals who struggle with substance use disorders typically use substances to numb or distract themselves from underlying emotional or physical pain. Importantly 'seeking emotional pain relief' is instinctual and compulsive, a concept that is often misunderstood, if it is understood at all.

Human beings are wired to seek relief from pain. If a person touches a hot stove, that person immediately pulls their hand away from the stove. This instinctual response is true not only in terms of physical pain but for emotional pain as well. The difference is, emotional pain is much harder to relieve.

When a person has underlying emotional pain, they are vulnerable to developing an addiction. This vulnerability is called the 'vulnerable host phenomenon.' The vulnerable host phenomenon describes how dangerous it is for a person who suffers from emotional pain to use drugs. Not only does this person get 'high,' but they also get emotionally numb, providing temporary relief for their emotional pain. This temporary emotional relief has the greatest potential to influence someone to use mood-altering substances again, and again, and again.

Family's Role in Substance Abuse Treatment

An important question to ask is, "what else could help relieve underlying emotional pain, other than mood-altering substances?" The answer is intimate, meaningful relationships. Often, the underlying pain an addict struggles with was caused by another human being. It would make sense, then, that the TRUE antidote to that pain is also relational.

Research now bears this out. The most essential ingredient in recovery is human connection - connection with God, connection with family, and connection with sober friends. Since connection with God and sober friends can be complicated and take some time to establish, often the first and most important connection in recovery is with family. So, for any family members of individuals struggling with substance use disorder, keep hoping, keep encouraging, and keep supporting your loved ones who are struggling. Your relationship with them is a vital ingredient to their recovery journey.

Become a Substance Use Counselor

CCU's Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program with an emphasis in Substance Use Disorders equips graduates with the skills and qualifications necessary to pursue a career treating substance abuse disorders. With an integrated approach to mental health and addiction, the program will train you to provide leadership in the development, evaluation, and implementation of holistic models for addiction treatment.


Colorado Christian University does not guarantee any job placement as a result of earning this or any other degrees offered by the university.

Pursue a rewarding career in substance abuse treatment counseling today!

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