Tanya Mudry


Dr. Mudry is a Registered Psychologist, Family Therapist, and Assistant Professor in Counselling Psychology, in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary (UofC). She has a background in Health Promotion Studies (MSc) and Counselling Psychology (MSc, PhD). Dr. Mudry’s work has focused primarily on addictive behaviours, recovery, family therapy, and social practices.

Node Funded Project (December 2020)

Title: Family Factors: How do family members help and/or hinder recovery from substance misuse?

Principal Investigator: Tanya Mudry, University of Calgary


Carissa Muth


Substance misuse is typically considered an individual issue, locating the problem within the person, often as a biological disease citing biological and neurobiological factors. However, researchers have found that substance misuse is socially related in both its etiology and treatment. In practice, treatment programs, including popular 12-step programs (e.g., AA, NA, GA), have found success in facilitating social connections, highlighting the importance of relationships including those located in the family system (immediate and extended). In particular, the social impact of the family has been found to have an essential impact on the development and recovery from substance misuse. Experts have argued that substance misuse is a family disease, therefore, understanding and treating the disease must include the family. Despite this, many treatment programs neglect the involvement of family members, seeing them as adjunct rather than integral to the treatment process. Part of the hesitancy to include families involve logistical barriers, including confidentiality and informed consent, and as well as lack of understanding about how best to utilize families effectively. This study aims to examine perception of family involvement in successful recovery, to inform better utilization of families in substance use recovery in Alberta and beyond.

The aim of our study was to determine what family relational factors were important to recovery from substance use. We interviewed 18 individuals who met the criteria for substance use disorder and self-identified as “in recovery” from substance use. Recovery periods for the participants ranged from 41 days to 10 years, 14 of whom had attended treatment for substance use (4 had not). The participants reported using various substances including alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, prescription medications, cannabis, and opiates. Our participants were diverse in age (22-60 years of age), gender (11 identified as female, 7 male), and race (11 identified as White, 5 as Indigenous, 1 as East Indian, 1 as Brazilian).

Following the guidelines of the Enhanced Critical Incident Technique (ECIT) outlined by Butterfield et al. (2009), we conducted semi-structured interviews with 18 participants. We had three primary interview questions: 1) How has your family helped in your recovery from substance use? 2) In what ways have your relationships made it more challenging to recover from substance use? and 3) What suggestions do you have for other families?

To help ensure rigour, trustworthiness, and accuracy of the data and analysis, nine credibility checks were utilized in accordance with the ECIT method. These included audio-recording interviews, cross-checking analysis with participants, having our data and analysis reviewed by an RA who was not associated with the project, and having three experts in substance use, recovery, and family therapy review and provide feedback on our findings.

Through data analysis following the ECIT criteria we identified 18 categories encompassing the most salient factors of the relational factors that both help and challenge those in recovery. Helpful factors included family counselling; education on addiction, recovery, and treatment; open communication and active listening; demonstrating patience, acceptance, and empathy; and active engagement in recovery process. Challenging factors included expressions of anger, blame, disappointment, shame, or judgment; pointing out mistakes; pressuring individual, doubting progress, or denying autonomy; and avoiding or minimizing the severity of problematic substance use. Suggestions for other families supporting individuals in recovery included providing emotional support, having knowledge of addiction and recovery, having open conversations, respecting autonomy, and actively engaging in the recovery process.

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