This article outlines the stress-strain-coping-support (SSCS) model which underpins the whole programme of work described in this supplement. The need for such a model is explained: previous models of substance misuse and the family have attributed dysfunction or deficiency to families or family members. In contrast, the SSCS model assumes that having a close relative with a substance misuse problem constitutes a form of stressful life circumstances, often longstanding, which puts affected family members at risk of experiencing strain in the form of physical and/or psychological ill-health. Coping and social support are the two other central building blocks of the model. Affected family members are viewed as ordinary people faced with the task of coping with such stressful life circumstances. It is an assumption of the model that, difficult though the coping task is, family members need not be powerless in maintaining their own health and helping their relatives. Good quality social support, in the form of emotional support, good information and material help, is an invaluable resource for affected family members, supporting their coping efforts and contributing positively to their health. The 5-Step Method, to be described later in the supplement, is based on the SSCS model. It can be seen as a way of increasing the positive social support available from professional sources.