The Substance Of Family Therapy

The Substance Of Family Therapy

Full integration of treatment in regards to substance abuse and family therapy is still such a rare model. Treatment is separated as if they are isolated needs, where the treatment of the family is not needed in the assistance of the treatment of the user. Part of the problem is the belief in family therapy as a primary intervention to address substance abuse issues. There are some who look at family therapy as ineffective treatment because the problem isn’t with the family but the individual’s use. However, research has shown that oftentimes it’s the opposite and that family dynamics are a huge concern with prompting substance abuse issues.

What Is Family Therapy?

Family Systems

Part of understanding family therapy is understanding family systems. When discussing family therapy, it’s important to keep in mind that the unit of treatment is the family and/or the individual within the the context of the family system. The simplest way to understand the family system is to think of a car. A car can’t operate without all the pieces operating correctly, whether it be an engine, transmission, or wheels. This is the same thing with family system thinking.

When you have a family consisting of mom, dad, and children, they are seen as a system and each member is a part of that system. In order for the family system to operate in a healthy manner, all members should be cooperating for the optimal health of the family. So when looking at the individual with substance use issue, the person abusing is regarded as a subsystem within the family. When there is a 13-year-old son heavily smoking marijuana which causes friction in the family between the son and the parent, it could be seen that he is the problem causing dysfunction in the family. However, if we dig deeper into the son’s life, we could find that other variables are in place contributing to his substance abuse (ex: academics, grief and loss, parental divorce, bullying). These variables influencing the son’s life could cause him stress daily and his way of coping is substance use which in turn, causes the family stress.

Family Therapy

In family therapy, there is a professionally licensed therapist who facilitates the discussions that members of the family have in order to problem-solve or find solutions often with the entire family or family subsets.


Research shows the effectiveness of family therapy on members of treatment and recommends that those treating substance abuse provide family services, including Family Support and Family-Psychoeducation.


A number of models of family therapy are utilized by a vast array of professionals who look to treat families including: Strategic Family Therapy, Behavioral Family Therapy, Solution Focused Family Therapy, Emotion-Focused Family Therapy, and Structural Family Therapy. In regards to substance abuse, four primary models are looked at: the family disease model, the family systems models, the cognitive behavioral approach, and multidimensional family therapy.

Final Thoughts

Consideration of other variables must take place for integration of family therapy to be effective with substance abuse treatment. It can be difficult to balance the sensitivity of family therapy when substance abuse seems to be the primary issue. However, family therapy demands a management of complicated treatment situations and can be effective in the long-term for the individual and the family as whole when in conjunction with substance abuse treatment.

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