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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Response to Drug Abuse

Q. I am researching how family members are affected (and respond) to a member's drug abuse. I have been unable to find information on how families deal with a member's drug abuse, especially if the family isn't necessarily opposed to drug use, just abuse. Do you have any suggestions?

A. Families respond to substance use/abuse/dependency in a multitude of ways--some helpful, some not. For example, Strauss & Falkin (Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse 2001 Feb;27(1):65-89) examined the structure and function of the social support systems of women offenders (N = 100) who used drugs during the last 6 months before entering court-mandated drug-free treatment programs.

Overall, two-thirds of the women identified their mothers as among their supporters. These mothers were often anxious to do whatever they could to help their daughters stop using drugs. But, paradoxically, the assistance many mothers gave their daughters (e.g., providing them with money) actually enabled the daughter's drug use.

Although many daughters appreciated their mother's help, there was an element of distrust and control in many of the mother-daughter relationships. For more detailed information on the role of the family in substance abuse/dependency, I recommend the chapter by Dr. Peter Steinglass in the American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment (1994). There, Steinglass discusses his family systems model, which deals with the issues you raise.

Or, see Steinglass's book, "The Alcoholic Family," (Basic Books, 1987). You may also be interested in the article by MJ Sheridan, entitled, "A proposed intergenerational model of substance abuse, family functioning, and abuse/neglect". (in: Child Abuse Negl 1995 May;19(5):519-30). Finally, I think a few calls to your local chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous would yield a wealth of personal information of the type you are seeking.

May 2002

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