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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Effects of Chemical Dependency

Q. I'm a high school student trying to find what the effects of chemical dependency are on a family. Could you please help me with this?

A. I can certainly point you to some references on this topic. Chemical dependence (CD)--i.e., alcohol and drug abuse/dependence--can wreak havoc in a family. Not only are its immediate effects harmful for family relationships, CD increases the risk of abuse and violence within the family system. Family members may unwittingly contribute to the affected individual's problem by enabling him or her to continue the abusive use of drugs--a condition sometimes termed co-dependency.

Very often, individual 12-step treatment of the CD individual must be supplemented by therapy with the family, in order to help them cope with the destructive and sometimes manipulative behaviors of the identified patient. You can find information on family issues and CD in the article by Huberty et al, in Pediatric Clinics of North American, April, 1987, pp. 507-21 (your local library should be able to help you get hold of this). Also see the article on family systems and adolescent substance abuse, by Anderson & Henry, in the journal Adolescence, Summer 1994, pp. 405-20.

One book that might be of interest is "Aggression, Family Violence, and Chemical Dependency", by Ron Potter-Efron and Patricia S. Potter-Efron. But--if you really want to impress your teachers (and learn something first hand), try contacting your local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and ask if anyone with experience in this matter would be willing to speak with you. You will probably hear some harrowing stories.

June 2001

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