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Family Therapy as treatment for adolescent substance abuse

Adolescent substance abuse causes serious and complex problems no only in the individual addicted to substance abuse but all those associated with such adolescent children. The impact is largely felt by the addicted adolescents due to the several physical and psychological problems and the social environment in which these adolescents function including their families, schools and work places (Alexander & Gwyther, 1995). Research indicates that there has been a steady rise of 11.

4% among substance abuse adolescents between the ages of twelve and seventeen years and a rise of about 3. 5% in children between the age of twelve and thirteen years addicted with substance abuse (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1999). Systems Theory Systems theory postulates that behavior of individuals is dynamic and must not be studied in isolation, rather in the context of the society and family of individuals (Germain & Gitterman, 1980).

Behavior should be analyzed in relation to the family system of the affected individuals in addition to the community and the social systems within which individuals operate. Within families, there are several issues which could affect adolescents including, family traditions, kinship, value systems and cultural beliefs, which could have psychological impact on the adolescent children. Research indicates that “the generation gap” and the intergenerational conflict could make interactions between family members stressful and increase the propensity of the adolescent to abuse drugs (Ishisaka & Takagi, 1982).

A Systems Approach to Adolescent Substance Abuse The family is a system within which children function and this system ahs a crucial impact on the behavior and attitudes of children. The systems approach to adolescent substance abuse is based on the premise that individuals do not exist independently and in isolation but are components of a larger system existing in society (Lambie and Laurie, 2002).

The systems theory proposes the premise that the family and its members play an integral part in the way family members function within the family with each other and in the development of any kind of problem behavior among its members (Bowen, 1974). As such, intervention of adolescent substance abuse individuals should be considered not from the perspectives of the sole individual but by taking into active account the entire family which would work as a system to promote and develop growth in the behavior of the individual.

Researchers view substance abuse not as a dysfunction of the adolescent individual but rather the entire family system including all the members in the family of the adolescent substance abuser (Stanton, Todd, & Associates, 1982). Thus, in order to acquire a complete perception of the dysfunction of the adolescent, it is essential for counselors to reflect on the entire family system and its relationship to the other external systems including the school and society.

The adolescent with drug abuse could be a “symptom bearer for an unbalances family system” (Lambie and Laurie, 2002) indicating that the family of the affected adolescent is “stuck” at some developmental stage occurring within a normal family life cycle (Haley, 1980). Thus, the problem is not only within the adolescent who abuses drugs but also in the failure of the family to function as a system. The drug abuse of the adolescent family member could actually serve as a “focus of attention to preserve family stability” by deviating the conflict of the family (Anderson & Henry, 1994).

For instance, the problem behavior of the adolescent child can actually function to “draw the family members together” from other problems such as conflict within the family members including parental and marital conflict (Lambie and Laurie, 2002). The dysfunctional style of coping to the inner problems of the family of the adolescent substance abuser could actually have been passed down to the abuser from previous generations through the interaction patterns between family systems and genetics (Kerr & Bowen, 1988).

Thus, a family system with a substance abusing individuals could have a previous history of similar patterns in past generations. Family Structure and Environment Genetics and family environment in which adolescents function play a vital role in the development of humans. The behavior of parents and family members also impacts the behaviors of children through their actions, values and traditions, in addition to their positive and negative attachments styles (Kandel & Andrews, 1987).

The nurturing styles of parents, support to children, communication patterns between the parents and children and personal relationships of parent, all have a deep impact on the development process of children and have been associated with the relationship of adolescents to substance abuse (Volk, Trepper, Sprenkle, & Lewis, 1991). Research indicates that parents with substance abuse history and inclination have children who are more likely to be associated with substance abuse and it has also been found that families of substance abuse children and adolescents could be rigid and may illustrate problems in adjusting to change (Piercy et al.

, 1991). Studies concerning adolescent substance abusers also affirm the controlling nature of these families, providing little scope for independence to their developing adolescent children increasing the potential of conflict within family members thereby reducing the closeness of the adolescent to the parents and other members (Lambie and Laurie, 2002). All these studies strongly link adolescent substance abuse to the system and structure of families and the interpersonal relationships of these individuals to other family members.

Applying the system theory perspective to adolescent abusers of drugs, it has been found that the adolescent’s function within the family can be changed by an alteration in other family member’s attitudes (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 2000). Similarly, an adolescent substance abuser also has an influence on the other members who are part of the family system. Guiding principles of family therapy and adolescent substance abuse Counselors must identify the signs of substance abuse and work with the adolescent to establish a therapeutic relationship.

Supporting the family system to promote change is one of the most important steps in the counseling process. Counselors must function effectively as a source as well as a link between the adolescent and his family and all the sub systems within which the individual functions. Sessions could take place at the client’s home so that the resistant family members can be identified by the counselor. This member may be the key to producing a positive change in the atmosphere of the family and subsequently the adolescent drug abuser as well.

Therapists and counselors must not blame parents, rather search for any potential strengths and use them effectively as tools of change. The primary role and function of the therapist is to reduce the resistance and motivate affected families to participate in treatment. All the members of the family should be actively engaged in the process including step parents and any other relatives living in the house. Therapists and counselors must use strategies involving practical based interventions to develop abilities of problem solving among the adolescents.

It can be concluded that it is extremely essential to motivate adolescents through practical tasks so that they begin to rely on the therapists as reliable persons who are genuinely concerned. Identification of problems of parents and family members and making them appear relational to adolescent issues is vital in the process of therapy. The use of therapeutic alliance to identify themes and focus of dynamic risk factors with harmful effects also tends to reduce the problem behavior. Systems theory approach in combination with family therapy to treat adolescents with substance abuse is becoming widely popular. References Alexander, D.

E. , & Gwyther, R. E. (1995). Alcoholism in adolescents and their families. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 42, 217-234. Bowen, M. (1974). Alcoholism as viewed through family systems theory and family psychotherapy. Annals New York Academy of Science, 233, 115-122. Goldenberg, I. , & Goldenberg, H. (2000). Family therapy: An overview (5th ed. ). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson. Haley, J. (1980). Leaving home: The therapy of disturbed young people. New York: McGraw Hill. Kandel, D. B. , & Andrews, K. A. (1987). Processes of adolescent socialization by parents and peers. International Journal of Addictions, 22, 319-342. Kerr, M. E.

, & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation: The role of the family as an emotional unit that governs individual behavior and development. Markham, Ontario: Penguin Books. Lambie, Glenn W. , and Laurie J. Rokutani. (2002). A systems approach to substance abuse identification and intervention for school counselors. Professional School Counseling 5. 5 : 353(7). Piercy, F. P. , Volk, R. J. , Trepper, T. , Sprenkle, D. H. , & Lewis, R. (1991). The relationship of family factors to patterns of adolescent substance abuse. Family Dynamics of Addiction Quarterly, 1(1), 41-54. Stanton, M. D. , Todd, T. C. , & Associates. (1982). The family therapy of drug

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