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Addressing parental substance misuse

Date created
Author: Waddell, C.
Author: Schwartz, C.
Author: Barican, J.
Author: Mughal, S.
Background: Approximately one in 10 children under the age of 12 lives with a parent with a substance use disorder. When parents misuse substances, children often suffer harmful consequences. For this reason, interventions for parents with substance use disorders also need to focus on helping children.Methods: We used systematic review methods to identify randomized control trials (RCTs) evaluating interventions aimed at treating parents with substance use disorders. Applying our inclusion criteria to the studies identified from our searches, we accepted four RCTs evaluating three different programs.Results: All three programs — Focus on Families, Parent Skills Training and Relational Psychotherapy Mothers’ Group — produced some benefits. Focus on Families resulted in reduced drug use among parents as well as fewer alcohol and marijuana use disorders among their sons 12 to 15 years after the program ended. Parent Skills training reduced children’s anxiety and depression symptoms but had no effect on parent substance use. Finally, Relational Psychotherapy Mothers’ Group had no impact on children’s mental health but did reduce parent substance use in the first RCT. In the second RCT, the program reduced children’s depression symptoms but only in the short-term and had no impact on parent substance use.Conclusions: Much can be done to help families when parents have substance use problems. Comprehensive programs such as Focus on Families can produce long-term benefits including reduced parental substance misuse, better care for children and the prevention of substance use disorders in children.
Published as
Waddell, C., Schwartz, C., Barican, J., Gray-Grant, D., Mughal, S., & Nightingale, L. (2014). Addressing parental substance misuse. Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly, 8(1), 1–16. Vancouver, BC: Children’s Health Policy Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University.
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